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For these children, Sunday is a working day!

Every Sunday, five boys studying at the Government High School in Asthinapuram take to teaching computers to other children in their community. Photos: D. Gopalakrishnan  

Through the week, G. Bharathkumar, S. Akash, M. Abuthagir, D. Arunkumar and M. Balaji are just like most other students at the Government High School in Asthinapuram – studying, rushing to complete their homework and cracking examinations.

But come Sunday, they turn teachers as children in their respective villages promptly come looking for them – for in these villages near Guduvanchery, “Sunday is a working day”, and the job at hand is to make all the children in the village computer savvy.

The five boys were finalists at the 2015 Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards in the group category for teaching computers to children in their community.

Every Sunday, their modest houses and the temple at Kandigai village where Arunkumar and Bharathkumar live turn into little hubs where children studying in classes as low as third standard get access to laptops.

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“We learnt computers at school, with help from our teacher S. Chitra and also attended a summer camp at Sathyabama University,” said Bharathkumar. “We thought we should spread the knowledge back home as well. And, that’s how the idea came about.”

  At Kandigai village, Arunkumar and Bharathumar’s laptop is a shared resource. One Sunday afternoon as the screen came to life, the children huddled around the laptop in Arun’s one-room dwelling. For class III student V. Ramya, typing her name on screen was one of the most exciting parts. “We don’t want these sessions to end,” said G. Vijaylakshmi a class VII student, adding that she first got to use a computer at her school some years back.

The two boys, who study in class IX, got the laptops with help from another teacher S. Umamaheshwari who mobilised small amounts of money from various sources. Arun once got to show his curriculum- related digitisation work to former President Abdul Kalam, they said.

“Where we do not have our own laptops, we try and source people willing to lend the free laptops given by the government for the sessions,” said Balaji, a class IX student who lives in Pandoor, a nearby village.

A chain of learning

All first generation learners, none of the boys’ parents have studied beyond class VIII. “When I got the laptop home for the first time, my mother was scared to touch it. The first step is to overcome your fear,” said Arunkumar whose mother is a single parent and works in a factory.

When I got the laptop home for the first time, my mother was scared to touch it. The first step is to overcome your fear.

Class IX student Abuthagir said they teach the younger children basic computer operations, photostories, and to play a game called hot potatoes where children can answer little quizzes based on questions from their curriculum, among other things.

With the power supply sometimes being unreliable, they keep the laptops charged and ready for the Sunday sessions.

Ms. Chitra said that they also have an arrangement with Sathyabama University where students from the school can use the University’s computer lab. “The students each get a computer and the boys taught them there. The university also provided transport, food and the auditorium. We called it the ‘learner to learner’ program,” she said.

Arunkumar said that when they started the sessions in their village only two to three people came initially. “Then around five children came, and now around 10-15 come at a time.”

Customised certificates

When children get together, it’s hard to keep the fun and camaraderie out. So there’s food and some games and most importantly a handmade certificate at the end of the program.

  One of them reads “Gift certificate”, with “Sunday is a working day” suitably bracketed within two smileys on either end. “This is to certify you for your wonderful participation in the ‘Sunday is a working day’ computer program’.” The certificate too has evolved over time, and they now have printed ones that end with the young teacher’s names.

Bharathkumar even has a small advertisement at the end of a slideshow he made on their classes. “Do you want to learn computers free of cost?” followed by his email id, address and phone number.

For his family, that is engaged in making appalams or papad at home, the opportunities that the internet holds for their business still remains largely untapped. “My son now knows how to use a computer, and he said he’d try to spread the word about our appalams on the net,” said his father S. Ganesan.

Trip to Delhi

For most of the boys, the trip to New Delhi to receive the award was their first journey beyond Tamil Nadu. “It was like a foreign city,” said Bharathkumar, still full of wonder. He wasted no time in documenting his first visit to the capital city and collated photographs and made a presentation while on the train back home.

For Akash, seeing the NCERT building was the most memorable part of their trip other than visiting the Qutub Minar and Taj Mahal.

Ms. Chitra said that being able to use a computer is an essential skill and gives them confidence and exposure to the world outside. “Children are innately creative and always find their own solutions to the problems”. Once they are engaged, she said, they yearn for more and learn more in the process.

For now, the students had a big examination to conquer the next day – Mathematics!

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 5:47:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/in-school/school-space/for-these-children-sunday-is-a-working-day/article7133989.ece

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