February 22, 2020
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Marionettes on Her String

Learning is not just about heavy school bags and the daily toil over homework. It's also about play.

Marionettes on Her String
Sanjoy Ghosh
Marionettes on Her String
If you believe all play and no work makes Jill a tomboy, visit Sutradhar. A non-profit trust, it promotes education through toys, games, teaching aids and other media. It offers a range of resources to spark the young minds.

Sutradhar goes back to 1995, after Mandira Kumar returned home to Bangalore with a degree in educational media from Harvard for a bout of ‘applied’ pedagogy. As a coordinator for CRY, she found her intuitions on lacunae in the education sector reconfirmed. "I realised there weren’t any outlets for teaching aids. And, there was very little communication between NGOs in the field. I set up Sutradhar as a resource bank for education," she says.

Today, funded primarily by the Dorabji Tata Trust, Sutradhar houses learning resources from over 130 groups. It is not a commercial toy and games store. "There aren’t any Barbies, racing cars or video games. Instead, you’ll find teaching aids and children’s literature. I’ve also tried to make available traditional folk toys that aren’t seen any more. We make special efforts to include handcrafted and nominally priced toys."

Their implements aid the development of tactile, social, language, auditory, motor and cognitive skills in children. Working with traditional craftsmen, they have helped refine toys. The organisation has also developed games with an Indian idiom.

For older children, there is a wide range of science kits demonstrating the fundamentals of electricity, magnetism and light. For the mentally and physically challenged, there are specially designed puppets, Chinese sticks, yo-yos, large-sized beads, special stencils and texture cards. Says Poornima Sadananda, coordinator of Sutradhar: "It’s mostly parents and teachers who visit our centre. Among special schools, we have the Spastics Society of Karnataka and the National Association for the Blind who purchase material from our centre."

In 1997, Sutradhar developed an "early learning kit" and teacher’s guide, which was tested in a 1,000 pre-schools serving underprivileged children in Karnataka. It also organises learning resource exhibitions. An annual three-day exhibition is held every July just before the school year commences.

But Sutradhar is more than just a resource centre for teaching aids. It also documents and shares educational practices and ideas. It trains pre-school teachers and non-formal educators. Its interactive value education programme encourages children to speak up on various issues.

The NGO has also published a child resource directory, the first of its kind. Fingertips profiles 400 services for marginalised and disabled kids in Bangalore. Sutradhar has also initiated the Karnataka chapter of a national advocacy network called forces—The Forum for Creche and Childcare Services. This network brings people together for the cause of the young and underprivileged child.

Says Pratibha Karanth, a regular customer at Sutradhar, "For speech-language pathologists in India, the biggest challenge is the lack of indigenous teaching aids such as toys and books that are culturally suited for our children. Sutradhar has come a long way in meeting our needs."

Contact Sutradhar at: Mandira Kumar, 599, 7 Main Cross Indiranagar Stg 2, Bangalore, 560 038; email: sutra@vsnl.com; Tel: (080) 5215191.

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