Empower through Education

Udaan India Foundation's CEO Ashlesha Chitnavis Ashlesha Chitnavis is an educationist with experience ranging from micro to macro in the area of teaching – learning processes, systems and management.
Udaan India Foundation’s CEO Ashlesha Chitnavis Ashlesha Chitnavis is an educationist with experience ranging from micro to macro in the area of teaching – learning processes, systems and management.

We arrived at Powai’s Gopal Vihar school around 3pm – that’s a little before classes begin for Udaan India Foundation’s (UIF) kids. As the children were trailing into their classes, they greeted us strangers with a “Good Afternoon Ma’am” but soon started playing amongst themselves, waiting for class to start. UIF classes are conducted between 3.15 and 6 15 pm daily, after regular school hours, in accordance with the SSC curriculum.

So while UIF is an after-school programme, it is, as their founder and chairperson, Mamta Tangan put it, “run like a school.” From a timetable, to meetings with parents, to annual sports day, to an academic calendar that is followed, you’ll find it all at UIF. But you don’t find any of this displayed prominently at the Gopal Vihar school. Infact, there’s no indication of grades/standards outside classrooms either. That’s because UIF classes are held at the Gopal Vihar premises in the afternoons, once Gopal Vihar children are done using the same in the morning.

A child’s journey at UIF begins with the Kindergarten programme and continues through the learning years, steadily taking a child towards employability, and thus a better life. Udaan’s learning centre lays the foundation of a child’s holistic development and imparts learning that goes beyond the textbook. Beyond this, children are guided, mentored and provided financial support on an equal opportunity basis to meet their true potential.

To open the world of books for children and supplement their language skills, UIF runs a community library. Children are taken through a structured programme to become confident and eager readers. Under the guidance of qualified staff,
the library brings relevant and meaningful literature within the reach of children who cannot otherwise afford to buy books. Udaan also has a computer centre that provides computer literacy to children. Through a defined curriculum, students from the eighth standard onwards undergo training in basic computer skills and learn the use of Internet which will equip them for skilled jobs.

Further, UIF is a Hindi-medium school. English becomes mandatory from the 5th standard. The entire curriculum is designed keeping the SSC board in mind as kids eventually take these exams. However, it is only for English that they use their own curriculum and not the BMC’s (Government) because they find the governments curriculum to be rather poor. Says Mamta about their flawed curriculum, “Basic words/verbs are taught till standard 5, then there is a sudden jump to full-fledged sentences – which obviously the children are not able to grasp. “

Health and nutrition are also focused upon. They provide the kids with a nutritious afternoon snack that will keep their stomachs full and help them concentrate – like fruit, biscuits or idlis. Interestingly, their banana seller has bought into the concept of Udaan and offers the schools bananas at a discounted rate ( as does the school bus vendor who is offering his services for free!)

In addition, uniforms, shoes and socks are provided, which not only gives children a sense of identity, but also instills in them the importance of personal hygiene and grooming. Stationery, notebooks and workbooks are also given to supplement their needs. Annual eye camps, dental camps and general health check-ups are also part of their efforts.

Udaan, through its work, hopes to see a perceptible change by way of increased enrolments in schools, decrease in school dropout rates and better job opportunities for the underprivileged. But, beyond that, Udaan aims to groom children to become confident young adults equipped to tackle various challenges in life.

The organisation’s mission statement ‘Empower through Education’. Spend three hours at their center and you’ll understand how the organization is working towards the same.

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