Bridge over troubled waters

Simantini Dhuru, co-director of “A Narmada Diary” is a key member of Abacus, an organization that works to improve educational inputs in Municipal schools of Maharashtra

The Sangati Programme In Municipal Schools Aims To inculcate Values Of Integration In School Children And Blur All Dividing lines

By ShaliniNair/TNN

Mumbai: A class of wide-eyed students listens in rapt attention as their teacher reads out a story from an illustrated book. The story is set in two towns divided by a wall. Children on either side of the wall are ill fed on prejudices and misconceptions about the other. A chance encounter between a little girl and a boy makes things change for the better.

The simplistic rendition of ghettoisation during the post-1992-93 communal riots does not veil the message. “Everyone thinks that their religion is supreme artd then they fight over it,” says Sachin Kedar (12). Discussion on communalism soon turns to class struggles as one student declares, “Even we have a wall between our chawl and the adjoining building. The children from the building never play with us.”

The class in session is the Std Vin in Worli Naka Municipal School and the lesson is a part of the Sangati curriculum taught here twice a week. “The aim is to correct the omissions and commissions in the current education system,” says project coordinator Simintin Dhuru.

The curriculum is in force in 180 BMC schools in Mumbai and 120 schools in Chandrapur and Yavat-mal districts. The curriculum is the brainchild of Shanta Gandhi (former director of Balbhavan, who in her interaction with children in Gujarat found that the government system is most wanting in innovation.

She formulated the prototype, which was first tried out on an experimental basis for five years, before introducing it in municipal schools in Mumbai. Presently, the Sangati program is jointly funded with support from Unicef, Cry and the Seattle-based Asha for Education.Each Sangati kit comprises of a set of visual aids like flip charts, posters, materials to be shown in class and worksheets. After every class follows a dassroom activity to make learning easier for the children. For instance, children are given crushed papers and asked to aim it at plastic bottles placed on the ler’s table. Energy levels soar as mts take their best shots. Now, ittles are each endowed an identity—that of a father of four, a dedicated teacher, a school going child etc. Again the students are asked to hit the bottles with the crushed paper aka ‘stones.’ This time no one moves except for one boy Before he can strike, his teacher tells him, “The one you are aiming at is a mother who is a domestic worker like your own. Now do you want to hit her?” The boy, Nikhil Walanju, shakes his head and drops his arm.

After every class, students are given worksheets for interviewing people around them. “These are students who are vulnerable economically and socially Besides learning values of integration, they have to accept that there are no such things as an ideal family: each family is unique in itself. Eventually they will learn to look at family as the microcosm of society” says Dhuru.