Asha once again started our mini-schools after the extended summer closure due to the second wave of Covid. The first mini-schools once again started in mid June 2021 and by end of July most of the 60+ mini-schools have opened again.
Asha Chennai Mini Schools in 2021-22
Asha Chennai started mini-schools in June 2020 as a stop gap arrangement. The idea was to continue schooling for the children as long breaks can have severe consequences for the learning of children, especially younger children. The long break we had in mind was 4 months including the summer break. Never did we imagine that almost one and a half years since the closure of schools in March 2020, our mini-schools will still be the only source of education for the children in these places.
See the final report on the mini-schools for details of how the mini-schools did in the academic year 2020-21. Here is a report on how we have started this new year.
Restarting the Mini-schools
The summer holidays for the mini-schools coincided with the surge of Covid in the second wave. We were glad that the second wave didn’t result in much additional loss of education for the children who are coming to our mini-schools.
The children and their parents started coming to our teachers’ homes asking when the schools are going to start again right from June 1st as this was announced as the reopening date when we closed the schools for summer. As during the first wave, the rural areas did not get as badly affected even during the second wave. The children were still roaming around the village and the parents weren’t scared to send the children to our teachers’ homes or the location of our mini-schools.
The most remote mini-schools started as early as June 8th. They started opening in large number in the second half of June and during July. By the end of July almost all our teachers were engaged in running mini-schools. As of now (end of July) we are running 60 mini-schools in 100+ batches with a total strength of over 1800.
Continuing What Worked Last Year
The mini-schools started functioning in much the same way as last year. There was greater emphasis on safety after the experience of the second wave. Children continued to do hand-washes. The schools were held in well-ventilated spaces – outdoors, terraces or large rooms with sufficient space and ventilation. Hand-wash before entering the mini-schools, masking by the teachers etc. was practiced.
The curriculum did not require much change. Teachers continued to emphasise conceptual clarity over mastery of the methods. To this end, teaching of all subjects involved activities and worksheets. Activities included games that involved the topic being taught, science experiments, collecting leaves from the nearby wooded area etc.
We made the most effort to make learning fun for the children with craft work, cooking competition, science magic days, PT hours etc.
We have brought in some changes to the mini-schools as well.
Focus On Attendance
In many of the mini-schools, one of the main problems has been irregular attendance. This prevented the mini-school from moving on with the curriculum because there were always a few children who would have started coming again after a break. Our mini-school teachers started doing various things to address this like,
- Maintain an attendance register.
- Talk to the parents whose children are irregular.
- Give some small prize/recognition to children who attend regularly like a badge or chocolate or making them the leader etc.
These are having some positive effect. We need to observe this for a little while longer to conclude anything from this.
Nutrition at our Schools
While we launched the nutrition program in a small way at 7 of our schools last year, we have increased that to cover 15+ schools and have launched that as Project Arogyam. I am not going into the details of that here. Here is a recent report on Project Arogyam with all the details.
Stationery Materials for Children
At a discussion with the teachers, many of them felt the children are not getting sufficient opportunity to write and are losing their writing skills. All of them felt, the children can greatly benefit from some regular writing. We therefore decided to distribute notebooks to all the children. We gave square ruled notebooks to 1st std children, 2-ruled and 4-ruled notebooks to 2nd to 5th std children. 4th and 5th std children also get an unruled notebook. We gave long size unruled notebooks to children in 6th std and above. We also gave pencils to children in classes 1 to 4 and pens to children in classes 5 and above.
Here are more photos from the distribution of these stationery materials to our mini-school children.
Challenges continue to remain in running our mini-schools. Here are a few cases.
We were running a mini-school in a Panchayat building. This was in a big hamlet and an extremely poor one. They asked us to move out when the election work started by late March. But now the Panchayat leader refused us permission to use the building. We had also planned to continue our nutrition program there. But with no access to the building we did not have any place to run our mini-school here. Our teacher Divya enquired around and found an even poorer but smaller hamlet names “Erikarai Colony”. She talked to the people there and started a mini-school under a shady tree there.
Asha has no operations in Ambattur but what happened in Ambattur has impacted our operations all across Thiruvallur District. A motivated government teacher had brought some children to the school and was teaching them. As is typically among children in rural areas, they were following masking and social distancing. The DEO of Thiruvallur district visited the school, saw this, and punished the teacher by suspending her! Rather than complimenting her for her dedication and helping her in making the place safer, they ended up punishing her.
This had a chilling effect in all the schools in Thiruvallur district. Schools which had earlier allowed us to run the mini-school inside them refused the permission including Pondhavakkam, Ammambakkam, Thomur etc. In all these places the teachers and our coordinator, through their own efforts, found alternate places to run the school from.
Various small infrastructure kind of work has been undertaken.
In the Pearl project, black boards were painted in some of our mini-schools. Even our teachers allowed blackboards to be painted in one of their walls! Note this was undertaken in some schools in Thiruvallur last year.
At Thiruvallur, since many of the schools are taking place in open areas, we provided removable blackboards. Further there was a requirement for tarpaulin sheets for the children to sit. Usual mats were not sufficient.