Text by Gitanjali Sharma, Photos by Martin Pheiga
On September 16, 2017, a neighborhood in M-East Ward was abuzz with activity. Several people were seen dropping everyday chores and heading to the newly built and inaugurated M-Power Study Centre, a community space for learning, reading, conversations and exploring new opportunities. “I am all excited to start off with the courses! I have enrolled for computer classes and English speaking course,” said Ansari Shehzadi, a 12th standard student.
The M-Power Study Centre is located in the M-East ward of Mumbai, one of the poorest areas in the city and home to over 8,07,720 (Census 2011) residents. The ward’s human development index is the lowest in the city representing an infant mortality rate of around 66.47 per thousand live births, out-of-school children between the ages of 6 to 14 years is 1,490, and more than 50 percent children are malnourished. The M Ward is also the immediate neighborhood of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). The students and faculty of TISS have used the ward as a teaching and experience base for several decades. TISS, on the occasion of its Platinum Jubilee year- 2011 initiated a project called The Transforming M Ward Project that hoped to fulfill its social obligation to the people of the ward by generating knowledge and using it to build strategic partnerships for transformation of the human development conditions in the ward.
The M Power Study Centre is a part of the Transforming M Ward Project. An initiative by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), and managed by TISS, the study centre promotes higher education and prepares youth from slums to break the glass ceiling of higher education. It is imagined as a space for peer learning in a peaceful environment, a resource centre of books and learning materials, a repository of virtual resources and a space to build capacities of youth to appear in competitive exams. “The place is giving the students opportunities we never got,” said Abrar, an elderly from the neighbourhood community “And it is safe for girls to study in.”
It is a 10,000 sq. ft. space with a large open area to sit and study, a library with reference and textbooks in English, Marathi, Urdu and Hindi and access to virtual resources through a Wi-Fi connected computer center. M-Power will conduct spoken English courses, prepare students for competitive exams as well as prepare them for civil service exams and higher educational institutions, including the TISS. One of the biggest successes of the M Ward Project has been its partnership with the community who are co-creators of activities. Community members from the ward have contributed to construction of tables for computers, chairs and the day-to-day monitoring of the space.
“This particular centre is situated in a place that is surrounded by different schools belonging to different state boards but they all are either up to class 8th or 10th. This centre will provide all students a platform to study. The concept of building a human library other than just a library filled with books is an amazing idea. By sharing knowledge the students will be empowered. I would like such centres to open up in different wards.”
– Salim Patel, Community Development Officer.
Among the various courses offered at centre are English speaking courses with CV building guidance, understanding content through computer based learning (CLIx), Collaborative Undergraduate Biology Education (CUBE) courses and science experiments. These courses can be availed by the students by paying a minimal fee of Rs. 50 for the monthly membership or Rs.2 for per day usage. English speaking courses are taken by Teach India fellows, the science experiment by BARC resource person and CUBE by professors from Homi Bhabha Center for Science Education (HBCSE).
It’s a very good initiative that provides children with more opportunities. Also, the environment of the place is so neat and clean, it gives positive vibes. – Nalini Tripathi, Teach India
CUBE Labs: CUBE courses trigger curiosity among students to question and then answer those questions by using daily use products or everyday life encounters to understand complex biological processes. “We teach scientific processes to students through everyday visible organisms. By culturing organisms common to all, like earthworm, fruitfly, water flee, through various methods we teach students through case studies rather than just books. Students get involved in the science and lose their fear of the subject,” said Arunanand Chandrashekhar, Professor, CUBE Labs.
Library: The library at the center is one of its main attractions. It is an initiative of Dharam Bharti Mission (DBM). The library not only provides access to various books but is also a platform to provide them with career guidance through the career counselors who will visit every the library every Saturday. The library also plans on initiating a series of seminars on the first Saturday of every month. The speakers for the seminars will be addressing various aspects in order to motivate students to join various fields. “We already have five students who have come with queries regarding studying for UPSE exam. The library will provide the students aspiring to appear in different competitive exams and an environment to support them in their studies,” said Mr Paramjeet, Dharam Bharti Mission.
Computer Centre: The space also has a computer center which is managed by the computer section of TISS. The computers are run on the software CLIx (Connected Learning Initiative) which is a TISS-MIT collaboration product created to enhance the process of teaching and learning. This particular course was taken up like hot cakes on the day of registration.
The study center wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t backed by the community support. The community has welcomed the center with open arms. “I got to know about the place through my teacher. I was surprised to see that such a place was actually being constructed in our locality. I would want to come here every day,” said Umesh, a 10th standard student. The acceptance for the center and the satisfaction was seen in various forms, it varied from elder to the students to officials to teachers. “It’s the best initiative that has come up in this area for students,” said Ansari Quresha, teacher, “In minimal money the students will get to learn so many different courses and get access to various kinds books in the library.”