Recently, I had a conversation that became a discussion with a friend. Her family and a team of other volunteers has been teaching children, ranging from 7 to14 year olds to read. The program is held all-year round and they have been reaching out to thousands of them each year. These are my discoveries of the education scene in my country.
As a start, the committee of the program will hand out letters to schools nearby a targeted area to send their students for the program. Now here’s the first problem- the school will only hand out the letters to parents of students that have attended the special classes as it is compulsory for government schools to do so, and the students that they have detected to have a problem in reading. The ugly truth is, more students out there experience difficulty in reading and writing but chose to remain silent. There are so many reasons of why these students couldn’t perform like their peers. Most of them have learning disabilities such as dyslexia that requires patience and time for them to learn. The teachers in schools are not fully exposed on this matter and will end up scolding them and the hate that was shown to them will deter their passion in learning, especially when they are seated in the lowest class according to the ranking system. Teachers that are trained to teach these underprivileged students should be educated with knowledge on many derivatives of learning difficulties including types of learning disabilities so that the curriculum designed for these students can make them understand and improve.
The capabilities of the students of the program will be tested before being placed in their respective classes. Some of them can read simple words like ‘Book’ but when it comes to three or four syllables like ‘Principal’, they’re stuck. My friend has found many cases of learning difficulties, even there is a 14-year old that doesn’t recognize any of the 27 alphabets. The volunteers in the program had used a different approach of teaching by introducing the alphabets by their sound. They would say, “This is the letter ‘Mmm'” instead of M. This is because these students don’t understand the concept of reading. Sure, they would know how to read ‘How are you?” because they may have seen those dialogues frequently in their textbooks but when you ask them to read the signboard at the streets, they will look at you back and shake their heads. They tend to memorize words by heart rather than actually reading them.
In the 2-hour late night talk that we had, my friend told me that most of these students don’t live in rural areas like we would imagine that situation would be at, but it occurs in the middle of metropolitan cities. The number of students that came for this program every year has never decreased. It’s true that 90% of the students that came will know how to read and write at the end of the program, but there’s always another wave that will participate. A lot of questions lurked in my head upon hearing the ugly truth. The government has provided free education for students and lent us textbooks instead of buying them, but the cost of living is still an issue for these families. They only own two sets of clothes and rotate it all over again. The team distributes food by the end of the sessions, and some of them even ask for any extra package to feed more mouths back home. A ‘free market is also held at the last day of the program to let them ‘buy’ clothes using a coupon. Most of them are also involved with crime at such a tender age like 6-8 years old, such as smoking and drug addictions. Some irresponsible groups had also took advantage on these kids to help them steal at supermarkets.I could say that this is a form of human trafficking. Their families don’t care if they have not been home for 3 days but surprisingly, they still show up for classes for the program. The volunteers tried their best to make them comfortable and increase their enthusiasm to learn. Sooner or later, they will start to open up what is happening in their lives and by then, it is not their, and our place to judge. All they need is our attention.
At the end of our deep discussion, I asked my friend, “What will happen next after all of you left?They will go through their lives in such a dangerous manner, will they ever succeed?”. Her short answer was, “We only help them to survive, not helping them to pass for their examinations.”. Are their existence are only meant to survive, but not excel? Don’t they deserve a better future and opportunities like us that are writing and reading this article?
After saying goodnight to my friend and I closed the door of my room to open the gate of dreams, I still can’t stop thinking about them. There are many that should be done to fix this, but it is never too late to offer more children like them the gift of a better life.
We can do this. We can make a difference.