The Universal Hunger for Learning

We need some good news for a change and here it is.

Daily Pundit says “Meet someone that truly deserves a Nobel”.

I concur. This is a remarkable story from among the poorest of the poor in West Bengal:

Babar Ali’s day starts early. He wakes, pitches-in with the household chores, then jumps on an auto-rickshaw which takes him part of the 10km (six mile) ride to the Raj Govinda school. The last couple of kilometres he has to walk.

The minute his lessons are over at Raj Govinda school, Babar Ali doesn’t stop to play, he heads off to share what he’s learnt with other children from his village.

At four o’clock every afternoon after Babar Ali gets back to his family home a bell summons children to his house. They flood through the gate into the yard behind his house, where Babar Ali now acts as headmaster of his own, unofficial school.

Lined up in his back yard the children sing the national anthem. Standing on a podium, Babar Ali lectures them about discipline, then study begins.

Babar Ali gives lessons just the way he has heard them from his teachers. Some children are seated in the mud, others on rickety benches under a rough, homemade shelter. The family chickens scratch around nearby. In every corner of the yard are groups of children studying hard.

Babar Ali was just nine when he began teaching a few friends as a game. They were all eager to know what he learnt in school every morning and he liked playing at being their teacher.

Now his afternoon school has 800 students, all from poor families, all taught for free. Most of the girls come here after working, like Chumki, as domestic helps in the village, and the boys after they have finished their day’s work labouring in the fields.

“In the beginning I was just play-acting, teaching my friends,” Babar Ali says, “but then I realised these children will never learn to read and write if they don’t have proper lessons. It’s my duty to educate them, to help our country build a better future.”

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What an incredible story. There are some videos of this young man at the BBC site.

Including Babar Ali there are now 10 teachers at the school, all, like him are students at school or college, who give their time voluntarily. Babar Ali doesn’t charge for anything, even books and food are given free, funded by donations. It means even the poorest can come here.

“Our area is economically deprived,” he says. “Without this school many kids wouldn’t get an education, they’d never even be literate.”

Babar Ali is the first member of his family ever to get a proper education.

“It’s not easy for me to come to school because I live so far away,” he says, “but the teachers are good and I love learning. And my parents believe I must get the best education possible that’s why I am here.”

Raj Govinda school is government-run so it is free, all Babar Ali has to pay for is his uniform, his books and the rickshaw ride to get there. But still that means his family has to find around 1,800 rupees a year ($40, £25) to send him to school. In this part of West Bengal that is a lot of money. Many poor families simply can’t afford to send their children to school, even when it is free.

The school has been recognized by the local authorities, it has helped increase literacy rates in the area, and Babar Ali has won awards for his work.

The youngest children are just four or five, and they are all squeezed in to a tiny veranda. There are just a couple of bare electric bulbs to give light as lessons stretch into the evening, and only if there is electricity.

And then the monsoon rain begins. Huge big drops fall as the children scurry for cover, slipping in the mud. They crowd under a piece of plastic sheeting. Babar Ali shouts an order. Lessons are cancelled for the afternoon otherwise everyone will be soaked. Having no classrooms means lessons are at the mercy of the elements.

The children climb onto the porch of a nearby shop as the rain pours down. Then they hurry home through the downpour. Tomorrow they’ll be back though. Eight hundred poor children, unable to afford an education, but hungry for anything they can learn at Babar Ali’s school.

Daily Pundit opines:

Good thing this school is in a country like West Bengal were initiative is rewarded instead of someplace like the US or UK where he’d be arrested and shut down.

Note that the student teacher ratio is 80:1 and yet the kids seem to be learning. Could it be because they want to learn?

It may be against the law now to “play school”. In the US, anyway, the all-mighty teachers’ unions would shut this kid down. And Social Services might force him to register as a daycare center and pay union dues for the privilege.

The lessons to be drawn from this are that children really are eager to learn and, more importantly, it doesn’t take a big budget, years of useless pedagogic theory, and unions to create a passion for learning…or teaching. One could say that those factors are now impediments to learning.

The desire for knowledge could once be found everywhere (scroll down to the bottom to see the lector).

Now the focus is on entertainment, distraction, bread and circuses.

One thought on “The Universal Hunger for Learning

  1. ..he heads off to share what he’s learnt with other children from his village.

    This means that he has to know the subject well enough to teach it. In a way it is a favour to Ali.

    In the UK, this kid will not be able to have other kids at his home. His home will have become a public place for children. It will have to be examined by Health and Safety, fire services, social services, and a qualified first aider will have to be present. The parents would have to get clearance that they are not involved in child pornography.

    This is what I can think spur of the moment.There must be a lot more.

    Now I would go along with all the above and more, if the standard of education was high, but it is not. In fact, and this is the real tragedy, present teachers have been taught by sub-standard teachers with sub-standard material, who themselves were taught by sub-standard etc.. They are poor quality. This is not their fault, as it is big government in action with its “no child left behind” policy. No one must fail as it is discriminatory. The big change downwards came about around 1980. It will take atleast three generations to reverse the spiral.

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