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Education for the everyday life

Sravasti Datta
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The Museum School adopts a practical, hands-on approach to teaching

Where learning is fun:The Museum School is a project by Bal Utsav that has been educating children from the lower-income households through unique learning exercises.
Where learning is fun:The Museum School is a project by Bal Utsav that has been educating children from the lower-income households through unique learning exercises.

Mamatha has a determined look on her face as she pays close attention to what her teacher is saying. She is only 11 years old but dreams of becoming a collector one day. Giving wings to her dreams —and to that of 100 other children like her — is The Museum School, a project by Bal Utsav, an initiative of Child Empowerment Foundation India (CEFI), a not-for-profit organisation.

Ramesh Balasundaram, who along with his wife Binu Verma founded CEFI, speaks on the organisation’s endeavour to establish a “bridge school” for children belonging to the lower income families: “In a typical lower-income household, there are three children aged between 4 and 8 years. Invariably, the older children drop out of school to take care of their siblings. These children hardly ever go back to school because they are too old by the time they can. There are many children who don’t ever attend school. This is where we come in.”

Out in the open

The Museum School functions from the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum as well as from Cubbon Park. Children are taught alphabets, mathematics and other basics in the sprawling gardens of Cubbon Park. “We chose a museum because they were originally meant to be centres of learning, unlike venues of entertainment to which they have been reduced today.”

The Museum School has embraced the practical, hands-on approach to teaching. “Learning doesn’t necessarily happen in schools. We have aped the Western model of education to the extent that we find it difficult to translate unknown to known variables, because of which learning becomes a time-consuming and complicated process. If you ask a regular school-going child such things as what appears first during a solar eclipse, the sun, earth or moon, or the difference between concave and convex lens, they might take time to comprehend the question and give an answer. This is why we have developed a module that makes learning easier,” says Mr. Balasundaram.

He has developed a carefully thought out teaching model. “At present, we have a three-phase model. Phase I is literacy, Phase II is mathematics and Phase III include visits to the museum. In the fourth phase, which we plan to introduce, we will teach them something on their journey to and from school.”

Community activity

The teachers are educated girls from slums who studied till Class 10 or 12. “This initiative can also be viewed as a community activity module. We train these young women as teachers, which has helped in creating trust among their communities; they are looked upon with respect as they are the teachers of their children,” explains Mr. Balasundaram. The children too actively participate in the learning process.

Project co-ordinator Padmini Vasant displays teaching aids made by the children themselves. The learning exercises are unique. “We introduce the concept of maths through money and trading, as that is a practical way to learn,” he says, adding that teaching through everyday examples and situations make learning easier.

The children are provided free pick-up and drop, free meals and a thorough health check-up twice a year. The school has a student-teacher ratio of 1: 10. The Museum School operates five days a week and four hours every day, from Tuesday to Saturday.

For more information, call 93433-60010 or email ramesh@balutsav.org

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