Rakesh Kumar, 10, lives in an isolated rural area of Jammu’s Nagrota region in India’s north. He loves to draw.
Rakesh was only 5 years old when he first gained the attention of his teachers when he drew a sketch of a famous movie star. Since then, more of his sketches have impressed his teachers and friends, but he was being held back — the government school was lacking facilities and there was no arts teacher to help hone his skills.
It was early last year when a team from the Jammu and Kashmir Catholic Social Service Society visited Rakesh’s school and set up a participatory knowledge center which provides free supplementary education programs to disadvantaged rural kids.
Rakesh joined the program; was given materials, artistic guidance from a teacher and internet access to watch relevant art videos.
The director of the society, Father Justin Thiraviam, told LiCAS.news that the knowledge centers aim to make it possible for rural children like Rakesh have access to a broader education.
“The conventional educational support structures provide very limited space for the children [in these areas] to participate,” Father Thiraviam said.
“When we talk about participation, we believe it should be beyond just information sharing,” he said adding the centers’ child centric programs use different methodologies to assist with a child’s overall development.
Niamat Ali, a program coordinator, said the centers run during weekdays.
“There was some resentment from the parents of the kids at the initial stage but now they have understood that what their kids are doing in these centers is equipping them to better face the world,” Ali said.
“Most of the parents are not literate, even if in some cases parents are literate, they do not have enough resources to support their children in their studies,” Ali said.
The church agency has 16 such centers in the state catering for 248 children aged between 6-12. The centers were shut in April-September due to India’s nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.
“Apart from educational support, the centers organize various competitions among students to promote extra-curricular activities and to inculcate a feeling of collective action,” Ali said.
Ali gave the example of 10-year-old Kirtan Sharma who was exceptional at mathematics, but his parents couldn’t afford extra tuition to help him progress. This dilemma was overcome when he joined one of the program’s centers.
“It really turned the boy around. He was introduced to a completely new world of knowledge which opened up new horizons for him,” Ali said. “We are sure that he will achieve marvels in life and will become a great mathematician in future,” he said.
Budding writer Indu Singh, 8, is another rural student who has benefitted from attending the center. Within a month of attending the church-run program, her hand writing improved, and her storytelling abilities blossomed.
“When her teacher told her that she was doing well, it changed Indu’s entire perspective. She used to be ridiculed by teachers earlier but now she is happy that her hobby is getting applause,” said Bola Ram, her father.