Muktangan is an Educational NGO that also deals with livelihoods. http://www.muktanganedu.org/
It operates out of 7 different Bombay Municipal School buildings and teaches children from pre-school until 8th standard. It is adding a grade each year and will reach 10th standard in 2014. In some ways, Muktangan operates much like the charter school system in the US, where I had worked for the past 7 years in Chicago. It is a “public” or government school, which makes it beholden to certain responsibilities-mostly in the form of government issued curriculum. However, as a part of a charitable trust and an NGO, Muktangan has the freedom to create it’s own hiring and firing practices and teach with progressive a methodology and vision, supplementing the government’s plan. It operates under the constructivist ideology that children can “construct” their own learning experiences if given the tools and environment to do so. Their key beliefs come from the teachings of Piaget and other constructivist theorists, creating a pedagogy that values expression and collaboration instead of competition and rote learning.
In addition to the schools, Muktangan also runs a teacher training center. This is the livliehoods arm of Muktangan. Pre-service teachers are men and women from the Prabadhevi and Worli community. Many of them come from the same backgrounds as the children who go to the school, and it is Muktangan’s belief that this connection helps children to feel more comfortable in the classroom. Teachers come to the training center with a spectrum of English proficiency (Muktangan is an English medium school and all classes are taught in English), as well as educational backgrounds. Because Muktangan has worked in the same community for over a decade, they don’t need to recruit pre-service teachers. Over 90 slots were filled this year by word of mouth walk-ins.
Although I teach a 7th standard scholarship class once a week (scholarship is a national test they need to take in February. I am teaching to a test, folks.), my main role is in the training center. As the schools have grown, so has the need for a viable and sustainable special education program. As of now there is one special educator at each of the 7 schools that deal with 32 special needs students of varying degrees of disability. There are many other students who probably could be categorized as having a learning disability, but the process of assessment and diagnosis means parents take their child numerous times to outside agencies for these tests. The waitlist at these organizations and hospitals is very long and confusing for parents who have a limited understanding of what having a child with a disability actually means, let alone how to advocate for them.
I have begun to write a 2 year training module that will be used at the center for pre-service teachers who want to become special educators/resource teachers. Hopefully, this training would give teachers a context of special ed. Services in India, prepare teachers to use an inclusive model of educating special needs children, give them tools to assess and modify curriculum based on the particular child’s needs, create and sustain IEPs (individualized education plans), communicate to parents and teachers with empathy and advocate for these children in the Muktangan community.
Oy. This is a big task. I’m excited and overwhelmed. And I have to keep in mind the language proficiency and educational background of the individuals to be trained. I respect Muktangan for taking on such an ambitious job-training teachers, giving underprivileged children a chance at a different kind of education, and now making their school truly inclusive. Yet, I wonder how this can all happen-there are so many obstacles to success and it is difficult to not be cynical or feel like defeat is on the horizon. I am invigorated but constantly humbled by this experience.
And so I live here. It’s so weird to wake up and go to my job…in India. I have gotten kind of used to living in Mumbai and I am able to walk, take the bus, rick/cab, train, ride a bicycle wherever I need to go. I’m not sure if my comfort level with such a “maximum city” is due to prior urban living for the past 7 years, temperament or both. I love my neighborhood and neighbors, I know where and how to buy my vegetables and pay my electricity bill. I can participate in “critical mass” here and go out for Thai food. I can online date if I want to and have. I can walk to and from the train station and I can tell the rickshaw driver where to go and the best route to take. I ain’t bragging-I’m as surprised as anyone that I can really just be myself.-my Chicago self, my full self. Is Mumbai not as overwhelming as we all thought 2 blogposts ago, or is it a place that once you settle in, can be a pretty livable city? I’m leaning towards the latter.