How 19-year-old Shraddha Patkar is changing lives of small children in Maharashtra’s Kankavali

In the last one year, Covid-19 has changed the way world functioned. After upending day-to-day lives across the globe, it transformed our way of working, learning and interacting. The need for ‘physical’ distancing has led to a more virtual existence. Of everything that has been shifted to the ‘online’ mode, education has suffered the most specially in here in our country. With a large population devoid of access to resources required to acquire education online, children and parents have faced their worst nightmares in the last one year. However, there were people who came forward to support students amid the chaos and made sure they were not left behind. 

19-year-old Shraddha Patkar’s intervention in Maharashtra’s Kankavali block of Sindhudurg district is one such example. A Computer Science student at Kankavali College, Shradda has been engaging with a group of 25 children in experiential learning and has received laurels from the district education department for her efforts.

Last year, when the nationwide lockdown was announced, Shraddha had ample of time on her hands. After spending the first week doing nothing, she decided to do something worthwhile. “I saw children wandering around on streets. They were upset and were fed up as they had to stay at home since the closure of the schools. I felt a need to engage these children in some meaningful activity,” shared Shraddha.

Shraddha decided to hold sessions with the children from her neighborhood. “Shortly, 7 children of our farm workers agreed to be part of the open school. I started working with them,” informed Shraddha whose family is mainly into farming and horticulture.

“The idea of organizing classes in our backyard worked well with the children. Their parents were also relieved as even they didn’t know what to do with all the time that they had at their disposal,” said Shraddha.

Before starting the classes, Shraddha would play some games. “After initial fun sessions, I decided to start with Math. It was difficult for them to understand the concepts of addition, subtraction and multiplication. I knew it was going to be difficult, but I was prepared for the challenge. I decided to use pebbles to teach them the calculations. I would give them homework of bringing 6 or 8 pebbles and the next day, they would bring the exact number of pebbles. It became easier for them to learn simple addition and subtraction and they memorized the mathematical tables. At present, they can recite the multiplication tables from 1 to 22. Their basic numerical skills have improved and now I teach them square and square root, which are little complicated but now that their foundation is strong, they are not finding it difficult,” shared a proud Shraddha.

The other tasks given to these children include writing small essay on any subject, multiplication tables from 1 to 10, one problem each of addition and subtraction. They are also told to write English alphabets from A to Z. The homework is same for every child. Also, it is mandatory to read book and newspaper. Seeing these children learning, more students started attending Shraddha’s classes and today, she teaches 25 students.

When Shraddha’s college re-opened, it became difficult for her to conduct classes on weekdays. Now, she organizes classes only on Sundays and other holidays. Despite these challenges, no student has dropped out of her class – all 25 attend the Sunday class.

When the district Education Officer (EO) visited Shraddha’s class, he interacted with the students and was visibly impressed by her efforts. He offered her a classroom to organize her classes, but Shraddha politely declined the offer as her students felt quiet at ease in the backyard. He then invited her to make a presentation on her intervention in his office. Students’ essays, drawings and their artwork were presented during the meeting and Shraddha’s students also recited the mathematical tables and poems. 

Impressed by her work, the Deputy EO paid a visit to her open school. He interacted with the children and asked children “Do you like tai’s (sister) class? And why?” Some of the children told him they had left the school even before the lockdown as their teachers paid attention only to the students who were good at studies. He was visibly impressed seeing these students learning so much through Shraddha’s efforts.

Motivated by Shraddha’s efforts, several people have joined her initiative and have formed a group dedicated to teach out of school children or children who are lagging behind in studies. “One needs sensitivity, patience and innovative skills to teach the students who have either left the school or have never been registered. We’ll try to reach out to all such children in the Kankavli block,” said Shraddha.

She believes that there is a need to specifically focus on such children else they will be thrown out of the education system and eventually, the formal sector. We need innovations in learning and teaching.  The classroom pedagogy is indeed not that inclusive and we need more interventions like Shraddha’s.

Alka Gadgil