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Tuition eats into domestic budgets in Chennai’s slums

Learning loss for school students on account of the pandemic is a massive problem. Through a survey, a non-profit discovers that parents from three slums — in Teynampet, T Nagar and Nandanam — scrape the barrel to address it

January 21, 2023 10:54 pm | Updated January 26, 2023 10:14 am IST

An activity being conducted at a centre in Walltax Road

An activity being conducted at a centre in Walltax Road

An average household at any of the slums in Teynampet, T Nagar and Nandanam spends between ₹1000 and ₹1500 a month towards the tuition fee of two children.

This finding is based on a survey of 500 residents conducted by non-profit Sethu Foundation that works in the afore-mentioned areas. In a majority of these households, the children study in government, aided and Corporation-run schools. And they have difficulty coping with the curriculum.

A tuition fee adds considerably to the financial burden of these households. For many, the neighbourhood “tuition aunty” is a lifeline.

The data mirrors the recent findings of the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2022. One finding is that proportion of students from Classes I to VIII opting for paid private tuitions increased by over four percentage points in 2022, in comparison to pre-Covid-19 levels.

Blame it on disruption of classroom teaching due to the pandemic or the poor learning outcomes seen with online classes, many non-governmental organisations working with children say a lot more needs to be done to bridge the gap.

When the academic year began in 2022, many government and aided schools offered bridge classes for the first 15 to 30 days. While that has helped to some extent, some schools have felt the need for offering it on a long-term basis.

Sethu Lakshmi CJ, managing director, Sethu Foundation, notes schools provide homework and exercises, QR codes and links to further improve the child’s basic knowledge.

“But some of these digital provisions are too fancy for the parents who do not comprehend them. And unable to provide that guidance for their children, they are sent for tuitions,” says Sethu.

Since 2019, the Foundation has been conducting various co-curricular activities for children in these areas. “We noticed many now seek help to complete their homework, and their understanding of English and Mathematics is abysmal poor,” she says.

The Foundation is now looking at widening the scope of its activities by offering academic skills, for which it invites volunteers who can spend three hours of their time on a weekly or daily basis at its centre in Teynampet.

G Sripriya, a teacher with a government-aided school in Sowcarpet, agrees the learning outcomes have taken a beating. “Most children have forgotten to read,” says Sripriya. The school conducted extra classes to bridge those gaps but some need personalised attention.

“I am the class teacher for VI graders and during the first unit test, a majority failed in the examination. During the half-yearly examination, there are some improvements,” says Sripriya, adding that children need continuous hand-holding.

Free tuition centre

Although NGOs run free tuition centres, many students are not privileged to have access to such facilities for various reasons.

At the free tuition centres run by Gold Heart Foundation in North Chennai, English and Mathematics are the main focus. Since the start of the academic year, the Foundation has created a separate module to fill the learning gaps.

“Our primary goal is to strengthen the fundamentals, which we do with activities and competitions that are geared to sharpening their thinking process,” says Vijay Annamalai, who is on a sabbatical from work to oversee the tuition centres.

College students double as volunteer at these centres, where they are given weekly training so as to equip them with new methods of teaching.

Bhumi runs at least 10 community learning centres that are overseen with the support of volunteer tutors from the same community.

Learning gap being bridged in two resettlement areas 

There are these free evening tuition centres at the resettlement areas in Kannagi Nagar and Perumbakkamm, and they are focussed heavily on academics, ensuring students get help with their everyday homework.

Sishu Shakthi was started by Soundarya Srinivasan and her friends in 2005.

Today, it is in partnership with Turning Point Educational Trust and are similar groups, deriving support from them. The centres run from 5.30 p.m. to 8.30 p.m. five days a week.

Currently, there are 15 teachers. “Today’s students are tomorrow’s teachers — that rings specially true with these centres. A majority of students get inspired by the work done by teachers at the centres, and they return to the centres as teachers themselves,” says Soundarya.

She says many teachers at the centre are working with software companies.

Soundarya says the centres have received support from many quarters. The Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board has given them the space.

Their Instagram page also talks about support received from Anthill creations and The Quad for the creation of a playground around the Perumbakkam learning centre.

Old tyres and other junk material went into the design of these spaces.

Currently, the centre at Kannagi Nagar has 150 children from Classes IV to XII.

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