Some students have difficulty in long division, and others need help while reading out long phrases in English. A few others are averse to multiplication tables beyond multiples of seven or eight. However, all of them would have to take the class X board examination next academic year.

If only they received some additional help in these select areas, they are bound to pick up and do well next year – this is the rationale behind the newly-introduced bridge course for class IX students going to government and Chennai Schools.

An initiative of the Rastriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) wing of the School Education Department, the three-month course seeks to put students of class IX into small groups, and assign a tutor to each. After school hours every day, the tutor spends about two hours with the group, focussing not on regular lessons from their syllabus, but on fundamentals that would help them gain a better understanding.

The bridge course has been designed for three months, until the end of this academic year. School heads and teachers identify students who may need more attention and group them for the evening classes. Each school, depending on the number of such students, is assigned tutors. “The heads may choose well-educated, interested individuals they know, preferably with a teaching qualification,” said an official of the RMSA.

A B.Ed degree is not mandatory, for the sessions focus on fundamentals and not specific concepts or chapters, according to officials. The RMSA is spending about Rs.36 lakh on 292 centres (a group of students and the tutor assigned amounts to a centre) in government and Chennai Schools across the city. As many as 31 government schools and 69 Chennai Schools are part of the initiative.

Tutors such as S. Sudharshan seem quite confident of being able to teach students. “Some students needed more training in multiplication tables and a few others needed a lot of practice in reading English. I teach them, make them repeat and ensure they understand by asking them questions,” said the M.Sc Zoology student, who was helping a student with a long division problem, in a session at the Chennai Girls Higher Secondary School, Rotler Street, on Tuesday.

B. Vijaya, another tutor, has revived her interest in teaching after years, thanks to this initiative. “I used to teach in a private school. Now, I have an opportunity to teach these children. I give them several practice exercises in English grammar,” she said.

The school has as many as 102 students attending the classes in five groups. On why so many of them had some difficulty in basic arithmetic, science or language, head of the school S. Victoria Maharani said: “There are certain specific challenges in teaching children coming from underprivileged backgrounds. Almost all their learning has to happen in school. The home environment may not be conducive to learning and their parents cannot help so the entire responsibility is on the teacher.”

Consequently, students who may not be able to cope with the pace lag behind. It is not that teachers do not try. Many teachers try hard to track each student's progress and try motivating them to study. But there is only so much that even teachers can do in a class of about 40 students, given their pressures of completing the syllabus, and producing ranks.

In addition to the teachers' efforts in the classroom, the tutors' efforts in training students in fundamentals will help them understand their regular lessons better, Ms. Victoria Maharani said.

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Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012