Eureka Child Site Visit ReportOn January 24, I visited AID Indias office in Chennai, India. My aim was to meet with the EurekaChild team and to check out some of the education initiatives in action. As soon as I arrived at the AIDIndia office, I headed off to visit a Eureka Model School and a Eureka SuperKidz center inKanchipuram district (about 80 km from Chennai). To give me company were Damu (Tamil LanguageContent lead) and Vivek (Coordinator, Eureka Model Schools).Eureka Model School: Wallodai Village, Kanchipuram DistrictFirst, we visited the Eureka Model School in Wallodai. TheWallodai school was started about 5 years back, in the aftermathof the 2004 Tsunami, with the support of Banca Sella group, anItalian bank, which has an offshore center in Chennai.The Eureka Model School is a primary school with about 120kids from Grade 1-5. As the name suggests, this school is one of aselect few that have been designed and run by the Eureka Childteam so that they can serve as models for delivering low cost highquality education. It has a lot of open space to allow for free playand the class rooms are designed to be conducive to activity Grade 1: Language learningbased learning. The class room walls were decked with various activity, Children picking out aage appropriate paintings (puzzles, concepts) and posters. There letterwas a blackboard, but it didnt necessarily set the orientation ofthe class. None of the class rooms had any desks or tables. Thekids, and even the teachers, were pretty comfortable sitting on thefloor. Apparently, the absence of desks/tables is intentional, as itallows children to form small groups and engage in grouplearning activities with ease. The activities themselves are reallyquite interactive and play based. For instance, in Grade 1, theteacher was teaching alphabets, a bunch of cards with variousalphabets would be laid out on the floor; a child would be calledupon at random and given a letter to pick out. Once the right cardwas picked up, there would be a lot of clapping and cheering,following which, another kid would go through the same. This Grade 1: Kids learning shapesway the entire class was engaged in the activity and was havingfun at the same time. This is very different from a typical teacherdirected classroom environment where children are passiveparticipants. Other learning activities, such as, learning shapes,numbers etc, were carried out in the same fashion. I also noticedthat most teachers were enjoying themselves and unleashing theircreativity in their classes! The Grade 2 teacher, Muthulakshmi,showed us how she herself designed a picture card learningactivity to teach tamil words. She also would hand a newspaper tothe children and ask them to find a particular word or phrase inthe paper. John Holt might be smiling in appreciation! It was nice Grade 1: Entire cheerful class w.to see that even though they had a curriculum to follow, there Teacher Parimalla
seemed to be enough room for flexibility and adaptation on how the learning was imparted. The kids inGrade 3 were busy showing off their growing math and phonetics-based English speaking skills andthe kids in Grade 4 were excited to demonstrate to us a series of science experiments. To ensure that weunderstood what was going on, they would not only demonstrate the experiments but then also explainthe concepts (such as, the Bernoullis principle, air pressure changes etc). The girls in Grade 5 happilydemonstrated Yoga and and the boys showed off their newly acquired Silamban skills (a Tamil stickfighting/dance form)! Their teacher mentioned that they are taught Yoga and Silamban once a week.Education is free in the school. Most of the kids were from modest backgrounds, with parents workingin lower economic spectrum jobs such as, daily wage laborers, truck drivers etc. One could notice thatthe kids, as they progressed through the grades were gaining in self confidence. Not surprisingly, thesekids often stand out in many state competitions and even recently got a high placing in a nationalDesign for Change contest. Even though there is a government (public) school in the area, the Eurekaschool is in high demand! There is usually a waiting list and stiff competition for enrollment to theschool!All in all, the program was very well rounded. The teaching methods were interactive and creative.There was a lot of room for play and physical activities. Most importantly, the kids and the teachersseem to be having loads of fun! Grade 2: Kids using picture cards to Grade 2: Vivek against the learn words backdrop a typically colorful classroom wall Grade 2: Solvng an addition Grade 2: Damu setting up a math problem problem and inviting a kid to solve it
Eureka Superkidz Center: Tattampattu Village, Lathur Block, KanchipuramAfter visiting the Eureka School, we went on to Tattampattu village in the same district (~30 minutesdrive) to check out the Eureka Superkidz (ESK) center in thatvillage. As a background, there are about 550 EurekaSuperkidz Centers across Tamil Nadu, which conduct daily 3hrs of reading, match and science classes for children. Thecenter in Tattampattu village had about 70 children, split intotwo separate groups, Grades 1-3 and Grades 4-6. This ESKcenter operated in the open grounds of the local government(public) school, most of the children at the ESK study in thesame school during the day.I spent most of my time with the children belonging to Grades Eureka Superkidz Grades 4-64-6 and taught by teacher, Priya. The class started with all thechildren sitting in one big circle. Reading was the first skill theteacher was focusing on. Once she finished the short commonlesson, she asked all the children to break themselves intoTerriyum (We Know) and Terriyad (We dont Know) groups forreading. For each skill (reading, math and science), the teachermaintains a meticulous record of where each child stands, intheir level of understanding. A skill chart is publicly displayedand the children know where they stand. In this particularclass of about 40 children, about 8 children were laggingbehind the rest of the class in reading, they formed theTerriyad group, and the teacher sat with them to pay special One of the Terriyum (We know)attention to them and help them catch up. The rest of the class groups for Tamil readingsplit themselves into 4 smaller groups of 7-8 kids each, eachgroup had a pre-assigned leader (probably the best kid in thegroup). The teacher would hand over reading material (picturecards, posters etc) to each of these groups and the group leaderwould ensure that his/her group was in sync. Meanwhile theteacher would spend about 20-30 minutes with the Terriyadgroup. Typically, when the school year begins or when a newskill is introduced, the number of kids in the Terriyad group ishigh, but over time, more and more kids acquire the skill andmove over to the Terriyum group. The same process isrepeated for math, science and English. Even though the whole Teacher paying special attention toprocess required constant regrouping and feeding of new the Terriyad (We dont know) groupmaterial, it was surprisingly efficient; much credit is due to theteacher who had pretty good command over the class and had ingrained the whole thing into the kids tomake a potentially chaotic process smooth. In this regard, teacher Priya was very impressive! Shedeserved the Teacher of the Month award (which I had the privilege of giving her, later that day!).Having visited the Eureka School earlier in the day a comparison was inevitable. While the EurekaSchool is in itself a shining example of a low cost-high quality school (annual budget $12K), the ESKis a classic example of an attempt to meet a critical learning needs at a large scale with even loweramount of resources (operating costs are 10x less than a Eureka School and there is minimal
infrastructure). The classes are held in borrowed property – in this case, the open grounds of the localgovernment school! The classes are subject to the elements, a slight rain or drizzle, can cancel the class.Since there is no physical building, all the teaching aids/materials necessarily fit in one bag, which theteacher brings with her to class. This includes a makeshift blackboard, which is held in place by twokids, while the rest solve math problems or demonstrate writing skills. While most teaching methodswere similar in both settings (activity and play based), the relatively higher teacher/student ratio andgrouping of 3 grades together, calls for more creative teaching methods, like breaking kids inTerriyum/Terriyad groups, better teaching aids and monitoring etc.The fact that the classes are providing real value to the kids is quite clear from observing them in actionand also from the fact that their low-income parents consider itimportant enough to pay a regular fee to keep their kids enrolledin these classes.During a break from the class activities, I had a chance to interactwith the staff that supports the ESK center. I already mentionedthe teacher, Priya, who is a young lady from the same village.This is her second job, she is also a part time teacher at the localgovernment school. Also present was the Super Teacher, Shalini,who is responsible for 5 such ESK centers. Each day, she visits adifferent ESK center. She is an experienced teacher who has been Solving a fractions problem on apromoted. As a Super Teacher, her job is to visit her centers and makeshift black boardprovide tips/suggestions to teachers, train them on new teachingmethods, as well as serve as a conduit for distributing newresource material for the classes. Also present was ProjectManager, Anballagi, who manages about 25 ESK centers. Shaliniand other Super Teachers in the area, report into Anballagi. It washeartening to see that the ESK initiative was giving suchindividuals a meaningful opportunity to express their passion. It isalso evident dedicated field staff like Priya, Shalini and Anballagi,are the key determinants of the success of the ESK program.Without a quality effort by them, the innovative teachingmethods/materials developed by the State team will not have thesame impact. For instance, both Shalini and Anballagi, spend Priya receiving a well deservedeach day of the week traveling to different remote villages – Teacher of the Month Awardsometimes walking long distances (1-2 hrs each way from themain road), to do their job! Since most classes end at 8PM, it is quite late by the time they get home.The reason they continue work with the ESK program is because they enjoy their work and are inspiredby the change they see themselves creating. A key challenge for the Eureka Child State team is to keepidentifying the best field staff across its 500+ villages, train them effectively, and develop monitoringtechniques and teaching methods to make for efficient implementation.