WHAT HAPPENS IN A CAMP?
The duration of our camps has varied, though most of them have been for one month. However, we have been experimenting with increasing the duration to 45 days and 60 days. It is a fully residential camp for both children and teachers. Seva Mandir programme staff takes turn to stay in the camp and at each point of time, there is a programme person in the camp. The campus chosen for the camp has always been a place wtih lot of open space and trees so as the children can play and explore.
Our endeavor is to enable a child ” to be able to read and write independently with comprehension”. For this, on an average, a child needs to undergo three camps. Sometimes, if the child is unable to attend successive camps, she might need to attend more than three camps. The two main subjects taught in the camp are language (Hindi) and mathematics. Outdoor sports activities are organised every evening and the children hold cultural programmes in the night. Along with these main subjects, there are sessions on health, hygiene, environment, art, and theatre. These sessions are organised on a weekly basis as per the interests of the children and availability of resource persons. Groups of 10-15 children are made for classroom activities. These groups are made as per the children’s learning level.
Most of the children who come to the camp are from very impoverished backgrounds. Often they are very weak and susceptible to illnesses. Health checkups and medical aid is therefore also an important component of the camp. For example, in the present camp, there is a health check up every Friday.
CAMP- PEDAGOGY AND PHILOSOPHY
Children learn best when they are allowed to explore, think and reason on their own. A child as young as two not only learns to speak but also picks up the complexities of the language without ever being told about that. While even today there are no clear answers about how that happens, it is clear that all children do this in their natural environs and this may be accelerated with more stimuli and exposure. We follow this principle in facilitating children’s learning. The classrooms are structured in a way that allows children to work (individually and in groups) on their own, there are spaces and exercises, which allow them to read, write, speak and reason on their own. The teaching materials and aids used are those which maybe meaningful and interesting to the child. For example, Hindi lessons are started with the help of small stories so that children understand that what they speak and hear can also be expressed in the written form. Stories are also used because full texts have more meaning for the children rather than just words or alphabets. Therefore, they are able to establish a relationship between the written word and its meaning. This also fuels their curiosity to understand the written text and be able to read and understand on their own.The children are also encouraged a lot to speak and ask questions. Of course, following this pedagogy demands that the teacher be confident and mature enough to allow children the space to formulate questions and also allow answers that may not be technically correct. Trainings help but they are not enough. Hence in our day-to-day interactions, we have to reinforce the feeling in teachers that they are respected and they have the intelligence to frame their own classroom activities. Only if they are treated with respect will they accord the same respect to the children. While we keep trying to create the culture of mutual respect and democracy, we also strive to create systems, which will reinforce this culture. For example, the teaching learning activities are designed in a way to allow children to work on their own and not one in which the teacher can dictate one right answer.
The attempt is that in each and every activity in the camp, the participants are allowed to take a decision and implement it the way they think best. We are there for logistic support and facilitation. For example, there are children’s committees with various responsibilities, the regular teachers’ feedback meeting is carried out by the teachers themselves. We also sit in the meeting and often ask very tough questions about the way they conduct the class but we do not lead and plan the meetings.
None of this is of course very smooth. There are times when the systems break down; there is a sudden increase in the number of children falling ill or staff getting tired of this work. Yet, we try that we treat each camp as a new and different camp and improve.
THE TEACHERS AND TEACHING MATERIAL
The first round of selection comprises a written test that tests basic abilities in Hindi, Mathematics, reasoning and attitudes. After this, they go through a training process, which seeks to both train and also eliminate, teachers who we feel will not be able to treat their colleagues and children with respect and affection. We do realize that it is difficult to find such “readymade” teachers and the need is to create such teachers. But, we also operate under time constraint so we often have to reject teachers in whom the chances to change seem difficult. Preference is given to women candidates and people from rural backgrounds. By now, we have groomed and prepared a cadre of teachers who also realize the value of treating children as intelligent human beings irrespective of their age, economic and social backgrounds.
Similarly a lot of care and energy has gone into preparing the learning materials for the children. We continuously keep selecting storybooks, which are in good and simple Hindi and suited for children of different age and learning levels. In mathematics, exercises are designed which allow children to understand the concepts of numbers and the functions possible with them instead of just learning the algorithms. Plenty of exercise sheets and workbooks are designed for children to solve and work in. There are lots of other play material like snakes and ladder, dices, flash cards that are also used for teaching. A library is set up for the use of both teachers and children. There are reference books for teachers in the library from which they can take help for designing classroom activities. Posters of poems have been printed and they are put up in the camp. A lot of the written work done by the children is also displayed so that the children always have something on the walls, which they can read. And it also makes the children happy to see their work as everybody’s work is put up and not only the best ones.
Often, it is thought that children can stay in the camp in the same conditions as they do at home but actually if children in such large numbers are to stay comfortably, then the conditions have to be much better than are at their home. This means a lot of monetary investment also in their health, food, clothes, stay arrangements, study material etc. A large number of children even today work and camps are often the only option where they can enjoy some of their childhood even if it is at higher costs. The camp is not only a place for becoming literate, but a whole new experience of living together, getting to know each different people and taking responsibility. The cost of supporting one child for 55 days is Rs. 13,000 (USD 280)
IMPACT AND BENEFITS
The villagers and children have shown an overwhelming response to the camp. From a modest start of 80 children, we have had batches of 900 children. In the closing ceremony of every camp, parents and committee members request for increasing the duration of the camp. They also request us to allow the children currently studying in school to participate in the camp. The plea is that these school children can in any case not read and write, so here they will learn something. In the earlier camps, despite all our efforts at trying to bring only out of school children, a large number of children who were going to school would also come. With the village communities also understanding the objective of the camp, over time, the camps have managed better targeting of out of school children.
An assessment was done on the camps in 2004. The study covered 233 children of 7 villages. Most of the children said that they enjoyed the camp. 60% said that they wanted to come back to the camp.
Over time, the number of children graduating from camps to schools/NFEs has also increased. This has happened because the children are now better able to cope with the studies in government schools. Since, they can themselves read and write, they are able to comprehend in the classroom even if the teacher is not teaching too well. However, this is mostly in younger children i.e. under 10 years.
120 children of 7 villages of Jhadol block who had participated in the camp in 2005 were tracked in 2010. Of these 61 were going to school while the rest were out of school. Of the remaining, 33 had gone to Gujarat for labor. Such tracking will be done for other blocks. This data when looked village wise reveals even more. For example, the number of school going children is very high in 2 villages. One of this is where Seva Mandir has had a long presence while the other has had a medium presence but there are two well functioning NFEs in that village and many of the children have joined the NFE after the camp.
The current camp started on 5th November and will end on 31st December. There are 191 children participating in it and there are 19 teachers who are staying with them.
HOW CAN YOU SUPPORT
Kindly send in us a cheque favoring “Seva Mandir’ and send in us at the following address -