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Gomathi And Dhamodharan Talk AID Education And Tamil Nadu Flood Relief

Press Release

Association for India’s Development (AID) Metro West chapter invited Gomathi and Dhamodharan to talk on Jun 1, 2017  about their efforts in education in rural Tamil Nadu as well as providing relief for and rehabilitating those who were affected by the severe floods in Tamil Nadu in 2015. This was the first talk organized by the chapter, which is in its infancy having been established less than a year ago.

After the speakers were briefly introduced by the chapter’s president, Dhamodharan kicked things off with an interesting physical activity, which would require the audience to clap every time he touched his shoulders, and every time he extended his arms out. He mentioned that he would talk in what he called “Tamglish”, a mixture of Tamil and English, as his English was not very strong. But listening to him speak would really convince you that that is not true -- his English is much better then he gives himself credit for.

Dhamodharan, or Dhamu, as he is affectionately called, has been a part of AID India for 17 years now, and although over time he has grown to take up more diverse responsibilities in the overall organization, his primary area of strength is education, which is perhaps not as surprising given the struggles he had to overcome to complete his own education, having come from a poor Dalit landless family. The poor standards of education in Tamil Nadu, high middle school dropout rates and the Government apathy towards it moved him to contribute to this field.

The approach adopted by him and Gomathi is one that focuses on skills rather than grades. They provide individual attention to each student, motivate them as well as the teachers for showing improvement, and try to get the parents involved and invested in their child’s education. They focus as much on building confidence in their students as on building skills, as was evident in a video they showed of two little girls conversing with each other in simple English sentences.

Much like Dhamu, it was never an easy path for Gomathi to complete her own education. She has been a part of AID India for the last 13 years, and had started her first two ‘Eureka Schools’ at the age of 22. From the very beginning her emphasis has been on challenging the existing education model and to redefine some of the structures that she feels do not necessarily benefit learning - be it the idea that a student must fear their teacher, or that girls should not partake in sport.

 Another big challenge for them was to find competent teachers, which they addressed by replacing the traditional teacher-driver model by a tech-transformed model which relies more on self-learning and discovery and one which the teachers learn from as well as the students. They have in-house content developers as well as a tech team that has developed an application, AhaGuru, to suit their needs.

 A trend that was prevalent through many of the audience questions was whether Gomathi and her team of content developers were also considering resources and content that is already readily available online, to which her response was that much of those resources are useful as a complementary aid to another primary source of learning, and they do not, in the most part, suit the needs of her students who are learning from scratch. There was also some interest among the audience to volunteer to help in developing and maintaining AhaGuru and any other applications.

Dhamu also highlighted how their ‘Huts to Homes’ program for rehabilitating the survivors of the Tamil Nadu floods had delivered 200 ‘Eureka Homes’ in the last year, and how they plan to deliver even more in the next year. At the same time he expressed his gratitude to members of the audience who had provided support to this cause - many of the attendees shared a connection to MathWorks, which had contributed over $40,000 for the TN flood relief in direct and matched donations.

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