Uniting Winning Solutions

How Whitefield Ready's free classes steer into QUALITY

By Sujata Devadas, April 30, 2018

Gifting a language

Daniela Blech-Straub from Germany and American Laura Lee (USA nationality) decided to help Indians learn English in 2007, offering their assistance to a government school in Whitefield, Bangalore.

Unwittingly, their value as foreigners lay in the fact that students accepted their ignorance of any Indian language and were quite willing to learn English to talk to them.

They talked about their voluntary contribution to friends and neighbours. 3 others - Seema Misra, Bindu Mohan and Nilima Parker - joined, raising the number of volunteer-teachers in that government school to 5.

The open umbrella, 2018

Laura and Daniela left India by 2008. But their free English classes blossomed into a contribution by 56 members of Bangalore’s Whitefield Ready(WR) under the ‘engage, educate, empower’ logo.

An unregistered volunteer teachers group stepped beyond English to raise the quality of free public education in 4 Higher Primary (Ramagondanhalli, Siddapura, Nallurhalli , Immadihalli with 1169 students) and 2 Higher Secondary schools (Immadihalli and Varthur with 1315 students), all in Whitefield area, in amazing ways. 

Some among 56 current Whitefield Ready volunteers

Unlocking skeptic impasse

Back in 2008, school managements and teachers treated these WR ‘socialites’ with disdain - intruders into a closed educational system, unlikely to do anything. 

But government or public schools get a bare minimum of teachers based on the total number of students in that school. Siddapura Primary School, for example has 110 students from Grades 1 to 7 in it. Number of teachers assigned to the school: THREE including the Head Master. 

Faced with such a block, the state’s educational curriculum has no hope of benefitting public school students.  WR volunteers fluent in Karnataka’s local language Kannada, listened to the fears, concerns and anxieties of the school management and hired teaching staff, who acknowledged their difficulty in speaking English, and therefore, their problems in teaching it.

 

The resulting amiable relationship unlocked the way for WR volunteers to teach English.  Its anchor members - Bindu Mohan, Nilima Parker, Seema Misra, Shobha Kishen, Bhanu T and Sumedha Rao - put a more cohesive structure in place: volunteers could not walk in and out of schools at random. Submit in writing which school, which days, which grades they would teach, then follow through.

 

This centralised schedule benefitted Ramagondanahalli, Siddapura and Nallurhalli schools by June 2011. It gave WR a much better picture of which grades in each school needed more volunteer teachers.

Focussed collaboration beyond English

WR volunteer logo 'engage, educate, empower' spawned the question, “what else can I teach?”

It became the contact for non-profit organisations(NGOs) offering free community service in their own accomplished skill or expertise and individuals who pushed 9-to-5 office careers aside, but were eager to improve the quality of free school education.

Dance, drama, music and sport

English, Maths and Computer Education are taught by WR volunteers. Agastya Foundation demonstrates science experiments. Social Science and Environmental Science topics are covered through English.

Trashonomics under Whitefield Rising NGO teaches the economics around trash management.  Interested students stay behind after school hours to study and practice these extra-curricular activities. National Institute of Design graduates and British professional portrait painter Rosina Dorelli teach art. Industrial design consultant Devika Krishnan conducted art camps and workshops from African, Mexican and Australian cultures. Musicians from SaPa, Legendary Carnatic classical vocalist L. Subramaniam’s own Performing Arts Academy teach students music in all the 4 government higher primary schools mentioned above.

Coached by Just For Kicks NGO, government school kids win the FootBall competition and their first airplane trip to Mumbai.

Just For Kicks gives football & life skills training.  Sarani Collective founder, Deepanjali Bedi and its members teach a full-fledged Bharatnatyam dance programme. Dancewithme Studio teach western dance. Dramebaaz teaches acting.

WR members, who are SPIC MACAY members too, enquire whether artists performing in Bangalore’s Whitefield area would perform one session in a government school. Manipuri, Odissi, Percussion SPIC MACAY artists have been happy to do it in these schools. 

Expense of free education

“Beyond the willing support of many volunteers and NGOs to teach many subjects free in 6 public schools, 1200 sweaters were required for primary school students last year.” says Ramagondanahalli school's WR anchor, Sumedha.“In alternate  years, we give the students sweaters(2017) or uniforms(2018) measured to size.” 

All family members had no mattresses at home. Discovering this, WR donated blankets to the children so they could sleep with greater comfort. Slip-ups happen. Parents sold shoes gifted to the students. Now volunteers explain to parents how sweaters and uniforms labelled with the child's name are provided and receive greater appreciation.

Work books for 2484 kids, learning materials, stationery, art supplies, alone amounts to Rs.400/- ($5.99) to 500/-($7.48) per child per year. 

Odissi dancer Madhulita Mohapatra put up a dance performance at Jagriti Theatre in 2016 to raise funds for school projects. She taught government school kids a dance to perform on stage, before beginning her own programme. In 2017, Kathak dancer & teacher Deepanjali Bedi did the same. The full dance performance was conducted for an audience of government school children in the morning; the same performance repeated for the public in the evening.

Stage performance: Sarani Collective government school beneficiaries and their volunteer dance teachers

What kids need

Over 10 years, WR linked up with many NGOs to ingrain genuine progress into Whitfield community.

To prevent sexual abuse of the school children,  WR reached out to the Enfold Proactive Health Trust (NGO) 2 years ago. In the local language Kannada, through training and through expression, Enfold has age appropriate modules to raise children’s awareness about their own body, and make them aware if their situation is right or wrong. It instils confidence in children to call out and talk about it. Enfold has sessions for parents and teachers. But parents are reluctant to attend because most are daily wage earners, unwilling to give up a day’s earning for this. 

“Inventure Academy sponsored Enfold workshops because of this NGO's expertise in stepping up and handling such cases.” says Sumedha. “Right now, we aim to train volunteers with a background in psychology or counselling to become the first level support system for kids facing molestation, sexual abuse or any other situation requiring counselling support.”

Efforts to work against domestic violence have begun by accompanying mothers and school teachers to the police station for registering a written complaint, a First Information Report against aggressors to begin law enforcement action. WR hopes to connect with NGOs like Vimochana and build resources within the community to protect the victims.

CSR and the kinks

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds steered towards public school projects in 2013.  School head masters, however, seemed unable to articulate the institution’s needs or clueless about requirements as CSR enquiries came in.

One particular Head Master requested 3 different companies for CSR funds to buy school benches. Questions rose as excess benches received could be sold to channel financial profits towards one particular employee.  To stop such fund diversion, WR put a needs and requirements manual together in each of the 6 schools where it volunteered.

The non-committal assent of a school management to a company that gifted saplings to school students for planting in the schoolyard caused dismay, when they died of neglect a few days later.  CSR officers had not enquired whether the school had water to irrigate the plants and not factored in that local kids played in the school compound once the school closed for the day because these schools have no compound wall or security. Condemning the slender saplings as worthless, they were pulled out by the roots or trampled to death.

If CSR funded the building of school toilets, but not for its sanitary maintenance, such  ‘improvements’ in school facilities ended up as a ridiculous eyesore. WR therefore specified that the funds must include wages for a janitor to clean those toilets for 3 years. Likewise, companies that give old computers to government schools must pay a computer teacher’s salary for 3 years so that the donation has worth. 

Financial accountability

 

With effectiveness, more funds flowed in.

WR facilitates the time slots, permissions and funding where needed to all NGOs offering programme for children. Its impressive impact brought in the trust of several corporates and more CSR funds.

WR does not accept funds. But its conspicuous success brought an affiliation with Rotary Bangalore IT Corridor (RBITC).  A registered trust, Rotary was willing to help finance good educational projects.  WR provided valuable assistance to select worthwhile projects, get permissions, channelize funds, manage execution, alignment, facilitation and supervise execution of such projects. 

Financial accountability lies with RBITC. WR’s small fundraisers like the Book & Bake Sale generate about Rs.1-2 lakh revenue, parked with RBITC for use in the 6 schools. Renewing salary for staff supporting CSR projects is now easier.

The United Way Hall

 

The world-wide NGO United Way wished to help public school education and contacted the Block Education Office. Ramagondanahalli was among the list of schools handed to them.

Granite flooring, marble tops and fancy lighting were United Way’s initial plans for the school.  The school authorities, Sumedha realised, had not been able to articulate the institution’s needs properly. She invited United Way to visit, helping them understand that a multipurpose room would serve the school better. 

With an expanded United Way’s budget and Rotary member architect Abhishek Misra’s help to alter the construction design, Ramagondanahalli government school inaugurated the completed building and celebrated its first Annual Function on April 7, 2018.

The multipurpose hall nears completion

Incensed revolt

When the Hall’s construction began, local youth intimidated and threatened the workers and school teachers, vandalising the site because the school’s open compound was their playground. It would now have a building on it.

Sumedha listened to the frightened teachers appeal, then did a background research before approaching the ‘Change India Initiative’ organiser R K Misra for guidance. Misra spoke to local political leaders and aspirants making it abundantly clear that no further CSR projects will grace Whitefield public schools, their political area, if the Hall’s construction ground to a halt. Improved school’s facilities and the rise in quality of education did not happen because of a political party’s benevolence or due to the government’s largesse. It was conspicuous knowledge that volunteer-teachers engineered the remarkable change, including the new building for children to eat lunch inside rather than their current state of squatting outside in the dust with flies swirling around them.

Ramagondanahalli Government High School compound with the United Way multipurpose hall and the school building in the background.

Midway solution 

Sumedha’s mid-way solution that a part of the compound would still be available for local youth to play, while the new hall would be built in a section without impeding the school building’s space, was accepted in a subsequent meeting.

Whitefield Rising Ward Committee members further assisted with a connect to the Corporator’s office and got an assurance that work on the project could continue unhindered.

From a language class to social upliftment in Whitefield community, WR has reason to be satisfied. Its work continues.

Samrudhi Trust volunteer Bharathi C. teaches hearing impaired Grade 2 student

British portrait painter Rosina Dorelli goes through school kids art work

Whitefield Ready member Ambika Sen helps a child  while practicing for the Annual Day function

SaPa volunteer Bindumathi M. teaches classical music to interested Grade 4 school kids 

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