Authored by NM Chandrasekara, Sr. Programme Manager- Karnataka & Tamil Nadu, Save the Children
When you recall your schooldays, some memories will inevitably include the bus rides to school, singing loudly with friends, fighting for the window seat, quickly copying your friend’s homework before reaching school or just finishing off your tiffin on the bus. In India last year, the closure of over 1.5 million schools due to the pandemic impacted more than 247 million children. They not only missed their friends and daily lessons and these bus rides but also missed the protected space that schools and Anganwadi centres offer. In a period of unprecedented crisis, Save the Children turned its focus to learning continuity and to provide children in the 3-14 age group with low cost and no-tech resources.
Children’s literature is full of magical buses and vehicles that conjure up wonderous situations. You have read about the Knight Bus in Harry Potter, there are of course the magic carpets and pumpkin coaches. These are all props that come in the aide of the protagonists. The Mobile Learning Center buses that started plying in Bengaluru from November 1 after the launch on October 22 are somewhat similar, impacting the protagonists of this story – the children.
These child-friendly Mobile Learning Centers ensure that children from the most marginalised communities are able to access education with a focus on play and activity-based learning methods. Visual learning methods have been kept in mind while designing the interior and exterior of the Mobile Learning Centres. Interactive teaching learning materials and storybooks are some of the attractions that the children look forward to.
Storybooks like the Panchatantra, Akbar Birbal or Vikram Betal stories and picture books in English, Hindi, Telugu and Tamil are on the bus. As these children are mostly from migrant families, books had to be in languages they are familiar and comfortable with. There are books on alphabets and on grammar. There are also novels by noted authors such as Girish Karnad, APJ Abdul Kalam, Perumal Murugan, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and more. But the bus is not all about work and no play. It also has chess and carrom boards, ludo, skipping rope, badminton racket and more. Then there are letter charts, flash cards, crossword puzzles, building block sets to teach children basic language and math.
Three buses currently operate on three routes. These routes cover 30 locations which are categorised into 5 clusters. Volunteers mobilise students and divide them as per their age groups and notify the school and Anganwadi centres a day before the classes. The time is decided based on the children’s schedule. Classes could run from 10am to 12pm or 3pm to 5pm. These buses are usually parked in the school compound or an area behind Anganwadi centres before starting the activities. Apart from the driver, the facilitator on-board conducts all the activities. On an average, 25-40 students are on-board the bus at a time.
Visual learning methods have also been kept in mind, while designing the interior and exterior of the Mobile Learning Centers. The visuals of interior decoration are based on basic numeracy, literacy and storytelling whereas the exterior design focuses on behaviour change (good habits, handwashing steps and Covid appropriate behaviours).
I enjoy the bus when it comes to our community as it has a lot of play and learning materials. Today, I got an opportunity to show my performance to my friends.
- Kaveri, a Class 1 student of GLPS Kottigepalya government school. She wants to be a teacher when she grows up.
I want to read all the story books on the bus. I learned Kannada, English, tables, basic letters on the bus. Next time, I will bring my other friends too as I feel they also need to learn many things from the Mobile Learning Centre.
-Akash, a Class 3 student of GLPS Kottigepalya government school
Through these buses, Save the Children is able to reach 25 schools and 25 Anganwadi and more than 9,300 children.
The concept of Mobile Learning Centre buses is not new to Save the Children. These buses have been introduced in many states including Maharashtra, Telangana and now in Karnataka and Delhi. West Bengal was the first state to start this program.
Save the Children started a street-to-school education programme in 2011 and two Mobile Learning Centres or yellow buses started running across 20 slum communities of Kolkata. These buses used to come to these communities to cater education through wheels for underprivileged children. At present, the mobile buses are covering 32 locations in Kolkata, working with 22 government primary schools and Anganwadis, reaching over 8,000 children.
-Sushmita Guha, Senior Program Manager, West Bengal
A development model that was conceptualised and implemented in 2011 continues to impact lives, bringing education to every marginalised child.