At Deriya, a village in Joida taluk deep inside the Kali Tiger Reserve, the students step out of their houses in the afternoon. Led by Jayanand Dereker, president of Kunabi Samaj, Joida, and a native of Deriya, the kids, aged between 10 and 14, follow him crossing streams and rivulets.
They reach atop a hill where an isolated house stands. Jayanand takes out his mobile, checks its connectivity and finds it is a perfect place. He connects his mobile phone to a bluetooth device and contacts a teacher --- R Purnima --- former English Professor, Karnataka State Open University. She is at her residence 500 km away, also waiting anxiously to connect with the children to begin their classes.
This is a routine exercise at Deriya since the last 30 days despite the fact that Covid-19 has hit the education sector hard and the schools are closed. Though a few private schools have taken to digital teaching, the students of government schools are not so lucky. But the school in Deriya --- exclusively for children of Kunabi tribe community with about 20 students – is ensuring they are not deprived of studies despite the Covid-19 trouble.
Prof Purnima, a theatre expert, who volunteered for the job last year, trained them in English language skills and personality development using theatre as an educational tool. As part of this ‘fun- learning’, the students participate in the quiz and word-building exercise. They are taught science, astro physics and trained in theatre. “The students enact short plays on the lives of scientists and inventors like Galileo, Issac Newton. Marie Curie, Thomas Alva Edison. Hershel and others,” says Jayanand Derekar.
Prof Purnima says that she began teaching students at Deriya last year. “I began with English grammar. To make them understand active voice and passive voice, tenses and other rules, I used scientists and inventors and their inventions. This serves a dual purpose --- help them learn grammar and know about the scientists,” she adds.
“I wanted to come to Deriya again, but I could not due to the spread of the virus. But after the lockdown was announced, I emailed the teaching module and the syllabus prepared by me, but the students started abstaining from the classes when a teacher tried to teach them. Then I thought of a mobile phone to teach,” she said. The teaching also focuses on children’s behaviour towards the physically challenged and senior citizens.
The response has been very good as the students are participating with great enthusiasm. “We can read English better now,” says Neha Derekar, one of the students. Another student Arpita says that she learnt about several scientists like C V Raman and inventors like Robert Fulton, who developed the steamboat, Cyrus McCormick, who developed the reaper to harvest crops.
Rohit Dereker, another student, mentions the short plays they enact about the ancient Indian astronomers like Kalhana. This alternative school has brought relief among the parents who were worried about their children as schools have remained closed. “We must say that our children are lucky as they continue to learn despite all odds,” says Yogish Derekar.