School Science Education
Thanks to Thulir, TNSF has always been involved in science education in some way and has conducted many programmes for training teachers. Another successful activity by TNSF is the Children's Science Festival. Typically 200 children participate in a festival which lasts usually for about 4 or 5 days. Children from the town where the festival is conducted host the other half coming from other places, during the period of the festival. Children move in groups and participate in a number of activities: science experiments, math games, ecological games, origami, painting, collage making, science tours, nature study, stories and songs. The idea is that children have lots of fun, enjoy themselves greatly and learn in the process.
Yet another attempt of this kind is the Children's Science Congress: children do projects on a given theme for about two months, and come and present it in a conference-like format. The idea is that children get insight into the process of science, and learn to make systematic presentations. In December 1998, TNSF organized such a congress at a national level, with nearly 800 children and 200 teachers participating; the event included not only project presentations, but also 6 science exhibitions, a science festival, a teachers' workshop, nature tours and visits to 12 laboratories, and interaction sessions with 30 scientists.
Vibrant links with school children and teachers established through such activities have led to TNSF's more ambitious intervention in the school system. Activists of TNSF have taken part in the Government's syllabus committees etc, and have managed to influence teaching / training processes at the primary school level, to a limited extent.
Neo-literate Adult Education
>Thanks to the mass literacy campaigns, there are lakhs of neoliterates in the state now. This means that at once there is a thirst for a huge volume of neoliterate material, and a danger that unless reading material is provided, these neoliterates will relapse into illiteracy. TNSF has been active in building a rural library movement for this purpose: the Vaasippu Iyakkam, a campaign taken up 3 years ago, saw very enthusiastic response from the people.
TNSF has published a number of neo-literate books: some of it is based on material collected from neoliterates themselves! For instance, riddles, aphorisms, folksongs and traditional medicine collected from them have proved to be a treasure. Some of the books are transcreations of classic literature, not only from Tamil literature, but also stories of Maupassant, Chekhov, Hemingway and so on.
Some booklets are published as series, facilitating campaigns: for instance, a series of 15 booklets on women and laws for legal literacy; 10 booklets on women and health; 10 booklets on agriculture, 4 booklets on Animal Husbandry and so on.
Every June, all members of TNSF are encouraged to participate in school enrolment campaigns, to ensure all eligible children in the neighborhood have been put in school. In several districts, campaigns are held to prevent children dropping out and to ensure that they continue and complete primary school. A volunteer group in a village goes to the school every month, learns from the teacher about the children who have dropped out during the previous month (or absented themselves for long periods) and immediately meets the parents of these children and ensures that the child returns to school. (Invariably, it is found that the parents did not even know that the children were not going to school).
In the Ilayangudi block of Sivagangai district (and, to a lesser extent, in the Tiruvarankulam block of Pudukottai district), this effort was carried out in more than a hundred villages for more than 2 years, demonstrating that such methods do largely prevent drop-outs, if not totally. Since then, such action has been attempted in many districts. The idea of providing support centres for slow-learning children has proved useful; currently such centers are running in cuddalore and villupuram districts.
A major activity of TNSF has been towards improving the quality of primary education, in particular, promoting activity based education in primary schools. To this end, TNSF has compiled a number of language activities, math games and science activities and not only published these as books, but also conducted extensive teacher training programmes. Today, the government's District Primary Education Programme largely follows this material for its teacher training. TNSF has a strong primary teachers' network today, and can count nearly a thousand teachers in it.
A sign of recognition has been that in the last few years, the state government has involved TNSF in a number of committees related to school curriculum, syllabus and textbook formation. Further, in Latheri, a village in Vellore district, a local group has started a primary school, has named it the Thulir School, and has invited TNSF to take charge of curriculum, pedagogy and implement activity-based education. This has provided a unique challenge and opportunity for experimentation and experience, a chance to practice what we preach. Likewise, TNSF volunteers of Madurai district are running a school named Thulir Ariviyal Palli, where presently around 75 students have been enrolled. 5 volunteers of TNSF Madurai district have taken the responsibility of running this school which has already achieved good reputation and appreciation among the local community.
Through our programme named Makkal Palli Iyakkam, we were able to reach the entire state by an Educational Jatha carried out during July-August 2002. Three jathas carried the message and importance of education to the nooks and corners of the state. The teams performed programmes at around 300 points covering all the 29 districts of Tamil Nadu, mostly in villages and urban schools. The Makkal Palli Iyakkam Programme involving the TNSF volunteers is presently running in 5 blocks spreading in 5 districts. Another addition of 4 is being planned for this year. The Makkal Palli Iyakkam Programme involves the components of Adult Education, NFE, Joy of Learning, vocational training, trainings on self improvement for women and neo-literates, school enrolment programme, night schools for working children and illiterates etc. Presently under this programme, evening classes for children and health related classes for women and children are being regularly organised.
Non Formal Education
Another offshoot of the adult literacy work has been the education of child workers. A large number of them want to learn further, and go for equivalency certificates from the formal system by private study. While TNSF is committed to universal schooling, it is also sensitive to the plight of these children and has been conducting educational efforts for them. Currently, such efforts have resulted in TNSF conducting evening centers in Virudhunagar, Kanchipuram and Vellore with more than 1000 child laborers benefiting.
After School Programme (ASP)
This is the latest TNSF programme jointly done with UNICEF, which was on the cards for the past 2 years. ASP was implemented in 25 fishing villages of Nagapattinam, which was the worst affected district in the Tsunami. Education Support centres were run in these 25 villages, where youth volunteers did joy of learning activities among children. The volunteers were also engaged in motivating the children and bring them back to normalcy after Tsunami. The ASP programme has brought in lot of young volunteers in Nagai District into TNSF fold.