The Educational Structure in India The better-quality schools in India teach primarily in the English language which, together with Hindi, is one of the two official languages of India. However, millions of Indian children never have the opportunity to have the foundation education needed to learn English, and from this, be able to enrol in such English-Medium schools. In Bangalore, Building Blocks has gone some way towards changing that, by creating Learning Centres that are located in the slum districts of the city. These bright and cheerful nursery schools, full of educational toys and teaching aids, give children from the age of 3, a foundation in both English and Kannada (the local vern... read more The Educational Structure in India The better-quality schools in India teach primarily in the English language which, together with Hindi, is one of the two official languages of India. However, millions of Indian children never have the opportunity to have the foundation education needed to learn English, and from this, be able to enrol in such English-Medium schools. In Bangalore, Building Blocks has gone some way towards changing that, by creating Learning Centres that are located in the slum districts of the city. These bright and cheerful nursery schools, full of educational toys and teaching aids, give children from the age of 3, a foundation in both English and Kannada (the local vernacular) so that they are bilingual and numerate at the age of 6, and competent to win places at good English-language schools. The Story of Building Blocks More than a decade ago, back in 2004, James Suresh Ambat was determined to find a way to help the children of poor families, who were living in the slum districts that surround the city of Bangalore. The need for accessible education was huge, with hundreds of children needing education, and parents neither willing nor able to make this a priority. So he started with a school based in a garage, with just four pupils, and one teacher. Over the years, with the help of many individuals, corporates and philanthropic sponsors, Building Blocks (BB) has built 7 kindergartens for children in the 3 to 6-year-old age group. Today, there are 514 children enrolled in BB Learning Centres as part of regular schooling. 220 BB Scholars have moved on to English-medium primary and secondary schools, supported by an After-School Programme. Their BB Scholarships subsidise the school fees, and provide on-going support with coaching and mentoring to ensure that these pupils do not lag behind the achievement level of their class-mates who come from more advantaged homes. As the operation has grown, the schools have supported almost 1300 students in the last 13 years, with over one million nutritious meals served to these undernourished children. The Core Curriculum Children start at a Building Blocks school at the age of 3, and for the first few days there are lots of tears and confusion. For two weeks, the children learn some basic principles of hygiene, cleanliness and behaviour. There is an emphasis on hygiene in all the schools, with special attention to washing hands thoroughly - using soap - before and after meals, and especially after using the toilet. We emphasise this procedure because diseases which are rampant in the slum communities, like diarrhoea, respiratory infections and many more communicable diseases can be avoided through the simple practice of thorough and regular hand washing. At home, in the slums of Bangalore, the children don't generally have access to clean running water, electricity, toilets or latrines. Attending Building Blocks is a bright, clean new world for the young schoolchildren, and they are gently taught how to adapt their behaviour to their new environment. Building Blocks follows its own kindergarten curriculum, which is designed to give underprivileged children a good foundation in English language, arithmetic, general science, and social / practical life skills right from the early age of three years. By the time that they are six years old, Building Blocks children are almost indistinguishable from children of a similar age who attend one of the expensive, nursery schools located in an up-market residential district. So, where do they go from here? To ensure that their education continues, Building Blocks started a Scholarship and Sponsorship Programme which funds the children in their ongoing education in English-medium elementary schools, right through to age 16. Some children are personally sponsored for the full 10 years, by private individuals, companies, or business groups; others are financed through a general scholarship fund. Funding comes from India and around the world; from as far away as Japan to the East, Sweden to the North and California to the West. There are currently more than 300 Building Blocks Scholars on this programme. Core Principles behind Building Blocks In the first four months of each year, our team of social workers select our intake of 3-year-old, first-year pupils from children living in impoverished slum districts around Bangalore. We offer them a 3-year programme of totally free, quality English-medium education in addition to classes in the vernacular language of Kannada. They also have nutritious meals twice a day and learn good manners and social behaviour. After three years, they become Building Blocks Scholars and progress to an English-medium Primary/Secondary school with a sponsorship or general scholarship that provides them with heavily subsidised school fees, and a programme of coaching, tuition and mentoring. This After School Programme is designed to ensure that they do not lag behind the achievements of their classmates who may come from more privileged backgrounds. What Next - A Vision for the Future Our Core Philosophy about Urban Education Central to our philosophy is the belief that each and every child is special and must discover his/her purpose in life, and it is our mission to help them in this process. Children should be encouraged to explore their creativity, make discoveries and develop self-belief and self-esteem. Children should become personal entrepreneurs who have the confidence to know what they are worth and seek employment opportunities that will enable them to apply their talents to the maximum. Ongoing Immediate Objectives 1. Ensure that Building Blocks is a sustainable organisation. 2. Continue to empower women associated with the BB operation whether they are staff or parents, through training, skill development, financial education and awareness programmes. All of this will be reinforced by respectful encouragement. 3. Make Building Blocks / BB Scholars / process-enabled organisations. 4. Understand the negative impact of micro-management and restrict it throughout BB. 5. Encourage and empower future generations to trust their abilities and be confident. Medium-Term Objectives 1. To expand the network of Building Blocks Learning Centres from the current 7 to 14 over the coming 5 years with: i. Two new Centres to open in 2018 ii. Two new Centres to open in 2019 iii. Three new Centres to open in 2020 2. To develop a competent infrastructure with: i. A clear strategy of staff development, assessment, recognition and promotion (where appropriate.) ii. A restructuring of the organisation with layers of management control, to avoid putting strain on top managers. iii. Procedures and systems in place to facilitate good management processes. 3. To continue to develop the community philosophy of Building Blocks and, in time, to create a tribe of BB Adults whose outlook is focused on making the world a better place, with the ability, confidence and ambition to make this an achievable objective.
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