K for Takoree

the mobile classroom
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Why

“According to ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) 2016, the 11th edition of the report that collected data from 589 rural districts of India, the proportion of all children in Class V who can read a Class II level text (book) declined to 47.8% in 2016 from 48.1% in 2014. This means every other student is unable to read something meant for someone three classes below.”

– Livemint | Jan 2017

With an annual budget of US$ 12 billion allocated to education by the central government of India, free education for all children between 6–14 years old and government schools in every locality of every city in the country why is it that those that go to school aren’t actually educated?

If schools aren’t being able to accomplish their primary function — is it necessary to go to one, or can learning be brought to where the children are?

It is this question that stands as the backbone of K for Takoree — a possible model of mobile classrooms. The purpose behind starting this initiative was to experiment with different ways of making education more accessible and impactful.

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What

K for Takoree is a weekly learning circle, where I meet 3–4 children who sell flowers or pens at a traffic light in Delhi to earn a living. We sit on the side of the road with our notebooks and pencils re-purposing the manicured sidewalks of central Delhi. The primary focus has been studying the hindi alphabet — a desire to read and write expressed by the children.

I have now been interacting with the 3 families and their children for a little over 4 years.

K is the first consonant of the hindi alphabet (pron. kuh). When teaching them this letter in our early days, I would teach them “k se katori” (equivalent to ‘a for apple’), with the hand gesture of a bowl (katori is the hindi word for a small bowl). Each time I would ask them “K se?”, they would promptly reply “Takoree!”. I found this quite amusing, what I perceived to be a confused, jumbled attempt. It was only weeks later that I realised that ‘takoree’ was the word they used to refer to the same object (katori) in their regional language. This exchange for me is symbolic of how learning as a process should be. Always a two way street and not limited by rules. The incident remains a cute anecdote to share and the phrase — an important reminder of the ‘why’ behind this initiative; to fulfil the need of an impactful and accessible learning space.

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Learnings
  1. The numbers and members of our group haven’t been as consistent as I had originally presumed — this was one of the bigger challenges I faced with this initiative. The uncertainty of the amount they could earn in one day, the difficulty of long and expensive commuting and the nomadic nature of their work are all contributors to this challenge.
     

  2. I have been doing this on my own. The impact is small, and limited by my limitations.
     

  3. Unlike a school, we meet only once a week or less. While a weekly engagement has been good for building trust and understanding, it has been insufficient for sustaining learning. It has been far more challenging for these children to retain the sounds and shapes they’ve learnt.

Working on this initiative, I realised that ‘the mobile classroom’ will not succeed if it imitates a school classroom; we have to develop a new and disruptive way of learning.

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Future

In the future, I hope to use all my learnings to create a more disruptive model of the mobile classroom that can be replicated across the city. I envision a Delhi where all the children seen begging on our streets, frustrated by the lack of mental engagement, have tools and means to educate themselves. This would be the true meaning of learning ‘moving out of classrooms’.