“My name is Sapo and I work in the button factory.” One day my boss came to me and asked, “Are you busy?” I pressed a button with my left hand and said, “No.”
Tunes of the famous Button Factory nursery rhyme greeted me as I walked into the Khedgali Municipal School on Sayani Road in Mumbai. It wasn’t a music class in progress but rather a class in Biology for primary school children. They were being taught about their different body parts – left hand, right hand, left leg, right leg, head etc. – through this song. Rather innovative and engaging a way to get a bunch of kids paying attention in a science class, wouldn’t you agree?
This is the theme for all classes that are run by Muktangan, a Mumbai-based NGO. Working in collaboration with municipal schools, Muktangan offers an innovative educational program that is affordable, of high-quality, and targeted at under-privileged children from economically disadvantaged sections of society.
The main emphasis of the program is on the learning of the children, above anything else. So, starting from the high teacher-student ration of 1:12/1:15, to doing away with competition and even uniforms, Muktangan’s program becomes unique in more ways than one. Each classroom has circles drawn on the floor, around which groups of children sit. Each group is then managed by its own teacher, permitting more attention to be given to each child. Further, children decide on what they wish to learn. Muktangan believes that each child has his/her own pace of learning; so the educational system itself should be student specific giving each student the liberty to choose what he wants to learn.
Further, students are assessed not on their capacity to memorise and replicate but on their ability for reasoning and applying classroom concepts in the real world. Which is why innovative and engaging ways are constantly thought of to make learning fun and ensure that children are truly learning. It goes without saying then that students are encouraged to take up music lessons, sports and creative writing too.
Another interesting aspect is the fact that Muktangan selects its teachers from the community itself. As they believe that if teachers understand the background of the child, it can only help facilitate his/her learning. It is with this mind that parent-teacher meetings are scheduled in the house of each child once every term. As Rinku, one of the teachers at the Khedgali Municipal school put it, “I like their philosophy. With a 1:12/1:15 ratio, you know each child you are teaching. Not just their classroom performance but also their family background. It’s not like a 70-children classroom, where you are forced to use the rod to discipline the children.” Interestingly, Rinku joined Muktangan after she saw the difference in her sister-in-law’s children and then came in to enquire about the same.
Teachers like her go through an intensive one-year training before they begin teaching at the school. This is why having prior teaching experience/qualifications is not a criteria to become a teacher here. Candidates must be standard 12 graduates and have a basic level of English though. The year-long courses fine tunes their language skills while also imparting concepts of Psychology, Human Development, Sociology etc.
Muktangan is the brainchild of Mrs. Elizabeth Mehta, who has over four decades of experience in the field of education. She understood the limitations and challenges of India’s traditional education system and came up with Muktangan – a low cost, child effective system which facilitates overall child development. She launched the project a decade ago in one dilapidated municipal school in Worli; it catered then to 90 pre-primary children and seven teachers. Today, Muktangan touches the lives of 2,400 children across seven schools in the Worli-Prabhadevi-Lower Parel belt of Mumbai.
While 300 children get added across these seven schools to the program every year, Muktangan would love to reach out to more. Infact after you spend a day observing their lively classroom sessions, I’m sure you’d be asking (as I was) why they aren’t reaching out to more schools. Monetary constraints prevent them from taking more schools under their wing. So, they’re trying to get their teaching methodology, which is after all the core of what they so, adopted by other schools. But in order for this to happen on a really massive scale, government accreditation of their teacher education program is what they need. And their biggest obstacle to this has not been regarding its quality but its inability to comply with some of the criteria, one of which is that they must have a separate physical building for teacher training.
With a close to 100% student attendance and a drop-out rate of less than one percent, this is one program the Government needs to sit up and take notice to.