Aman Singh is like any other 13-year-old. He loves to spend time with his friends, play an occasional game of cricket and discuss cars with fervour. What sets him apart from most of his peers is the leadership stance he has already developed, and clarity of thought that belies his years.
Aman comes from the low-income Khadi community in Mumbai and lives with a single parent who more often than not struggles to make ends meet. A Teach For India (TFI) student at the Eksar Talao Municipal School in Borivali, he recently passed the BMC scholarship exam as one of the top 10 rankers in the state. It was when Mohini Pandey -- Aman's teacher and TFI Fellow 2013-15 -- began conducting solution-oriented sessions to help her students understand the problems and need gaps of their communities that Aman came up with the observation that a lot of his classmates were not able to cope up with the academic grade level of their class.
Through collective brainstorming, Aman and his classmates hit upon the idea of starting informal learning circles (LCs) that could be run by the students and for the students. "Teachers sometimes have a lot of admin work because of which it might be really hard for them to focus on each and every child in the classroom. I thought LCs would be a great way for us to make a difference to this problem that some of our classmates face every day," he says with wisdom beyond his years.
Mohini and her class piloted the learning circle within the school to see how well the students could share their ideas and concerns, as well as the problems being faced in each subject. Once they realised that this approach was working, she suggested that the kids scale up their initiative so that it could impact other kids from their communities -- those who were facing the same problems in different schools or those who were not able to go to school at all.
"We formed student leaders for each LC who then sat together with Mohini Didi to plan lessons and understand how to conduct them. We decide the objectives for each day and join the LC along with all the participants so that everyone can also learn the importance of team work. The participants are given worksheets to practice what they learn. All the student leaders and participants give feedback to each other -- this helps us be better at what we're trying to do," says Aman.
The circles have been running successfully for eight months now. They are usually held in a student leader's house for about two hours every day, with assessment tests used to measure progress. "I've realised that my own class has improved a lot on English speaking and critical-thinking skills for other subjects as well -- all of them showed at least half a year of growth in every unit, which was mind boggling! They also developed planning and organisational skills -- discussing ways to deal with a difficult child for example or brainstorming on making customised lesson plans for him/her!" exclaims Mohini.
The learning circle has already impacted around 45 to 50 children, including kids who are not enrolled in school.
Mohini observes that Aman has matured tremendously and is able to act both empathetically and responsibly. "The LCs have brought about a sudden change in Aman as well the other student leaders -- they have started to talk with so much love and respect for their peers and are eager to help in any way they can. They have become independent human beings and I'm confident that as they grow up, they'll carry their learnings from this exercise to continue helping their communities in the future as well."
"I've have become more confident and I now understand the importance of self-action," says Aman as he beams with pride. "My dream is to become the Prime Minister of India one day. Even if I don't, I want to be in politics so I can change the mindset of the people around me because if that changes, India will become a more developed country and a better place for everyone irrespective of their background!"
Here's to Aman and to our collective vision -- that one day all children will attain an excellent education!
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Written By Alankrita Khera -- Manager, Communications -- Teach For India