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17 Apr 2017

Homework: teach parents - Underprivileged kids take learning to moms & grandmas

Morning prayer assembly at Union Chapel School on Lenin Sarani.
Picture by Pradip Sanya
Mita Mukherjee, TT, April 16: Schoolgirl Shaina (name changed) used to lose sleep over getting her report card signed by a parent after every exam, and it had nothing to do with her grades. The Class X student, a first-generation learner, did not want her teachers and classmates to know that neither of her parents knew how to read and write. Every time Shaina's mother put her thumb impression on the report card, her self-esteem would dip at the thought of someone seeing it. This humiliating cycle continued until Union Chapel School, where the teenager studies, decided last year not to accept report cards bearing thumb impressions.
For Shaina, this was just the push she needed to motivate herself and goad her mother into starting the education that she had been denied as a child. "Every evening after completing my own studies, I would sit beside my mother in our shanty near Tangra and teach her the English alphabet and a little bit of Hindi and basic arithmetic," she recalled.
Finding the time to study was a challenge for Shaina's mother, a domestic worker. But however tired she was at the end of the day, her daughter would ensure that she did not skip the evening lessons.
Three months later, when it was time to return a report card, Shaina smilingly stood up when her name was called by the class teacher. For the first time, the card bore her mother's signature rather than a thumb impression.
Shaina's is not the only inspiring story to have emerged from Union Chapel School, the Lenin Sarani institute run by the Church of North India that has been providing quality education to underprivileged students for several decades.
The decision not to accept report cards with thumb impressions is part of an adult literacy drive conducted by the ICSE school through its students.
"We have a scheme to help our underprivileged students educate their mothers. It is heartening to see the keenness among parents to be taught by their wards," Angela Ghosh, principal of Union Chapel School, told Metro.
The adult learners include the grandmothers of two students. Both are learning the alphabet so that they can read a newspaper every morning, a school official said.
Union Chapel provides a kit containing worksheets and other study materials to students who are helping their parents read and write. On completion of the study module, the adult learners sit for an exam on the campus. Everyone who clears the test gets a certificate.
Principal Ghosh said one of the objectives of the scheme was to enable these parents to keep track of their children's progress. "Report cards are of no use if parents cannot read them and know how their wards are doing in school. By educating the parents, we hope to be able to improve the quality of our students."
Union Chapel currently has 650-odd students, around 75 of whom are from underprivileged families. Some of them do not even have homes, living on the pavements along Lenin Sarani and near Sealdah station and Tangra.
The school scouts for funding to educate these children. Shaina is one such student for whom the Union Chapel authorities have arranged sponsorship. She has a sister in Class II.
"I am happy that my sister will not have to go through the humiliation that I experienced when I was her age," said Shaina of the time their mother did not know how to write her name.
At least 12 other first-generation learners in the school have followed the same path, playing teachers at home so that their mothers finally get the elementary education they had missed out on.

Do you know anyone like Shaina? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com

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