Another school year is coming to a close in the States, but It’s the beginning of the school year here in India. However, at present time,
- 4% of Indian children never start school;
- 58% don’t complete elementary school;
- 90% don’t complete secondary school.
This is India’s education gap.*
We witness this education gap every week when our troupe of expat volunteers from Beverly Park ventures to a construction site in Belapur to work with kids at a Mumbai Mobile Creche. While the parents work on the construction site, the kids go to the day care and receive some basic supervision and care throughout the day. On Tuesday’s, we spend two hours with the school-aged children.
Most of these kids have never attended a formal school, nor will they ever.
The kids come running, smiling from ear to ear, when they see our cars arrive. They shake our hands in greeting and say, “Good afternoon, Ma’am.” They’re favorite song right now is “Head and Shoulders,” so we sing it, then we sing it again slooooooowly, and then fast - their favorite (“Now fast, please, ma’am?!”).
We have a feel now for the kids who have been regulars, so we try to break them up in to groups based on their levels, and do rotations to different stations: colors, shapes, letters, numbers, and a craft. Our focus is on English vocabulary, letter/number sense/recognition, and fine motor skills while having some fun along the way. We provide a snack, and coach saying “please” and “thank you.” Our time finishes with more songs, and a story or two. We’re noticing more behavior issues, but struggle to address them because of the language barrier. It’s a good thing that “the teacher look” is a universal sign for “knock it off.”
Puja has told me so many stories. We laugh and smile, but I can’t understand her Hindi and she barely understands my English.
Sanjoni comes every week ready and eager to participate, but last week barely smiled or participated. She clearly didn’t feel well.
Priti is one of the oldest boys to whom everyone looks up, and he finished our session last week by reading a book aloud to the whole class. Everyone clapped and cheered for him.
Datta was so proud when he found the letter “d” in our letter search before the bigger boys in his group, and clandestinely held on to the “z” while his group was putting all of the letters in order so that he could triumphantly place it at the end, because it’s one of the few letters besides “d” that he really knows.
This week, a new boy whose name I can’t remember kept switching places in the snack line so that he could get more crackers to put in his pocket for later.
Our merry band of volunteers loves these kids, searches all over Mumbai for materials and resources we think will be useful, talks about them in between sessions, wonders how they are faring in the rains, and worries about whether or not Sanjoni is feeling better. We keep going back each week, but...
It’s not enough.
We barely scratch the surface.
These kids ARE the education gap in India.