In this village near Mumbai, school teacher uses currency notes, colour pencils to teach maths amid pandemic

In a village barely 100km northeast of Mumbai, where network is sparse and smart devices are a luxury, a government school teacher has found an innovative way to keep his students engaged through the lockdown: currency notes. When the country underwent a lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19, most schools moved online. For Pralhad Kathole, an assistant teacher at the zilla parishad school at Baliwali in Palghar, this was not an option.

In a class of 44 students, only two students’ parents had smartphones with internet connectivity and hence, online classes were out of question. So, Kathole worked out a simpler solution. He scanned a range of currency notes and arranged them on a sheet of paper so that his pupils in classes III and IV could learn basic mathematical concepts of addition and subtraction. For the younger students, he distributed colour pencils.

Armed with these worksheets, Kathole walked through the hamlets and met with his students, all while maintaining social distancing.

“I used technology to reduce the children’s burden. Most students in our class are well-versed with household work. The worksheets were designed around students’ daily lives,” said Kathole.

Located in the Wada taluka of Palghar, Baliwali is a cluster of hamlets spread across the forests. Most students at the zilla parishad school belong to the scheduled tribe community and four girls belong to other backward classes. While most of these families live off small pieces of land, many parents migrate seasonally to work in brick kilns in nearby Kalyan, Bhiwandi and Vasai.

Having simplified the worksheets into currency-related problems, Kathole also succeeded in getting parents engaged in the children’s education. “While most parents are not literate, they recognise currency notes. They realised that they could help their children in their studies,” said Kathole, who was one of the speakers at the national Mathematics Teachers’ Association (MTA) annual conference that focussed on “Mathematics Education in Times of the Covid-19 Pandemic”.

“My basic aim was to make sure my kids should not forget school. There are too many distractions for these kids to leave school. So I meet them every alternate days and we share stories with each other. Sometimes we read stories together, sometimes we sing songs together, sometimes we solve indigenous riddles together. I try to do everything during our meeting so that they feel connected with the school,” said Kathole.

The MTA is an association that works towards improving the teaching and learning of mathematics and related areas at all levels – both inside and outside the formal educational system across the country.

“MTA is a new but nation-wide association of math teachers. During the pandemic teachers are facing severe challenges, ranging from no salary to how to teach effectively. The teachers shared a range of problems, from figuring out finance for students’ meals, to crowdfunding for the smartphones, to figuring out ways of teaching in blended form. Rural teachers who taught disadvantaged classes had to first worry about how they would get their students a meal. The teachers spent initial time not worrying about teaching but on such issues. They first tried to remain connected,” said Shweta Naik, founder member of MTA, and scientific officer at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

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