In their project period, Laszlo and Marketa from Team May 2015 volunteered for Ilam Mottukal Girl Child Education Project. The project is based in Tuticorin, a city in the Indian state Tamil Nadu. This is a report of their activity in Tuticorin. You can see here the experience of two of our students from the beginning until the end of a development project.
At the end of June 2016 we arrived in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, to start our work as Development Instructors. The project we chose is Ilam Mottukal Girl Child Education Project. This project started in 2012 by offering support for 5000 girls in 73 government schools from the Tuticorin District. The girls are offered school materials and tuition classes after their regular school-hours. Today the project has reached 8000 girls in more than 80 schools. And there are 250 tutors teaching these 8000 girls.
In the first days of being there we were busy with settling down and getting to know our project and the community that would be our home for the next 6 months. We met the project partners, staff, and we visited some of the schools so we would understand more of what the whole project is about. Slowly, we got familiar with our new environment and with how things work.
The next step was to find out how and where we could help the most. First, we wanted to understand the needs of the project. Then, based on our observations, we would find solutions to answer to these specific needs.
Schools and English language
We visited some of the government schools involved in the project. We observed how the tuition classes work. We got to know some of the tutors and students, and we tried to understand how they feel about attending these extra classes, what motivates both students and teachers.
One of the first things we observed was the English language level, and the way of teaching English. Sadly, due to their level of English, we were not able to talk with most of girl students. Even so, they were very eager to communicate with us and tried their best to have a conversation. Also, even among the tutors, English language was an issue, and we managed to talk with only few of them. This wasn’t so good, because we really wanted to understand the challenges of their jobs. The project coordinators and other staff knew more English, but still needed to practice more to be more fluent.
Based on all this information, we decided that English teaching would be our main focus during the 6 months of project. We started by offering English lessons to our coordinators from the project’s office during the weekdays. In the beginning they used to come regularly, but later we didn’t have so many opportunities to teach them.
We held teacher training courses, and during these we had one part dedicated to English. We were holding the training courses in English, and rehearsing some basic grammar with the tutors. We tried to improve the English skills of the tutors, because we understood that if the tutors would know the language better, there is a bigger chance that the students will be taught better English. Moreover, during school visits we would talk to the girls in English as much as we could, in order to motivate them to learn the language.
Academic Support Center (ASC) classes and tutor training courses
The classes in the Academic Support Centers were divided into 2 sessions of 45 minutes each. This was a new and surprising information for us. However, when we got familiar with the school system, it made more sense. In the first part the students should finish their homework; in the second they study together with their tutors. The project provides them with a working book, which they can use to explore the topics in science, math, Tamil and English.
During our visits in the schools we paid attention to the teaching methods. These seemed rather outdated. The students seem to be only passive participants in what is being taught. They are seated, looking toward the black board while the teacher is dictating or shouting. When one student goes to the black board to solve a problem there is no explanation of how she came up with that solution. The others are just copying, with no understanding. There is no interaction whatsoever. In this way students can only learn some basic facts, but it does not develop critical thinking.
As a solution to this issue we came up with the tutor training courses. During these courses we focused on the benefits of the Activity Based Teaching. We explained why this method is important, what is the expected outcome, how it helps children develop more skills. We worked with them in small groups or pairs so that they could get the experience themselves. We prepared short lessons on the ways of developing critical thinking skills for the girls. We also prepared some teaching materials, such as cards and games, so that the tutors would have more ideas of how they could make their classes more interactive and more interesting for everybody involved.
Each girl receives a backpack with materials at the beginning of the school year. Inside there is also a workbook for English language. The workbook itself is a good teaching material. It has lots of activities that should be done in groups or in pairs. There are also small projects, or role-playing activities which would change the atmosphere in the classrooms a lot. Sadly, during the visits in the schools, we haven’t seen these kind of activities so much. Most of the times, the tutors are using the old teaching methods that are also used in regular classes. However, we did notice that most of the tutors are working hard to give their best to the students. With a little more preparation, we are sure the results will improve in time.
When we were not on the field with students or tutors, we were spending time in the Project’s office. In the office we were helping with project documents, documentation, or taking pictures which are needed for various activity reports. We wrote plenty of reports, and made 2 small videos about the project. We participated in many events such as Teacher’s Day, Literacy Day, India’s Independence Day, the Science Fair, and so on. We also taught the project coordinators how to take better pictures of the activities.
There’s almost always a good atmosphere in the office. The communication and organization is acceptable in most situations. Sometimes small problems arise when the communication is not that effective, or personal issues come up. However, the project is running well without any major impediments.
What we tried to do in order to improve the quality of work in the office was to insist on punctuality. Many times we could not start a meeting in time, or we lost valuable time during the tutor training courses because some of the participants were late. Whenever we had the opportunity, we tried to inform the tutors and the coordinators on the importance of time management. We also tried to show them that we can prepare in advance for certain events so that we do not need to run around too much in the last moments.
People involved in the project
First of all, there are the girls themselves – the main beneficiaries of the project. They are open to learn, and they participate eagerly in the tuition classes. They are the happiest when they can do different kinds of activities in the classroom. Most of them want to become teachers or doctors.
Secondly, there are the tutors. They have the personal connection with the students, they are the ones that could motivate them. We noticed that the tutors are willing to put in effort to work, to get results. However, we also noticed that they are reluctant to change their usual teaching patterns.
The coordinators are the connection between Humana People to People India and the schools. They are doing really good job. Administration, organization and communication is part of their daily responsibilities. They are creating a good community, but there are sometimes small personal conflicts between the younger and the older coordinators. They are encouraged to speak more English, because the project leader does not speak Tamil himself and the English should be the common language. But many times this is not happening. They have a good relationship with their tutors. However, we feel that they should motivate the tutors more, especially when it comes to having more interactive classes.
The project leader knows how the project is running, what the history is, and what is coming soon. He is the one keeping a good connection with the project partner (the Copper Company). Also, he is the link between all coordinators, and other project staff. Organizing and planning are going well enough, however, there is room for improvement when it comes to time management.
Conclusions and recommendations for the future
By the end of our stay we could notice improvements. It was possible for us to communicate with all the coordinators in English. In the beginning we always needed a translator. We believe our English classes and our presence have made them more confident and talkative and has given them some grammar knowledge which they will be able to pass on.
For the future development instructors who will want to contribute to this project, we recommend that they will focus more on training the tutors. Teaching them English is one task, but the most important task would be to make the tutors understand why they need to have more interactive classes with the students. The tutors need to understand that the project is successful not when the girls pass their exams with high grades, but when they develop critical thinking skills. This is the most important in a child’s development and education, is something that they will be able to use all their lives, even when all the learnt by heart facts will have faded from memory.
We are thankful for getting this opportunity to work in such a project. We believe we have left something behind us, something that has helped to improve the project. We hope that in the future more Development Instructors will get the opportunity to come in Tuticorin and work together with these warmhearted people!
Laszlo and Marketa – Team May 2015