Zensar is committed to transforming children’s lives especially by enabling them to be ‘citizens of the world’. Two ways to make that possible is through proficiency in the English language and an understanding of the digital medium of the virtual world.
The Udaan English center with a unique blend of both was established on 1st February 2012. English education is imparted using classroom teaching blended with e-learning. Children from Ambedkar Vasti community are selected for the program based on their interest, commitment and the seriousness of the parents. A baseline assessment of every child is conducted at the time of admission. There are regular assessments during the course and an end line assessment at the end of each module.
The program has been developed in consultation with Sonali Ojha who brings with her 26 years of rich experience and expertise in the field of child development. There are 3 modular programs used at Udaan with increasing levels of difficulty. The children spend two hours daily learning English. Since they learn through computers, they not only learn English but also learn how to operate a computer. In order to solve queries, help slow learners and facilitate the process, teachers are present at all times. The teachers use unique methods of play and physical cues to learn English and create individual progress plans for students requiring special attention. However, more than the English per se, it is the environment in which English is taught, that has resulted in the development of Agency in the children. It starts with the principles underlying the Udaan intervention, which are those of acceptance, inclusion, appreciation and positive reinforcement. This safe environment is otherwise not available to children coming from underprivileged communities. By consistent experience of respect; the children develop an expanded sense of self. In order to heighten self-awareness, each teaching session starts with 15 minutes of meditation. Besides, the students are taught to self-learn (for eg through use of dictionaries/ google), learn from peers and teach them, set goals and track achievement of the same and other such life skills which have broadened their horizon.
At Udaan, multiple stakeholders are involved to create an ecosystem that enables holistic change to occur. Parents are involved right from the time of admissions to the time of final assessment. They are invited to see the classroom and children guide their parents around the centre explaining what their classes involve. As a parent said, “I feel proud that my daughter can speak English. Now I feel “Hum bhi kisi se kam nahi (I am no less than anyone else)”. Volunteers from Zensar are also actively involved in the activities at Udaan. They bring their unique strengths and talents which they pass on to the children through recreational sessions such as movie screenings and discussions, story-telling sessions, dance, music, etc. Moreover, the teachers at Udaan are siblings/ spouses of Zensar associates in keeping with the spirit of volunteering and involvement of the whole Zensar family. The teachers have reported a change in their own lives. They learn from their students on a daily basis. The teachers are able to think beyond the conventional ways of teaching and address challenges with confidence.
Demonstration of Replicability
Besides impacting these 100 children and their families and the community at large, the Udaan English program has been scaled into 6 municipal schools. ZF has always viewed the Udaan centre as a pilot, with the end objective of working within and along with government schools, in order to create sustainable change. An elaborate teaching kit has been developed with comprehensive lesson plans covering e-learning modules, online resources, videos, classroom activities and daily assessments. This kit is being used as the basis for teaching in a standardized way, in the schools. In the year 2015-16, an additional version of the program viz. ‘Speedy Spoken English’ is being created as per the request of the schools.
Dipti, a teacher at Udaan, when asked to share a few success stories said, “Every student at Udaan is a success story in her/his own right.” The story of Akshay as shared in the words of his teacher, Shweta Madhur, demonstrates the experience of respect and emotional connect, provided to each child…
Case Story shared by Shwetha, a teacher at Udaan
"Akshay was arrogant and attention seeking. He had come to the point of dropping out. He would sit on the chair and not on the floor with the rest of the kids. He would give rude responses, the kind that were illogical and irritating. The class was focusing only on him and his behaviour. It took time to discipline the class and bring them back to pay attention to the lesson being taught. Akshay’s mother was very supportive. I made a couple of home visits. But then I was told that it had resulted in his mother informing his father and his father hitting him, as punishment. I went to his home again and explained that he is a teenager who will not change through violence. I asked his mother to go along with his way of doing things and bring him round to her ways eventually. I learnt this from my parents when they incentivized badminton for me to complete my engineering degree. Akshay loved to dance. His mother made a deal that she would let him dance and perform if he attended Udaan regularly. There was verbal negotiation instead of violence. He started opening up. He learnt dance from me and I learnt his likes and dislikes. Now he is learning by himself through the dictionary activity. He is well behaved."
Outcomes and Impact
The children’s English language skills have improved by leaps and bounds. They can understand and comprehend, read and write, and speak fluent English. The greatest outcome has been that the children have started thinking in English which is evident from the speed from their verbal response.
Besides improvement in English, Udaan has had an impact on the children which is beyond the tangible. The children have transformed into confident and assertive human beings. They are aware of their rights and have the courage to voice their opinion. They have unearthed the Agency within themselves which puts them in a uniquely empowered position within the community. It is evident through this statement made by a 14 year old girl at Udaan: “The age of 15-18 years is the prime age for a girl’s career. We all feel that girls should be allowed to go for higher studies. There are many organizations that are present and willing to help. It is our request to the parents to see girls through high school and college and change our lives.”
These children have become change agents in their own right. When volunteers from Zensar make household visits in the community, it is the Udaan children who lead the volunteers and work as ambassadors of change. Parents in the community have experienced this transformation of the children in many ways…the way in which they hold themselves, their sense of dignity, their helpful nature, their positivity. This in turn has created a demand from all families to enroll their children in the Udaan program, and in July 2015 Udaan opened its doors to all; resulting in an immediate enrolment of almost 100 children.