Nurturing Young Minds

Nurturing Young Minds

Thursday, July 15, 2010

2. The Barber Boy and a Billion Children: the Story of an Evolving Dream

Episode - 2:  The Barber Boy Returns
(For continuity, please refer to the previous episodes)

The next Sunday the barber boy returns  with the sheet.

I ask him if he could make out any thing.

He nods in the affirmative. I feel surprised. I take a quick test. Yes, he has learnt all the phonetic symbols by heart with heir nearest Hindi equivalent sounds. No mistakes, except in pronouncing  two-and-a-half sounds the likes of which are not found in Hindi! And he can scribble all the consonant, vowel and diphthong symbols in no time!

I feel astounded, happy and curious. What no child  studying in a good English medium school was found by me to have done so far (I have been teaching phonetics for quite some time off and on), this poor, semi-educated, slum child studying in a very ordinary Hindi medium school had done!


Madhu Mangal 

Madhu Mangal does not know that he has done anything remarkable. So far I have been told by my professor friends teaching English in universities that even the  students of English literature are not able to master the phonetic script fully. And here is an ordinary looking school boy  who has done it so easily! I have always known that these poor children had a drive to rise high and get everything in life that all other well-to-do people had, but they did not have good teachers to guide them and show them the way, and not enough resources to help them realize their dreams.

While working on intelligence quotient for my module on total education, I had come across a British study that surveyed a number of children from the rich and poor classes and found that the IQ of the poorer children was less than that of those having rich parents. One possible reason could be inadequate exposure. Another could be suppression of mental faculties by hunger and poverty. A third could be poor nutrition.  I had to find our if this was true of India too. Madhu Mangal's case appeared to suggest evidence to the contrary. But even if true in general, I had to find out if a higher emotional quotient and inspiration could easily off set the disadvantages of a lesser IQ. If yes, to what extent?

The idea clicks in my  mind - let me find if there are more underprivileged children like Madhu Mangal. I decide to undertake a larger empirical study by holding a learning camp for slum children who are not known to be academically bright. The idea starts acquiring a shape. Indian children find mathematics and English to be most difficult subjects. Could I begin my experiment by teaching English to a group of underprivileged children, and see if they cold do well ? No, not only English, because that would not take care of the future of these children in a larger sense on whom I was now planning to spend  my precious time for a month. I must develop a module for holistic education - total education - encompassing the various different aspects of life while devoting half of the time to English language teaching. I must develop a module and a model that is replicable and scalable - that can be administered to any number of children, in any place - perhaps any country. So a decision in principle is taken. What remains to be done is to put things in place for the first experimental learning camp of underprivileged children so that the idea can be kick-started.

Shaping the future of children means shaping the future of humanity itself. In India and other underdeveloped and developing countries, children constitute the largest number and, among children, underprivileged children having no access to schools or no access to good schools are the largest chunk.

(Please wait for Episode 3. I will write the different episodes of the story one by one.)

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