Each trip we make to Kolkata includes an excursion out to Khanjanpur outside of Santiniketan, West Bengal. We visit Kirsty and Rahul Bose who set up Suchana school as a resource for local Santali, Kora and Bengali children. Although the village children are educated in government schools they are taught in Bengali. This a second language for the tribal children as the Santali and Kora tribes traditionally have their own spoken but not written language. Being taught in another language sets the children at a disadvantage to learning which affects them gaining much needed local employment. We spoke to Kirsty and asked her to tell us more about Suchana.
When did you start Suchana and why?
We started in 2004, it started as an attempt to do pre-schooling with my own kids and other middle class families in Santiniketan. My kids were 5, 2 and 0. It was supposed to be a joint effort between a group of parents- the regulars ended up being the local children from the village that we had invited, who happened to be older. It quickly transpired that although they were in school they couldn’t read. They came every Sunday and so we hired a Santali teacher to teach them. As we had a teacher we decided to fill up a class. We spoke to the local primary school teacher to ask them to recommend some children that could use extra support.
The first year we ended up teaching 30 kids that we paid for ourselves. The second year we generated funds from selling cards and went up to teaching 65 children on our verandah. By the 6th year we started using an extra building at the end of our garden and increased to 150 kids. By 2009 we started to build the Suchana school house and expanded on insecure funds but the past three years we have received funding from Tata.
What opportunities does it create for the students?
We are just discovering that now as the first group of children are leaving. One has entered an IT program and three are taking a humanities degree at the local college in Bolpur. We think two will pass but one might have funding issues. The classes they attend have funding issues and classes are up to 70 students so there is a cost to get extra tuition classes which are needed. For the other students Bolpur is a rural economy which will have openings for people with broad education. They are encouraged to try things but they are disadvantaged due to their tribal status.
How do you see Suchana evolving?
A lot depends on funds, but there are now 25 competent staff employed part time (including former students) for a mobile teaching unit and outreach programs.
Mobile tuition is growing with 6 teachers and 15 laptops that go and teach out in the villages farther away. The mobile library (rickshaw van and 3 trunks of books with 2 teachers) visits 2 villages a day. Children in those villages get the library once a week.
The other way in which things have been developing is finding ways to act as a resource centre for newer or less innovative organisations. Currently we have 250 core students at the main school location, 100 core students at a second centre and we reach 600 students with the mobile library and developing material for children using their first language and how to teach in a multilingual setting.
Suchana includes English, Science, Maths, Bangla, History, Geography within their curriculum.
Volunteer opportunities for skilled teachers in IT, accounting, building and mobile technology are welcome. The minimum commitment for volunteering is one year.
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