Thursday, July 3, 2014

Walking that Extra Mile... Pratham shows the way

(Published in Star of Mysore, June 24, 2014) 

By Sujata Rajpal
If there is one thing which sets the children of Private schools apart from those in Government schools, it is the exposure to advanced teaching methodologies and quality education. Government school children are also at the receiving end due to unavailability of qualified teachers, and poor student teacher ratio which aggravate the despicable scenario and further widen the class divide.  Shouldn’t the race be considered null and void, if there is no common starting line for all? Bring everyone at par and then watch the fun. 
Pratham Mysore continues to do its bit to bridge this gap as far as the exposure to quality education is concerned. Its most recent initiative is aimed at bringing the children from government schools to the forefront of competitive excellence. The objective is to prepare the high school children to take up NMMS (National Means cum Merit Scholarship) examination conducted by the Department of State Educational Research and Training (DSERT) in collaboration with State and Central Government Education departments. It awards scholarships to meritorious students of economically weaker section and thereby helps in reducing the dropout rate of children at Class VIII.

Dr T. Padmini, Founding Trustee of Pratham along with Dr Yoganandan, Professor of Physics at Vidya Vardhaka Junior college, worked on the methodology to execute the same.
As a pilot project, 39 children from three Government Schools (Government High School, Vontikoppal, Adarsha Vidyalaya, Vinayakanagar and Government High School Medar Block) were selected through an aptitude test for the intensive coaching programme.
Fourteen children coached by Pratham have successfully cleared NMMS examination. They will get a scholarship of Rs 24,000/ for four years. At the State level, 56 children have passed the examination from Mysore North Block with only 14 children from the Government Schools. It is a matter of pride that all the 14 children were attendees of Pratham coaching programme for NMMS. 
The students went through rigorous coaching on Aptitude, Science, Social Science, Math and Languages. The classes were conducted for six months after school hours by Pratham’s enthusiastic team of volunteers. When it comes to coaching children from families with hand- to- mouth existence, the challenge is not just training them to learn the curriculum. Besides coaching, there were logistics issues like arranging light snacks for children as they would come straight from their respective schools, transporting them to a common centre, keeping their motivational levels high and such other issues which most of us cannot comprehend. But as they say, if there is will, there is always a way. All issues become non issues when there is a bigger purpose to achieve.
NMMS Examination comprises two tests - General Mental Ability Test (GMAT) and Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). GMAT consists of 90 multiple choice questions on verbal and non - verbal metacognitive abilities like reasoning and critical thinking. SAT also consists of 90 multiple choice questions covering subjects namely Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, History, Civics, Geography as taught in classes VII and VIII.
The customized programme followed a structured approach to teaching including  three mock tests , and used abundant visual aids. 
“A picture is equal to one thousand words. Visual representation helps in better retention and understanding. I used PPTs and other forms of pictorial representation to teach Math and Social Studies. Even the Great Wall of China should be explained through visuals,” tells Serena Lobo, a volunteer with Pratham. Serena is now an employee of Pratham.
“Apart from teaching aids and a structured approach, what actually works is the positive attitude towards students.  Shun the negative labels and see what wonders they are capable of doing. The objective of this programme is not just to coach them to get the scholarship but instil confidence in them to face life,” tells Dr Padmini.
Nayana M , a 9th grader from Vontikoppal Government School was thrilled when I spoke to her over the phone.  She is one of the 14 recipients of NMMS scholarship this year.  “I am going to buy only books with the scholarship money, and I want to study Commerce after SSLC,” said Nayana. Her mother Leela who works as a house help called me back as soon as I ended the call.  “Madam, I forgot to tell you, I am very happy not only because my daughter is getting a scholarship of Rs 500 per month but because this programme has improved her confidence level. Look, how confidently she spoke to you over the phone just now,” said the proud mother.
Rightly said, if you are confident, you can conquer any mountain.