Kanavu, an initiative working with NGO Association for Sarva Seva Farms (Assefa), is striving to build leadership and upskill school teachers in tsunami-affected Cuddalore, thereby helping 1,300 children receive quality education.
“When we first visited Assefa’s Cuddalore project, we were deeply moved by the teachers’ commitment to show up to such remote schools and be curious to learn. It pushed us to move from Chennai to Cuddalore and explore rural education. Even though there were several private schools, they could not invest in training their teachers. Due to socio-cultural factors, the attrition rate among affordable private school teachers was high and children’s education suffered. While the government school teachers receive in-service training, those from private schools do not, due to monetary crunch. We began with a dream of working towards a society where a child’s destiny is not determined by where he or she is born and that was how ‘Kanavu’ (dreams) took shape,” recalls Nisha, 31, Director (Education) at Assefa, of which Kanavu is a part.
The 50-year-old Assefa was set up to put to good use the lands collected during the Bhoodan Movement, initiated by Mahatma Gandhi’s follower Acharya Vinobha Bhave during 1951. Keeping up with that aim, the organisation had started the Coastal Area Development Project (CADP), through which six schools were opened in Cuddalore post-tsunami in 2005 to create a nurturing environment for children. In total, the organization has started over 100 schools in rural and interior regions of Tamil Nadu, making use of the gathered lands. In 2017, Kanavu was born to work with Assefa with an aspiration to make children’s dreams come true.
Along with two other founding members, Dravina Sreenivasan and Shivaranjani Ramasubramanyam, Kanavu works with 60 teachers and 1,300 students from five schools in different villages of Cuddalore. “Despite holding college degrees, our teachers’ education isn’t helping them understand concepts or use English functionally. So, we work with them to enable meaningful education for children, preparing kids for a changing world. We focus on holistic education encompassing extra-curricular activities, sports, building values while pursuing academic excellence” elaborates Nisha. By equipping the teachers with the knowledge of computers, Kanavu is allowing them to go beyond textbooks. “While creating digital literacy among teachers, we are also keen on capacity building within the community. We want the teachers who have taken up the training in using computers to become local leaders in teaching others,” adds Nisha.
Digital literacy through Kanavu has not only helped teachers feel more confident about what they’re teaching, but is also allowing students to enjoy learning too, shares MT Radha, the headmistress of Sarva Seva Matriculation School, one of the five schools the initiative works with. “Earlier we (teachers) were giving them education without understanding it ourselves. Now, with the help of our training and using computers, we are learning a lot and students feel motivated too,” she adds.
Kanavu also works with the local community in Cuddalore through awareness workshops and upskilling initiatives. Since 2017, it has had over 300 volunteers running its programmes. “In future, Kanavu aspires to start after-school learning centres for children from villages, which can provide 21st century skills, numeracy and basic literacy. We also have a youth conference in the pipeline, through which young adults from villages can explore their soft skills. Working in rural India demands a holistic lens for development work -- and we are able to do that by being a bridge for opportunities in urban India to reach the rural parts, as well as empowering rural communities to create their own opportunities,” Nisha remarks.