Students discover the value of education in different ways.  This is because there are a lot of paths to a meaningful education.

There was a time not too long ago when students had no facilities for higher studies.  Today, however, there are many opportunities made available by the government and NGOs for students to achieve and to explore in education.  All it takes is for a child to want to gain that meaningful education.

Developing education within the Kallukuttai community, a marginalized area of Chennai, provides a study on the concept of a meaningful education.

Meaningful Education Begins with Awareness

In the Kallukuttai community, a marginalized area of Chennai, education is a challenge.  For a long time, there was no basic awareness about education and its relevance to kids and their community.  There were no programs related to education.

Children had to travel great distances to go to school.  There were no primary schools near their homes.  Even today, people in the Kallukuttai community face many obstacles in giving their kids a proper primary education.

Ironically, in Tamil Nadu, the education level is high compared to national averages, and the government provides many opportunities for education.  Yet,  there are many children in this community who drop their education and these available opportunities. This highlights the importance of children understanding the value of a meaningful education.

In 2015, Hope Torch started working with the Kallukuttai community.  Our focus has always been to find the student dropouts.  Our work centers on motivating kids to develop their level of education.  Challenges remain for kids who are still facing many difficult situations that inhibit their development.

A meaningful education is an education that inspires a child to take advantage of their opportunities in education.  Further, it becomes the motivation for children to overcome any and all obstacles inherent within their situation, not turning those obstacles into excuses for escape.  Hope Torch seeks to transform a child’s outlook and expose them to the meaningful education available to them.

There are three levels of education available to most children: primary, secondary or middle school, and high school levels.  Beyond this, college awaits the student.  To make education meaningful, we need to address each level because at each level, the child is at differing levels of maturity.

A Meaningful Education at the Primary Level

Primary level kids understand through action; they do not understand through speech.  They are learning important lessons about how the world works through what they see and experience.

For primary level kids here in the Kallukuttai community, there is no awareness about the many techniques in primary level education designed for their age group.  In other schools, primary kids have access to many extra-curricular activities. Unfortunately, this community is not aware of these options.

Typically, children in this community will go to school, come home; they play for sometime before sleeping.  This was the extent of academic interaction given to the kids in primary education.

They were not aware that extra-curricular activities, such as tuition, were made available to them for them to succeed.  Further, they believed that only matriculation kids, kids with access to a better funded system, would be able to fully study and experience the subject; they could not.

This is a sad situation because they are very talented.  Due to this lack of awareness, they aren’t able to take advantage of the opportunities that can showcase their skills and talents.

After some years, these kids started reaching the higher levels of education, and they were made aware of their level of education.

Some were able to take advantage of opportunities, but for many it was too late.  They started learning about the government colleges and the financial support available based on one’s economic level.  These were made possible by the government.

Further, some groups from the outside would come to address this awareness need.  They started giving some small advice and support to the community.  There focus was education and so they provided a small degree of counseling to the students.

While only a start, this interaction began to change the lives of the children.  This counseling was even extended to the parents.  It eventually became one of the most challenging as well as the one of the most life-changing services to the Kallukuttai community.

While these measures are needed and beneficial, techniques at the primary level which minimize this need must be implemented.

Tip: Distributed Practice

The aim of distributed practice should be to educate and to improve student performance. To achieve this end, students should gain important and useful information from every practice situation.  Each practice both repeats and builds on the last, enabling the primary level student to simultaneously affirm their knowledge and grow it.  A meaningful education for a primary level child is one that consistently and incrementally develops.

Distributed practice succeeds when students see and feel the gain.  Only then will they accept the practice as meaningful.  It becomes fuel to start practicing themselves.

Within the Kallukuttai community we cannot force our students to study all the subjects every day.  In the Hope Torch tuition center, we have a choice in which subject they write their weekly test. Teachers maintain a schedule of study in which the the first half hour is for the subject of the tuition teacher’s choice.  Then, and for the remaining time, the students can choose which subject to study.  This enables the student’s practice per subject to be distributed across multiple days in the week, not just one day, and placing special emphasis on difficult subjects in order for the student to experience incremental growth in that subject. .

Tip: Inspire through Role Models

Students at the primary level don’t learn through individuals who are “only” teachers.  Rather, their experience through following role models is how learning becomes meaningful to them.  Teachers and, hopefully, parents embrace their position as positive role models for each and every child.

In our Hope Torch tuition center, the teacher will not only teach and guide their subjects, but also, the teacher will, once a week, play with the children.  Even in this activity, the teachers act as their role model as they guide them to play.  In this way, the teacher becomes role model for the child apart from the subject.

A Meaningful Education for the Middle School Student

As we all know, middle school kids are extremely energetic.  That energy translates both to enthusiasm and stubbornness.  If you use the words, “No, you can’t!”, they are motivated to prove “Yes, I can!”  I love their emotions that immediately advertise their defiance in the face of limitation.  This is the appropriate age for them to learn the balance between “Yes, I can!” and “Yes, I should.”  For this reason, we need to carefully approach this group of kids.

When it comes to learning, middle school kids need to find the fun in it.  For them, fun equates to the real world scenarios.  Two years back in our Hope Torch tuition center, there was one boy studying in  5th standard.  He was a very quiet and well-mannered boy.  However, he didn’t know the ABCs of the alphabet.  His illiteracy caused him to feel disconnected and learning did not happen.  His teachers would have to repeatedly call his parents and complain about his situation.  This went on for almost a month before his father came to the tuition center and personally talked with us about his son.

We started to understand his father’s perspective.  From the next day onward, we started providing special care for that boy.  At first, we would ask him to watch cartoon movies.  The next day, we asked him to identify the characters in these cartoon movies.  He was able to recall all the answers quickly and accurately.  We understood that his recollection was strengthened by visualization.

We asked his father to buy basic English training videos.  Fortunately, his father was also motivated to help his son; he bought the suggested videos.  After a few months of just experiencing the videos, we started giving him practice with the alphabet.  We started seeing improvement in him.  Further, he began to feel connected with the education we were trying to provide or him.

Middle school kids need learning to be made real for them.  The videos as a backdrop for the learning, made this boy’s education real to him.

Tip: Provide an Engaged Learning Experience

Students who actively engage with what they are studying tend to understand more, learn more, remember more, enjoy it more and be more able to appreciate the relevance of what they have learned.  Students who passively receive what we teach them do not experience these same benefits.  .

Middle school students seek to participate in and enjoy their learning experiences.  When they are actively engaged in learning, students are doing more than simply listening; they engage in activities (e.g. discussion, debate) aimed at activating higher-order thinking .

Students desire to engage with their course material. Educators need to foster this engagement in order to encourage and empower students to take more responsibility for their own learning.  Students develop the ability to reflect upon their study.  Finally, students are to have a voice in the design, delivery and analysis of their learning.

Our challenge is to develop students that actively engage in their own learning process.  Only from this point of engagement can they develop their ideas and think more critically.

For middle schoolers, a meaningful education requires active engagement which equips them to solve real world problems .

A Meaningful Education at the High School Level

These kids are very sensitive.  They don’t like being compared with anyone else.  For them, work is about activity.  They want to enjoy every learning moment.  Their minds are playful.  All of these factors need to be understood when teaching at the high school level.

One of the boys from our community was a 12th standard student when Hope Torch started engaging the children. He is from a village.  He was the first person studying 12th standard from his family.

While he doesn’t spend much time reading and writing, he enjoys talking about the topics he was learning.  At Hope Torch, we give daily quizzes for the kids.  He would write his quiz but his concentration wasn’t there.  He wouldn’t take his quiz seriously.  The answers, even if correct, would be written in a very funny way.

We stopped working with him because he wasn’t taking his involvement seriously.  He would continue to come everyday without absence, but he wouldn’t study.  He used to talk too much with the other students, disrupting them.  The teachers started getting  irritated. He didn’t care.

After a few months, his board exams started approaching.  As the exam date drew closer, he started questioning the teachers from his subject matter.  Even under this pressure, he still remained playful.  All of us teachers were so scared for him because he never seemed to take his 12th board exams seriously.  He pretended to be so cool.

The exams came and went.  Ten children wrote  the exams along with him.  The results  came.

Given the background of our kids in Kallukuttai, we assume that no one can touch the mark of 1000.  We never could have imagined that this boy, the one always playfully approaching education, would get 1040 out of 1200.  He got a full government scholarship for his engineering degree.  His parents are very happy with his results, and he continues to study well.

For the high school level, study is very important but at the same time it should not be taken so seriously.  The high school mind can react very unpredictably to pressure to perform and conform.  Rather, allow an education to be a beautiful thing which grows our knowledge and showcases our skills to the world.

Tip: Empower Expression of Style and Ideas

Especially at the high school level, teachers must encourage students to express their own ideas.  Not only from making models and other norms and techniques, but also from their own style of studying.  If we deeply observe the student , we can find this style

We encountered one 10th standard boy who is writing his board exams this year.  He doesn’t seem to get along with the other boys.  He is very emotional and ends up with him fighting with the other boys for silly reasons.

Normally, he studies alone.  One day I took a grammar class the for 10th standard children.  I called him to join with us.  Initially, he didn’t come.  He finally came only after I forced him.  In his quarterly and half-yearly exams, he didn’t get good marks in English.  I thought he might have a problem with understanding English grammar.

When I started taking the class, he was disturbing others and wouldn’t pay attention in the class.  I worked with him one-on-one and asked him questions from the grammar subject matter.  I didn’t expect any correct answers from him.  However, he was answering them correctly!. Even when I switched to tough questions, he was still able to answer them correctly.

Finally, I asked him why he wasn’t getting good marks.  He quickly replied, “I can study everything for the exam, but at the time of the exams, I will forget.”   I understood that his focus on studies is disrupted during the exam environment.  However, he is able to explain when he is asked in a way that is non-threatening and gives him room to express his answer.

In our Hope Torch programs, we focus all the students not only getting high marks but also to be communicators of their ideas.  Especially for children in environments that do not foster an interest in education, self-expression of both ideas and personal style provides for a meaningful education.

Tip: Seek Personal Understanding

Studies have shown that our actions are influenced by our personal values by as much as 52%.  Students are no exception.  While teachers openly discuss their values and ideas in the classroom, the students rarely get the same opportunity.

Some students at Kallukuttai want to express their ideas about a particular topic.  Our teachers should know that student’s find value by expressing their own ideas in the classroom.  Through this expression comes understanding.  Teachers should help students to improve their understanding as they improve their skill in expression.

Hope Torch is giving students the opportunity to express their own ideas to implement a project or explore a topic.  As educators in the Kallukuttai environment, we can see the children begin to understand the value in education from their own creative and though-provoking efforts.

Within each level of education, students in each age group require different forms of engagement in order for their education to be meaningful to them.  Kids can understand and learn from their environment and from their opportunities if teachers and administrators find ways to make education meaningful.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

William Butler Yeats

Education is not only a tool for making a living, it can provide clarity in our hearts and souls, helping us to figure out how we want to live, but only if we want it to.  An education that lights a fire within each student is a meaningful education.

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