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A noble pursuit

The Vidyarambam Trust, with 86 centres all over the State, provides free pre-primary education, based on the Montessori method and ancient Indian systems of teaching.


FOR THE past 20 years, V. Ranganathan wanted to "work for children's education" but his job as an automobile engineer in the Gulf meant his intention remained just that — a well-meaning intention. Until he retired and decided to actually bring about the change he wanted.

After he returned to India and visited the poorer districts in Tamil Nadu, he realised that children in the three to five age group in rural areas received hardly any education or training. "This is also the reason for the high drop-out rate in rural primary schools. Since most of the children are first-time learners (their parents being daily labourers or farmers), they are not able to cope with lessons," he explains. He also realised that children in the districts equated school with a free lunch and carried, not books, but plates to school in their satchels. Ranganathan returned to Chennai and started the Vidyarambam Trust (ph: 24465590) to provide pre-primary education to children in rural areas. Over the past nine months, the Trust has started 86 centres all over the State, providing free pre-primary education, based on the Montessori method and ancient Indian systems of teaching, to more than 1600 kids. Each centre takes in about 20 children between the ages of two and four-and-a-half. The tutor is a person who can read and write, and more importantly interested in helping children learn. "Our tutors are SSLC pass, graduates, post-graduates and some of them are just eighth standard drop-outs, but they are intelligent and interested in seeing that kids don't drop-out of school for the same reasons they had to," says Prema Veeraraghav, a former KFI teacher, who has formulated the syllabus for the children. The Vidyarambam Trust formulated its own syllabus when it realised that most material available in the market was geared for children who could already read and had pictures and sentences, the children could not relate to. "So rather than having kings and queens to depict alphabets, we've got cows, leaves etc. that children see everyday," explains Prema.

The learning aids are straightforward and interesting — number cards, large alphabets and colourful books. The focus is on getting the children identify and recognise the alphabets rather than be able to read complete sentences. "We realised that the first standard books have complete sentences, which are difficult for children who have not even seen alphabets before. So the methods we use help the kids have fun while they learn," she says. In one of the lessons, the alphabets are written on cards and distributed to the students. When the teacher calls out an alphabet, for example an `aa', the kids with the `aa' round their necks have to go to the teacher.

The Trust pays the teachers Rs. 400 per month and the annual cost of education for each child is Rs. 600. The tutors take classes in their homes or in a place wherethe children will be comfortable, even if it's just in the village square. The Trust insists that classes are taken for two hours a day, five days a week for 18 months.

This June, the Trust will send its first 500 students to primary school. Weekly contact classes will be conducted to help them with any difficulties they face in school. "Pre-school training removes the fear of school and sparks interest in learning, so that they want to go to school, when the time comes," says Ranganathan.

SHALINI UMACHANDRAN

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