Affordable private schools in India – waking up to the need

We have about 250 million kids who are under the age of 20 in India. Meaning 250 m potentially school going kids. Of this apparently 40% are being taught in the private school system.

Private schools in India have been traditionally for upper middle and upper classes. In the last decade or so, a new type of school has come up. These schools, called the Affordable Private Schools, are targeted at the lower income sector, with a fee structure of Rs. 200-300 per month for a student.

So what are these schools trying to do? They are fulfilling a need that is not met by government schools , of good education, at a cost that is attainable by lower income groups.

There are 73000 of these schools in India today, of which 10% are in Hyderabad.

An organisation that is trying to help these schools ramp up in Hyderabad http://www.graymatterscap.com/

They have funded various projects aiming to help these private schools, such as Idex. Here’s a nice blog post from one of the IDEX fellows.

Are these schools part of the solution to the problem of providing good quality education to children? They can be – provided he opportunity is used to also try out a teaching system that encourages thinking and creativity in the students.

 

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Finally the kids in school give me something to cheer about

So last Tuesday was a frustrating day at class. The teachers in school were out on census duty, and the kids were as unruly as wild horses let out of the corral.

So with my limited Telugu vocabulary ( to be honest I know perhaps 5 words of the language) I tried to bring order to the class. Failed. Tried to draw their attention with a variety of stories and rhymes. Partial success. Threatened to hit them with a long wooden ruler ( I am not averse to doing it either, a different post on that later) – not much success. So through all the din and noise, I managed some phonetics teaching.

I braced myself for more of this on Thursday. And lo and behold. For whatever reason, the children decided they would be model students.

I did not even realise how much we had done together over the last 8-9 months until they showed me. And today it was not just 2-3 kids answering my questions, there were at least 10-15 kids out of the lot of 60 who knew a fair bit of what I had been teaching. And were able to apply the knowledge in figuring out how to pronounce new words they hadn’t seen before.

A very Happy and satisfied teacher emerged from the school on Thursday.

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‘On the same day, something did pull me down. One of the students of the school had problem reading, so me , their class teacher and the India Literacy Project office worker took him for an eye check up. The poor guy had a power of -10, plus his eye muscles have become weak. I hope it does not become worse, and we are able to find a good doc who can fix his problem.

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Tea drinking and we Assamese people

Fish is to the Bengali as tea is to us Assamese. So, this post on us Assamese people and our obsession with tea-drinking.

You can take the “xo” out of the Oxomiya, you can even make him give up his “Lahe-Lahe” habits ( a discourse on that will be added later, but essentially it means give us any task and we will achieve it at the slowest pace imaginable), but dare you try to regulate the ten or fifteen cups of tea he needs each day and your usual mild-mannered and cheerful Barua or Xorma will tend to become cranky and out of sorts. Deprive him of tea for a day or two, and he will shrivel like a neglected plant in a pot. No wonder that any self-respecting Assamese carries a kg or two (depending on the duration of his stay away from the source of good tea) when he travels. That, and a packet of betel-nuts and paan leaves, packed in old newspaper so it does not become too soggy, and all put into a separate bag, topped off with a Gamocha. The gamocha, btw, is another thing that no Assamese will travel without. Isn’t it the most multi-purpose piece of cloth ever woven by mankind? Wipe your sweaty face? Out comes the gamocha. Dirty towel in the hotel? Why, you don’t even need their dirty towel, you have your gamocha. Baby needs to be wrapped up – use the gamocha. You name it, and we can find out a use for it. Feeling that nobody should be left out of the use of this wonderful creation, we gift it to all and sundry; to the potential son-in-law, to the politician on stage with his paan-stained lips, to the visitor from outside our state.

But I digress. Back to that live-giving drink of the Assamese, chai, or as we pronounce it, “saah”. In a typical Assamese household the first cup is “Laal saah”; even my 4 year old daughter, growing up far from Assam, knows what Laal saah is. Tea without sugar, reddish-brown in the first light of the sun (which happens to be at 5 am, being as we are in the far Eastern corner of the country). BLACK TEA, OR LAAL SAAH After this people go about their daily rituals, getting together at breakfast followed by some more saah, this time with milk (and sugar if non-diabetic, a vast majority of people in the state now suffer from this disease, so sugarless tea has become more or less a norm). Tea is served ready, not with additional work for the guest such as mixing in the milk or sugar or what have you. Next people go out for work, to schools and colleges and offices. There they consume during the course of the day at least 4 cups of tea before returning home. As soon as they enter the house, they are greeted by whoever is in the house with a cup of tea. Add one to the list if they have, en-route popped in to visit somebody. Late evening snacks are accompanied by yet another cup, and that makes it, for the average person, close to 8 cups (conservative estimate) of tea per person. I wonder, how do we even manage to export any of the stuff? This tea drinking obsession is carried to whatever place the Assamese finds himself.

My dad is right now lying in a hospital bed – and drinking about 10 cups of the stuff a day. Mom and I are giving him company. Every hour or so I am getting up to fill the electric tea-pot with water, getting a good boil going, putting good earthy nice-smelling tea leaves into the sieve, pouring out hot cuppas for each of us. I took a break from hospital duty to pay a visit to the neighbourhood primary school where my aunt teaches ( I go there every time I come to Guwahati, and today I am treated to the sight of kids running out pell-mell at the sound of the bell ringing, freedom, their body language says). I enter, and am offered tea by the headmistress. I protest saying I just had my lunch and tamul ( betel nut and paan, see Appapappa’s post in this regard), but to no avail. To refuse the tea would be to refuse the hospitality of the school. So I dutifully drink my 7th cup of the day (I am only a moderate drinker of tea, after all!).

I suspect that the real reason tea is so popular among the Assamese is because we believe that life should be enjoyed in slow motion. I mean 10 cups a day, even if you manage to drink one in 5 minutes, is 50 min. Which is to say about an hour of your day is spent sipping from a delicate cup and just watching life pass by. Is that bliss or what? I admit, as I grow older, I am finding more of the Assamese in me. Which is to say, I have increased my tea drinking from a mere cup or two to five or six and day, and aim to increase this number every year.