– This blog post is written by Ms. Megha Sreekanth – a high-school student from the US who spent the summer with us at MANTRA as an intern.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to go out and serve the under-privileged, but I always thought of it as something that I would do in the future when I had free time and some money. However in spring’16, when my cousin Aishwarya mentioned going to India to help “Mantra4Change” teach under-privileged kids, I jumped at the chance. For the next couple of months, I became engrossed in researching and preparing materials and lesson plans to use at the school. I prepped myself for the challenges of teaching kids, along with Aishwarya and Naina; we even learned a little Hindi to be able to communicate with the children. I landed in India feeling prepared, but I did not foresee the challenges, learning, experience and transformation in those three short weeks at Florida English School.
As we stepped into the colorful rooms of Florida English School, we were first greeted by the boisterous chanting of 80 plus lower-kindergarten (LKG) students. Their voices melting into each other until eventually the words became incomprehensible. As the weeks progressed the children opened up to us more and receptive to our new curriculum, particularly because it included coloring and playing with building blocks. We provided more hands-on activities so the children can develop their motor skills and learn to enjoy school. In addition, all of the children were taught how to introduce themselves in English, and in a couple of weeks the default way of introduction was in English. When we asked one child what his name was, instead of just saying his name as we expected, he fully stated “My name is ______”, gaining applause from all of the teachers around him. By the end of the three weeks the children were well versed in introduction, colors, numbers, and letters. Furthermore, the children became more independent and self-determined, as Aishwarya, Naina and I watched the seeds of transformation building roots in all of them.
At the beginning of our internship the teachers did not understand the curriculum and regarded it as games instead of work. They also insisted that we alternate classrooms so the children can have one day of learning and one day of fun. The teachers tended to harshly punish the children if they were not behaving or if they did not understand the concepts. After 2 weeks, with the improvement seen in the children, teachers slowly started to believe in our new curriculum. We also requested that the teachers start encouraging the children instead, of punishing the children. It is from the teachers, who taught the children with their limited supplies and training, that we learnt how to make do with the finite supplies. From them we started to use colored backpacks to teach the students coloring and to use students to help the children to understand that numbers are values, and understood that it does not take fancy materials for the students to learn. Along the way we always had the support and guidance of Santosh, Khushboo, and Amrutha, our mentor at Florida English School, who gave us advice when asked and always encouraged our own growth. They encouraged us to use a trial and error approach to our teaching; if one method did not work we moved onto the next method of teaching.
Throughout our time in Florida English School, we began to understand the challenges of a teacher and learnt to be more patient and persistent, in addition to learning many useful skills. As the weeks progressed, we earned the confidence in our methods and respect and this resulted in small and sure transformation of teaching methods and delivery in the teachers.
At times, it was distressing when the progress in the children was slow and the teachers were resorting to old methods of punishments and rote learning. We learnt that it took an outstanding amount of patience to teach the students, as there were always students who were slow learners, were trouble makers, or were always crying for their parents and we had to keep our calm and continue to teach all of the students. Throughout our time with Mantra and Florida English School, we learnt that you have to be steadfast in your efforts and if you want something you have to go get it. We wanted to change the way the students were being taught, and we soon figured out to change anything we had to do it with our own persistence. We used hands-on methods, encouragement and continued to teach the students even if they were not showing drastic improvement. To be steadfast and patience is the key to success – We understood this from Amrutha, teachers, principal and the Mantra team who worked tirelessly to improve the standard of education in spite of numerous challenges.
All in all, this experience grounded me and I am very thankful to all of them for teaching me so much in those three short weeks and for allowing me to be a part of the efforts to help India’s education equity. I set out to have an experience in volunteering in an under-privileged neighborhood, but in the end it was I who was transformed and inspired after witnessing the triumph of human spirit to educate and uplift with limited resources, challenges and true sense of sacrifice.