All the projects of Asha Chennai are executed with the active participation of the chapter volunteers. Many of our projects tend to deal with improvements to Government, Government-aided or other private schools that provide free education. This has been a conscious choice by the volunteers.
We believe in the following:
- An equal education is an essential prerequisite to an egalitarian society. By equal education we are not talking about straight-jacketing the content or the method of education to one size fits all. We however believe in equal access for all children to the education options available in the society.
- The mainstream schooling, when made accessible to all, can cover the educational needs of 90% of all the children. There would still be a 10% of the children who cannot be reached through this mainstream education. This would include the disabled, street children, orphans, etc. While Asha Chennai recognizes the important need to address the problems of the society in dealing with the 10%, we have chosen to focus on the mainstream education. Majority of the children who fall under this category are currently not getting any education or they are getting poor quality education.
- Government is the primary vehicle through which universal education can be delivered in a country like India. Every developing and developed nation that has achieved near 100% literacy has done this through public education. We do not believe India to be any different. In states like TamilNadu, the reach of the government schools is already quite good but the quality leaves a lot to be desired.
Organisations like Asha can make a big difference in the quality of the education at these schools. We have brought about improvements through a variety of means including the following:
- Provide additional teachers where required. Government uses the yardstick of one teacher every thirty children. Even this is often not filled and usually the head-master or head-mistress has a lot of administrative duties and is not able to teach classes. Even the 30 to 1 ratio is insufficient for multi-age classrooms which is the norm in small rural schools. Also the activity-based methodology followed by the government schools imposes a lot of responsibilities on the teacher. Adequate number of teachers is usually one of the strongest needs in the government schools. Appointing teachers to these schools also gives us the ability to monitor what is going on at the school and ensure that the materials we provide are properly used.
- Provide learning and teaching materials. Government allocates very little money towards materials. There is a significant need for learning and teaching materials for all students, especially for the pre-school and primary school children. We provide materials including innovative teaching aids. We also train the teachers to make their own materials from low cost materials and waste.
- Train Asha teachers as well as Government teachers. The Government school teachers typically attend a lot of training, lot of which might not be relevant to the situation they encounter at school. We make our training relevant by also having an on-site component which involves training at the location of the schools as well as providing all the materials used during the training.
- Assessments are broken across the education system in India and they almost never served the purpose they are meant to serve. Asha has instituted assessments to evaluate the performance of the students at the schools to evaluate our own performance as well as to guide us on the further actions required at these schools. Analytics on the data from these assessments also help understand the underlying sociological factors and their impact on education.
- Maintain the infrastructure so that it can be used effectively. Government often provides budget for buildings but little of maintaining them. The roofs leak making it impossible to use the rooms. The blackboard paint has worn off or boards are cracked and are unusable. The bureaucracy makes it difficult to get the money to maintain these in time. With a fraction of the original expenses, we have been able to fully utilize the existing infrastructure.
Technology and Education Efforts
One of the primary ways in which we support the government schools is by effectively using technology to improve education. Technologies like the Computer and Internet have come down greatly in cost and have become available even in the remote corners of the nation. These can and should be leveraged to make the education more effective. This often serves as an incentive to the children to participate more in the class, to the parents to keep the children in the school and to the teachers by providing them a work place they can be excited about.
There is an explosion in the amount of quality digital educational materials. Asha Chennai has been developing Asha Kanini, a platform that provides an easy way for the teachers to access these contents relevant for the lesson that they are teaching. We have also been developing our own contents where we have found gaps in the availability of contents such as Digital lesson plans.
While we use technology to teach other curricular subjects, it has also become very important for the children to learn technology itself. We have developed our own curriculum to teach digital literacy and computational thinking (i.e. programming) to children in classes 1 to 8. Both the Asha Kanini product and our computer science curriculum have been designed so that they can easily be scaled to reach all the schools with the help from the government.
Our efforts with technology and education are documented in the Asha Kanini website
- Projects are operating in remote villages and urban slums. It is the poorer sections of the population who live here and these children are the ones who go to Government school. Thus we hope to impact the education, improve access to and quality of education of the poorest sections of the society in India.
- The schools we support have adequate number of teachers, materials in the school to make for a rich educational environment, teachers to teach digital literacy and programming, functioning computer and Internet infrastructure to enable this, adequate toilet facilities etc. Finally all these together make up for an energised set of teachers who can perform their work to their fullest.
- Our involvement while improving the education at the school also, much more noticeably, increases the enrollment at these schools. From a situation where the government schools were losing strength to the private schools, the situation has reversed in the schools we support.
- Asha firmly believes that social transformation starts with an educated population. While this is a slower change, we are seeing some of this as well in the villages we are involved in. The teachers we employ represent all communities in the village. We ensure that no discrimination can be practiced in the schools we work with.
- Our strengthening the Government schools by not creating a parallel infrastructure/network ensures that these changes are permanent and remains with the societies we work with. Through engagement with the Government at all levels we also ensure government takes over more of our responsibilities. We hope to eventually obsolete ourselves!
Here is a short description of current and approved Asha Chennai projects.
School Improvement Projects:
|Poorna Vidhya||Through this project we work with six Chennai city Corporation schools and five schools in the Gooduvancheri area of Kanchipuram Dist. While computer teachers go to all these schools, we have also appointed regular teachers at four of these schools.|
|Project Sangamam-Thiruvallur||We started this project in 2004-05 in Thiruvallur district, and we now work with 65 Government schools spread across the Poondi, Ellapuram, Kadambathur and Thiruvalangadu blocks of Thiruvallur and the Sriperumbudur block of Kanchipuram Dist. Computer teachers are going to all these schools. We have also provided regular teachers to about 25 schools.|
|Project Pearl||Project Pearl supports 9 schools, two balwadi(s) (pre-primary educational centers) and four community libraries in the remote villages of Tuticorin (Thoothukudi) district.|
|Project Thulasi||Project Thulasi started with a Tuition centre at Seeyapoondi a remote village in Villupuram district. It also started supporting government schools in Villupuram and Thiruvannamalai districts. It is currently supporting 9 schools. Two libraries are also being run as part of the project.|
Projects that aid the School Improvement Projects:
|Project RightStart||It is economical and effective when training is given to all the teachers from our different projects together at one place, and hence started this annual exercise of teacher training. It is grown in strength and participation over the years. These training sessions are provided by recognized experts in the different fields of education. We also have term-wise training for all projects. Further each project has teacher meetings where some training also happens in their local areas.|
|Project Asha Kanini||Technology and Education Initiative efforts to improve the processes happening in the classrooms at the government schools. As a part of this initiative we are developing and packaging contents to be used in classrooms, developing software to make the process easier, conduct assessments at schools, analyse the assessments to identify areas for improvements, developing a curriculum for teaching computer science for primary and middle schools, online English training for teachers etc.|
OTHER PROJECTS :
|Asha Scholarship||Asha Chennai identifies children from under-privileged background going to different schools and colleges, and matches them with donors to give scholarships that cover their tuition fees, books, uniforms, etc. About 80% are the students are from in and around Chennai, while the rest are from other parts of TamilNadu.|
|Project Manigal||Project Manigal aims to promote education as a tool to change the marginal status of the gypsies. We work with Narikoravas settled in two colonies in Chennai at Indiranagar and Kottur.|
|Project Arogyam||Nutrition support for children in places we support.|