On 1 June this year, school students across Kerala joined their online classes from the comfort of their home. But one group of students from the St. John Bosco Upper Primary School, Kochi joined their parents to sell fish in the market instead.
These six children of migrant workers from Mysuru, Karnataka, have been living under the Vallarpadam Bridge in Kochi for more than 10 years. And when the lockdown started, they lost access to their education.
Such times test the mettle of a true educator.
Since the children could not go to the school, the teachers at St. John Bosco U.P. School took the school to these kids! “We decided to download the previous day’s classes for them and even prepared colourful charts and interactive games to keep them engaged during the class,” explains the headmistress, Elizabeth Fernandez who goes to teach the kids every day along with three other teachers.
By taking all the necessary precautions, these four teachers have been travelling long distances for the past month to take daily classes of these children.
Bridging The Gap
Before the academic year started, teachers from every school in Kerala were required to check on whether their students had the facilities to attend the online classes. Although the children of these migrant labourers have been studying in St. John’s Bosco school for free for two years, they were not officially enrolled due to their lack of documents. But the teachers of the school were keen on ensuring that no child was deprived of the right to education.
“These students didn’t have a birth certificate or an Aadhaar card and most of all, their parents were not willing to allow us to take classes. So during the last week of May, we decided to talk to their parents and gave them an awareness talk on how important it was for their children to attend these classes,” explains Shamiya Baby, a Mathematics teacher at the school.
“Seeing that we wouldn’t budge until they gave us a green signal, the parents finally agreed and we started classes on June 2nd under the Vallarpadam bridge,” she adds.
An Hour Under The Bridge
Dhanya, Upendra, Hema, Anjali, Gagana and Mammooty, belonging to classes 5th, 6th and 7th were excited on hearing the news that they would be able to attend the classes like their peers and were equally excited to get a chance to see their teachers again.
“Every day at 11 AM, we meet under the bridge and teach one subject. From mathematics and science to English and social studies, we teach them important concepts from every subject using different tools like videos, charts, pictures and provide them with daily assignments so that they are thorough with the concepts and ideas,” says Neema Thomas, who has been teaching Science at the school for more than a year.
“Every June, we join the classes at St. John Bosco if we’re not in Mysuru. But this year we thought we couldn’t because of the virus. We couldn’t even go back to Mysuru, so we were going to the fish markets with our parents every day. But by the time school was about to start, Elizabeth ma’am and Neema ma’am came and spoke to our parents and started taking classes for all six of us,” explains Dhanya of class 7.
One of the most surprising things that both teachers, Neema and Shamiya pointed out was that all six students showed an exceptional interest in mathematics.
“This was something that came out of the blue for us. Unlike most of our other students, the six of them showed a lot of interest when it came to mathematics. It may be from their experience at the fish markets or it could be because we don’t have a language barrier with them when it comes to numbers,” Shamiya remarks.
The school themselves have taken on the responsibility to provide study material including the supplies required like pens, notebooks and crayons as well as COVID-19 kits which includes sanitisers and masks.
“Honestly it is not as fascinating as it sounds. In fact, we were heartbroken to see the condition of the place they live in. There are no walls, no beds, no doors, no electricity — just a bridge that acts as a roof,” says Neema.
“All six of the children who have been attending the classes belong to fishing families which hail from Mysuru, Karnataka and the parents of these children leave in batches and don’t have fixed timings. So sometimes, we wait until they return so that they are not left unsupervised,” she adds.
“The first few days, we would come an hour early to clean up the area to create a classroom environment and boost the morale of these students,” explains headmistress, Elizabeth Fernandez.
On understanding the living conditions of these students, the school has also appealed to the local governing bodies to provide them with a house, especially with the approaching monsoon season.
But be it the pandemic or the rainy season, nothing seems to have dampened the spirits of the teachers at the St. John Bosco School, Kochi.
“Besides studies, the teachers also bring a lot of colouring books and teach us a lot of rhymes and songs. This is when the younger children join the classes along with rest of us,” says Upendra, a class 6 student.
“Since we don’t have mobile phones and laptops like other kids, we didn’t think we could attend school this year. But we’re so happy that the teachers are coming to take classes for us now,” he adds.
“There are many things that were beyond our control when it came to the situation of these six children. But when it came to bringing a smile on their faces or providing them with an education, we knew we had the resources. This is why we continue to take classes for these children, even if it is just for an hour,” Elizabeth says.
The solution-oriented effort that these teachers have put in to ensure that every child is included is truly commendable and sets an example to several educators across the country.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)