Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Understanding Others, Educating Ourselves.

Saurabh sent out a mail saying that AID India is conducting a state wide education survey in TN where they would go village to village and test the reading, writing and math skills of children. Basically an attempt to evaluate the education standard in the schools there. Decided to go as I've never done such a thing a before. Besides he also mentioned that Tamil/Telegu skills were NOT necessary for participating...

We decided to have a meeting a week before we actually went to the villages. We met at Saurabh's place where we given an introduction to AID followed by AID Bangalore activities . A few of the exisiting volunteers spoke about their work like the Joy of Learning program and related experiences. We were then briefed about the TN-wide education survey. We then tried to come up with our future Plan of Action which led to a long and interesting discussion with ppl putting forward their views of how a survey in villages should be carried out, some speaking out of previous experience. I was a silent observer.

On May 8th which was a Sunday, about 14 volunteers were to meet at Sulagiri, Krishnagiri District in TamilNadu. Ayush, my roommate joined in. We were to carry out the survey in Sulagiri as it was closer to Bangalore. AID-Chennai volunteers would carry out similar surveys in other parts of TamilNadu. Some of us met at Silkboard flyover. It took us about 1 hour to reach Sulagiri. And yeah... we definately played Swades on the way.... besides Ayush is a SRK fan. We drove along the bangalore-hosur-krishnagiri highway. It was a nice stretch. As we came closer to Sulagiri we saw a lot more greenery. Sulagiri is the panchayat level village and has several other villages under it. It has private and govt schools and Tamil or Telugu is taught in all.

We first filled our tummies with a good breakfast and then divided ourselves into 3 groups as we had 3 cars. I was grouped with Ayush, my roomie and colleague at Impulsesoft. Kavitha and Vamsi who are a phd couple. Kavitha is doing drug research and Vamsi works for Strand Genomics. Then there was Rajesh who works for Microsoft Research labs. Material for the survey was distributed. I only understood the math part as the numbers were in english numerals. The other stuff was greek to me.... well actually Tamil and Telugu. We then distributed the villages and set off in our respective directions. Vamsi, Kavitha and Rajesh transliterated the material. Ayush and myself were assigned the math stuff as we were useless ppl as far as the mode of communication of the village chirdren was concerned. We learned how to pronounce the basic words for addition, substraction, multiplication and division. Since we used English numerals we did ok.

Useless ppl in other groups managed to get by with their newly acquired vocabulary of 5 Tamil words and by ‘outsourcing’ where kids tested other kids. Others transliterated the material and were able to test writing skills. The actual written content was then evaluated by a volunteer who knew the language. They also spoke to the village elders to find out about the state of medical facilities, water, electricity. Testing the kids was easy. There would be some initial work to break the ice but then they would get there friends to be tested. It was nice to know that the mid day meal programmes were still carried out in schools even though it was vacation time. By afternoon we had done about 3 villages, testing an average of 25-30 children in each. We then lunched on some chocolate cake made by my mom. My cousin was just back from my hometown and my mom had sent a lot of goodies :-) We then went to about 3 more villages after that. By the end of the day, between the 3 groups we had covered about 15 villages!

It was an enriching experience. People are polite and good hosts. Reading and writing is not that much of a problem as is their math skills. Some of the kids in higher standards lack basic math skills such as subtraction with carry over.

I remember Vamsi telling me during our first meeting that AID is not about any particular religion or anything. Our group of 5 had a Jain, some Hindus and a Christian. Your beliefs are your religion and atleast for that day we all had the same religion.

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