Blossoming flowers of Phulenagar: Abhyasika

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Chief Editors: Shreerang Javadekar, Shreeyesh Menon
Mail to: insight@iitb.ac.in

In 2006-07, a few students from Electrical Engineering came up with an initiative called Teach Me to provide free tuitions to kids in the nearby Phulenagar chawl area. Abhyasika, as it is known today, was started with the aim of providing these students with the educational support they needed to achieve academic excellence to the best of their ability. Through its systematic approach and understanding of barriers that students face, Abhyasika endeavoured to minimize the problems of accessibility to education. Our editor Abhishek Andasu spoke to their team to understand more about their structure.

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Over the years, Abhyasika has continued to attract numerous volunteers from multiple departments. Today, Abhyasika with the help of IITB’s ever-supportive student volunteers, Abhyasika is successfully running two centres accommodating students from class 4 to class 12. Compared to traditional school settings or conventional tuition centres, the batches allotted to each teacher at Abhyasika are much smaller – between three and five student- which means that students can learn concepts better and faster.

When asked about what drives this endeavour, the Abhyasika team replied, “What motivates us is the condition of the families the kids come from, their ability to hold on to their aspirations against all odds. Many of the families depend on a single person who usually earns less than 10000 a month doing odd jobs. The whole family resides in single-room huts and unhygienic surroundings. Some of the parents are forced to work low-paying jobs without holidays, hardly getting any time to spend with their families. Some of the kids we teach receive very little attention or love from their families and in some cases, they also face domestic violence. Despite all that, they show up at class with a smile on their faces.”

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What makes Abhyasika different from other social initiatives:

  • Objective: Abhyasika is centred around the students and not the volunteers. Many NGOs may be volunteer-centric in the sense that they might be okay with creating limited impact as long as the volunteers have a feel-good experience. However, the center-incharges take all decisions with the sole objective of helping the kids reach their full potential, academically or otherwise.
  • Organization: Presently, 120-150 volunteers are organized based on the day of the week they want to teach. Centre Coordinators of Abhyasika keep a meticulous record of every student’s daily progress on a tracking sheet. For example, students who are working on strengthening their foundation skills are closely monitored for daily improvement in Maths, reading, comprehension and writing skills. Online records, daily target setting for each teacher and weekly reviews are central to their process.
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  • An effective teaching structure: Several students are particularly deficient in certain subjects when they join Abhyasika. For example, a class 7 student joining them might sometimes not know even how to add numbers. The deficiencies are overcome through a module system where they begin right from the basics and increase the difficulty progressively to enable students to reach a level where they are capable of performing well in the Board exams. Regular assessment and grouping by aptitude allows for goal setting and removes barriers to learning – some of their younger students learn advanced topics well beyond their school books through the module structure.
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  • Communication with parents: Parents of the children taught tend to be passive with regards to their academics. To remedy this, Abhyasika frequently organises parent interactions (either one-to-one or common meetings) where they stress their role in the child’s education.

What really distinguishes them is their encouragement and sustained interaction with students – to embolden them to have dreams and ambitions to aspire towards, so that they are able to sustain their motivation to work hard. Drop-outs due to lack of motivation or parental pressures are often the biggest challenges for similar undertakings. Abhyasika, however, seeks to solve them through regular goal setting sessions and increased interaction with parents. Students dropping out of Abhyasika in the past due to regressive mindset of parents (getting their daughters married, sending their sons to work,etc.) is emotionally draining on the coordinators, especially when bright kids on the verge of success are forced to drop out of the education system.

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However, such an enterprise is not without numerous challenges and Abhyasika has always tried to stay ahead of that curve. In terms of personnel, short periods of being short staffed, lack of enthusiastic and driven coordinators and replacing graduating students remain challenges. This year, Abhyasika has started running regular classes for the commerce and arts streams but they are desperately in need of volunteers who can teach subjects like Accountancy, Economics and Geography. They also need teachers for 9th and 10th std, especially in Hindi and Marathi mediums.

Funds also remain a sticking point . Currently, Abhyasika’s operational expenses (textbooks, notebooks, printouts, worksheets) are borne by coordinators, volunteers and some Abhyasika alumni. In the future, they would love to provide financial support for students attending junior or degree college by funding their bus passes (bus tickets are quite expensive for most families so many students end up tiring themselves out by walking long distances to and from college) or giving partial scholarships for deserving students.

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Organising stress-relieving extra curriculars and more frequent field trips is also part of their agenda for the future. The larger goal, however, is that in the future, their students must have strong basics so that they can excel not just in Board exams but also in other competitive exams.

Salient Achievements:
Two of their girl students are set to give JEE exam in 2017. One of them was with Abhyasika in her class 10 and scored 93.2% in her Board exam. The other joined Abhyasika in class 11. To be able to live in such conditions and still have the zeal to learn, spend long hours on study, be competitive enough to prepare for exams like JEE is truly inspirational.

Three repeaters of class 10 passed the Board exams. One girl among them had a 3 year break from studies and had to be taught right from adding numbers. Within one year, she managed to pass the board exam.
All the tenth-passed students at Abhyasika this year were able to secure admission into good junior colleges including top-ranking institutes like Jhunjhunwala College, Ghatkopar and KJ Somaiya, Vidyavihar. One of their students who passed class XII with a first division this May is currently doing BSc and they are able to provide teachers for him as well. Two girls who passed class X last year are now preparing for the NEET exam.

Visit them at http://tinyurl.com/abhyasikafb !
If you are interested in joining Abhyasika as a teaching volunteer or in supporting them financially, please write to abhyasikaiitb@gmail.com