30 June, 2011

Whirlwind 1 - Day 2: The Kudugal Kids

Written this morning:
I’m in the car to Kudugal for the second time, so I’m writing down all my thoughts of the first visit before they get convoluted with our revisit. So here is the story from over a week ago.

On Monday, June 20, we woke up, got dressed, ate dosas, drank coffee, laced up our chappals, and hit the road for the 20 minute drive from our hotel to Kudugal. Unlike the previous day, today there were actual children at the school, which was exciting. They had no idea what to make of us, casting sideways glances while leaning into their friends and giggling. We were introduced at the front of the class, said hi with smiles and waves, and introduced ourselves as Sir Tony, Sir Prashanth, and Madam Kat. It was a bit weird but the kids eventually shortened all our titles to just “sir”.

Next we asked the teacher to continue his lesson so that we could observe. As the day went on it became more and more apparent that we wouldn’t be witnessing a planned program. The students were recently returning from an educational interstice and so the planned review period was gentle and non-rigorous.

The first event consisted of the students standing together and singing what seemed to me like every song they knew. Following this we taught them a modified version of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, and they taught us a song in Kannada. They were definitely better at learning our song than we were at learning theirs, though I guess that could also mean that we're the better teachers, which is maybe why they are the students, not that I'm a teacher, but I do know a couple, and if they hum a few bars I can fake it.

So the school usually has two teachers, but on this day only one was present. Teacher absenteeism is a widespread problem in the governmental school system in India, and it stems from a lack of funding due in large part to corruption, with officials on every rung of the ladder each taking their unfair share. Today we learned that the absent teacher will be present on our next visit, but the teacher with whom we worked last week will be absent. So far teacher attendance is average at 50%.

A big draw for student attendance is the free lunch. Sambar and rice is served daily, afforded on a meager 65 pisa per student per day. This comes out to, let’s calculate here,
65 pisa / 100 rupees * 1 US dollar / 45 rupees * 100 cents / 1 dollar = 1.45 cents per child per day.
The teacher informed us that he often supplements the budget with his own, similarly meager salary, occasionally purchasing supplies for the school.

We adjourned to the lunch room (the other classroom) and watched the kids line up for their meals, big kids and little kids sharing plates, coming back for more, being scolded when they didn’t empty their plates, and struggling to wrestle down the last of their sambar-rice-balls.

While a few of the older girls were commissioned to clean up the lunchroom floor of spilled meals, the rest of us moseyed outside to practice barking like dogs and dodging bullets like Neo in The Matrix.

We returned to the classroom and showed them the flip video cameras. They got really excited and began filming everything, though I think for the first while at least they thought they were taking still pictures and captured several moving portraits. We’ve just compiled a selection of the films produced into some youtube films, viewable here:
Kudugal by the Kids
The Kids of Kudugal Present... a second in the life

It soon became apparent that there were fewer flips than children. We had to stop a couple kids from hitting and wrestling with each other over them, but it wasn't anything serious. It definitely would have helped if we could explain cooperation and sharing in Kannada, but as it was our communication was limited.

The time came to end the flip session, but it was never forgotten. Somehow I (Tony) ended up with all the flips in my pockets, and for the rest of the day, during any lulls between my pseudo-lessons, I was faced with prods at my pockets and pleads of “sar, camarra sar, please sar camarrra”.

Pras ran away with the big kids to start a math lesson while Kat and I attempted one with the younger kids. We had some cubes with numbers, operations, and Kannada symbols that fit into a carrying case matrix with which we attempted to teach them some basic identities 1 = 1, 1 + 0 = 1, 1 + 1 = 2, but found the greatest success with counting from 1 to 10. Then we switched it up a little and did a little 10 to 1 blastoff.

Kat’s teaching expertise is a bit beyond counting, so she ventured to the other classroom to join Pras in their as-yet-undisclosed-though-I-heard-something-about-writing-and-calculating-the-same-thing-in-different-ways-and-different-orders-to-convey-something-important-about-numbers math lesson.

I was left on my own almost running a daycare, though I was able to get a couple kids to add some triple digit numbers and identify India and China on a poorly drawn world map. At one point a girl visited the class and I was delighted at her ability to speak English and her skills in math and geography. I later learned that she wasn’t a student of the school. She lived in the village but her parents could afford to send her to a nearby English-medium private school, and so they did.

I took the kids outside for some air and they were happy to tell me (or maybe ask me) about the wonders of the environment, the trees, the village, the farms, the local stray dogs, the world, and the universe, in Kannada. Not too much got through. I did attempt to repeat some of what they said back to them but I’m sure I was way off as they seemed to get more confused, beyond not addressing their clear statements and questions, I was replying in gibberish.

This essentially concluded the day. We reconvened, said goodbye to the kids, and thanked everyone for their time and cooperation. Before heading out we stopped across the street for tea at a newly built house where some family of Pras lived, including the girl who had visited my daycare, and where other out of town family were visiting, hanging out following the wedding earlier in the day. We took some orange Fanta there, brought the bottle for the road, and hit it. Off on the longest drive ever from Kudugal, through Bangalore high traffic, to Mysore. It was long, we made it, and the next day is another story.

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