At night, light of learning

For three years, a tiny village has helped its underprivileged children put behind domestic abuse, alcoholism and even addictive television soaps back home to return to their textbooks for solace and a future.

Come sundown, Anganwadis in 18 Scheduled Castes colonies transform into “Padanaveedugal” (study houses) in the Peruvayal grama panchayat in the interiors of Kunnamangalam here.

The children, mostly from BPL families, troop in with their school books for a three-hour study session.

The Padanaveedu scheme, launched by the Peruvayal grama panchayat in 2011, has 260 children attending. Except on Sundays, available space in each colony is converted to study halls for the children between 6.30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Study houses are meant for lower and upper primary classes.

Education volunteers, all qualified youngsters picked from the colonies, supervise the children. They are paid a daily wage of Rs. 75. One of them is Ushakumari K.K., or Usha Chechi for the children at Bhoodanam colony. Here, the colony’s Samskarika Nilayam, a well-tiled and spacious hall, is the Padanaveedu.

The hall had been lying unused for over eight years until the panchayat opened it for the Padanaveedu in 2011. With 23 children to take care of, Ms. Ushakumari is busy. The quiet hum of study fills the tube-lit hall. It is a bright, happy place in a colony otherwise steeped in darkness except for a few stray dimly lit homes scattered in the steep hill. The blinking flashes of TV screens from one or two houses spill over onto the mud path leading to the study house at the top of the climb.

“In the beginning, they would not focus on their books. They would keep telling me about the TV serials, the time that this one or that would start. Gradually all that changed,” Ms. Ushakumari said in between correcting the sums scrawled in a notebook.

She has a lighter side to her. “There was a child who would often miss class. I asked his friend why he was not regular. The friend said the boy was sitting in front of Nilavilakku (lighted lamp) at home. Thinking there was some bhajan going on at his house, I went to check out and found that he was watching a TV serial called Nilavilakku ,” she said in mock seriousness.

Change is evident

P.K. Sharafuddin, chairperson of the panchayat’s Education Working Group and the architect of the scheme, says the change brought about by the Padanaveedu is seen in the little things of the daily life of the colonies.

“For example, we make a point that parents bring the child to the class and are there to pick them up. Once in a while, parents are called for awareness classes. We tell them what their children are studying and also give them simple tasks like colouring and craft to help the children in school,” he said.

Subitha Thottenchery, panchayat member in whose ward the Bhoodanam colony is, said the study house created an atmosphere of study for children who had none at home. “Change in attitude is noticeable. Alcoholism is less. Children are getting their space at home. The fact that we made them sit in front of their books for three hours every day is by itself a huge achievement for us,” she said.

Mr. Sharafuddin said micro-management was the key to success of the scheme.

“Before we started the Padanaveedu, we had distributed study tables and chairs to 214 children in the colonies as an experiment. We made sure that the study table tops were slanted so that the adults would not use them for other things, like keeping a TV,” he said.






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