Children's Home - Bridge-Courses 

Bridge-Courses for our children - a new form of school 

Note: All our india projects run out at the end of 2017. After more than 20 years of helping needy people in Benares Back to Life decided that our main objectives have been achieved. We are happy that we could help so many children and adults to come "back to life".

In July, at the start of this school year 2012/13, we opened our own school for years one to seven, in order to remedy a long-standing defect in the Indian educational system, which has severely restricted the pedagogical development of our children to date.

For most of our children, whom we accepted at the time from the streets of Benares or the garbage dumps of Dasaswamedh or the leper colonies in Sankat Mocan and Bhadohi, an age-appropriate schooling was not possible.  According to the laws then in force, they had to be placed in the lowest preschool class, regardless of how old they were, so as to pass through the entire state-prescribed school system. For the majority of our children this meant that they were on average three to four years older and even, in extreme cases, as much as six years older than their classmates.

However happy the children were at the outset to have the chance to go to school, the age discrepancy became more problematic as time went on. The mental   capacities of a child who is several years older usually surpass those of the younger classmates, with the result that, because of constant lack of challenge and low learning objectives, our children often became bored and lost interest in the material being taught.

Moreover, the late entry to school reinforced the social stigma of their membership in a low caste and as they grew older they were increasingly the victims of social discrimination by their classmates.
However, the biggest problem was the consequent prospect of not finishing school until the age of 22 in the case of Laxmi (14) or of “little” Poonam (14), or even not until 24 years old. At this age, in the Indian culture, young people are expected to have already started their own family, to be earning their own living and to be supporting their parents and relatives financially. We became increasingly aware of the danger that, in the interim, relatives would demand that the education be terminated.

Pooja & Laxmi

With the adoption of the “Right to Free and Compulsory Elementary Education Act” in 2010, however, new legislation came into effect that for the first time created a framework in which this existing defect could be remedied and we could set up our own alternative educational system for the pupils in years one to seven.

The objective of our school is to establish a learning centre especially oriented to individual needs and competencies, so that our children can learn the most important basic knowledge of several years of school within the shortest possible period of time. After three years, at the most, they should then be reintegrated in the regular school at their own age level. In English, this system is called a “bridge course”, meaning a course that bridges the gap (in German we call it a “Brückenkurs“).

It differs from regular school instruction in that it is based on child-friendly, innovative and interactive teaching methods (Multi-Level-Teaching). In the lower levels, up to three school years can be caught up within twelve months and in the higher levels up to two school years. Desks and chairs are deliberately dispensed with in the classrooms. On one side the teacher may be conveying new learning material to a small subgroup in a dynamic exchange, while at the same time the children of another subgroup are solving problems independently or are explaining new information to each other.

In autumn 2011 we already began initial preparations for the planned implementation for the new school year in summer 2012.  For that purpose, our partner “Prayatn” hired two educational experts, Mr. Mohammed and Mr. Saini. Both of them had already garnered many years of experience with alternative educational systems and had also written textbooks on the introduction of bridge courses in Rajasthan.

Under their leadership, by May we carefully analysed 53 children in order to be able to assess their competencies, strengths and weaknesses. The children were tested in the subjects of Hindi, English, mathematics and social studies, using especially tailored tests. In addition, our educational consultants conducted individual discussions with the children and with our tutors, the home directors and our caregivers, in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the individual pedagogical needs of our children.

Based on this analysis, the children were divided into learning groups. In this process, the age, previous class level, mental capacities and interests, as well as the family background of each student, were taken into account. The children were divided into three major groups (1st and 2nd year, 3r to 5th, and 6th and 7th), each with three subgroups.  At the same time, the organizational needs, such as the number of classrooms, the requirement for teaching staff for the bridge course and the necessary teaching materials were determined and the budget for this was calculated.

We were also looking in the neighbourhood of our children’s homes for a suitable building that we could rent long term and convert into our new school building. Ideally, it would be located exactly between our two children’s homes and be only a few minutes walk away for everyone.

During the summer vacation a twenty-day workshop was held in Dholphur (Rajasthan) to select and train 15 teachers. They were trained to use the special multi-stage learning methods of the bridge course. At the same time, they prepared the tailored instruction modules for the individual subgroups for the first.  After completion of the workshops, we hired the ten best teachers. Seven of them came from the ranks of our own tutors and three others were hired from Rajasthan.

Our teachers, educational consultants and home management team

After the last renovations of the new building were done, we were able to open our school on 12 July:
For hours, the older children had diligently decorated in front of the house with bright garlands, chains of flowers and rangolis (colourful designs on the ground), before we began our official opening ceremony and our German project manager Christian cut the red ribbon amid cheering. Group singing and motivating speeches by our home directors and the educational consultants combined to create a wonderful mood.

Anita, Chandani & Rupa create a rangoli – Speech by Kailash Saini

Praying together – Moni honours the goddess of wisdom and education – Sawan with Mala

After only a few weeks, we can look with joy and pride at the first visible successes of the bridge courses. All the children – large and small – are happy every morning to be going to school. In the classrooms, a relaxed atmosphere of concentration prevails. Display boards and learning material are often developed jointly with the children. This really motivates the pupils and we are confident that the new bridge courses will enable our protégés to complete their education at the right age and consequently have better prospects for the future. Naturally we will keep you informed about this in coming years.