Nurturing Young Minds

Nurturing Young Minds

Thursday, July 15, 2010

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

Episode - 3: 
The Preparation for the First Experiment Begins
(For continuity, new visitors may please refer to the previous epsodes)

The first thing to be arranged was a place where children could be housed. The place had to be within a few hundred meters of my own residence so that I could spend all my time with them after and before office hours, and where, during office hours, my wife Vinita could take charge of them. Fortunately a house under the Heavy Engineering Corporation was found lying vacant close by, and that was alloted by the Corporation on request for a month for housing the camp children. The house had four rooms and a large drawing-cum-dining hall, and it could not accommodate more that 22 children. Therefore, only 22 children could participate in my first experiment.

Having found a house, I had now to arrange for 22 underprivileged children who would be willing to stay in the camp for 30 days, and whose parents would not mind allowing them to be off school for such a long period. It was no easy task. The first task was to motivate and persuade children.

I went to a nearby school, which is run by the Heavy Engineering Corporation primarily for the factory workers'  children, and addressed children of class VII, VIII, and IX. The monthly fees in this school for children was rupees 20 (less than half of a US dollar), and the children were drawn from the lowest economic strata of the society. Their parents were mainly  laborers, factory workers, newspaper vendors, auto rickshaw drivers, and house helps. I asked them if they knew the meaning of 'bada aadmi' (literally, 'big men') and  great men. Yes, most of them knew and could name different great men and 'big men' from various domains like Mahatma Gandhi, Vivekanand, Sachin Tendulkar, JRD Tata, Donald Bradman, Thomas Edison, Mother Teresa, Sania Mirza,  Lata Mangeshkar and hosts of other men and women of eminence. They also knew that by becoming an engineer, a doctor or a civil servant one could become a 'big man'.

After ascertaining that they knew the meaning of 'big men' and 'great men', I posed a more serious question to them.
"Who is seriously interested in become a big man himself?"
Children fell silent for some time.
After a brief lull they started raising their hands one by one. Finally nearly all of them raised their hands except a tribal child, who could not be persuaded by me to say that he also wanted to become a 'big man'. I will revert to this unfortunate episode some time later.

I explained to them that I could help them with becoming a big man in a full time learning camp that I proposed to hold for a month, if they and their parents were both willing.

Hundreds of boys and girls got ready, but I requested the Principal to obtain written consent from their parents that they agreed to take children off school for a month for being put in the camp. After a few days a long list was given to me. I had only 22 seats and children were too many. Girls were excluded from the first camp, though they had looked keener than the boys, because we had no place to separately house them. But the number of willing boys was also great. I believe that the rush was mainly due to the attraction of English learning, since the concepts of 'holistic education' or 'total education' are difficult to understand even for the well educated, and, even if understood, the idea is not very attractive because it neither promises a higher social status nor a good job. English, on the other hand, is not only a status symbol here, but also promises good returns in terms of job possibilities. As far as I was concerned, I did not use English as a bait, but wanted to raise the confidence of children by making them realize that English and Mathematics were no great nuts to crack. If these could be mastered so easily and quickly, what was there in the world that could not be achieved!

Now we had to find the filtering criteria: who to admit and who not to admit? The criterion could not be academic achievement, because I wanted to experiment with motley group of children - bright, average and below-average. It took some time but the criterion evolved in my mind: I would admit only such children who would take more pains for clinging to their dream. I decided and communicated to the school authorities that only such children would be admitted who would come to my residence between 3 and 4 a.m. early in the morning for registration on a designated day.

On the designated day, I and my wife Vinita could not sleep due to anxiety. Both of us spent the whole night sitting in the outer veranda waiting for children. They were all young children and coming so early in the morning was fraught with risks. Even though I had communicated that parents must accompany children, we were not sure if the parents would really do so. My apprehensions proved completely correct. Children started coming from 2.30 a.m. and by 4.00 a.m 19 children had arrived, all on their own, without any of their parents accompanying them. When the clock struck 4, the gate was closed. It was still pitch dark. At around 4.05 a.m. some one heavily knocked at the steel gate. The gate was opened, and it was found that three more children were standing outside, panting. I had told the guard not to allow entry to anyone after 4 a.m., so he refused entry to them. But the children persisted, and finally I had to talk to them. One of the children explained that the chain of his bicycle broke, so he had to come on foot dragging his bicycle, which caused delay. I let him in. The other two reported that they were hounded and chased away by street dogs, and had to wait till the dogs were out of the view. I allowed entry to them too, instructing the guard to politely tell 'no' to other children coming late, explaining  that all vacancies had been already filled. It does not appear that of the hundreds that had shown eagerness earlier,  many more children turned up thereafter, because taking the trouble of getting up so early in the morning, and then walking so many kilometers in inclement weather and darkness for learning English or for acquiring knowledge was no easy thing for children of that age!

(Pl. wait for the next part. I will be writing them one by one.)


  1. I am so enjoying this story and am anxious for part four! Knowledge is indeed power and I am inspired by your passion to reach those who may not otherwise be given the opportunity for such growth and learning.

  2. The dream is to reach out to one billion children of Asia, Africa and Latin America who have no access to the light of real education. The dream is evolving, and the road map will clearly emerge by the time we reach the last episode that has already happened. But the light cannot be taken to them all alone!

  3. So what you are saying is, that together, we can make a difference? By all of us on this earth who do clearly see the need, if we join together we can shed the light on those who need it most?

  4. Yes, Leslie. I am rather new to this Net. But it is a powerful medium and it is likely that people in Africa and Latin America also see these experiments and share their ideas. Even people in the develop countries are concerned about children in the underdeveloped and developing world. I think they are also concerned about the holistic development of children in the developed world who also lack in many things. Some of the directions that the 'developed world' is taking is causing concern among their own sociologists, anthropologists and philosophers. There is a need for value-oriented holistic development through holistic education every where, though more in the underdeveloped world.We have to help the educationists and schools with holistic development modules packed in CDs and DVDs that can be delivered to children there. Teachers, you know, are not available in significant numbers to teach many things: time management, leadership, creativity, aesthetics, emotion management,communication skills, values, global issues and such things to those children. We are trying to make films that would impact the heart and mind of children and youth every where.Pass on this message everywhere so that we start thinking and sharing our ideas and resources together to reach the underprivileged in all parts of the world.
    Education is the only solution to all problems in the long run including poverty and hunger.We are making films on vocational training for the poor with backward and forward linkages.This is also education.

  5. I believe I understand what you say about children in the developed world. They are lacking in "value-oriented and spiritual development" and too much emphasis is often placed on a materialistic society. Our generation got caught up in a wave of desire for "things" but now, on reflection, most of us realize the primary goal must be the development of a educated, solid citizen who understands the importance of community involvement, the practise of giving back and the true value of family.