The Building Blocks Story
India is the seventh largest country in the world. It is an emerging economic power, is brimming with potential, and yet more than 20% of the population live below the poverty line and only 62% of adults are able to read and write.
School attendance is low and more than one in ten children between the ages of five and fourteen is involved in child labour, with many of these involved in trafficking.
In some areas, two thirds or more of girls drop out of primary school, and half are forced to marry before they reach the age of 18.
If children from poor backgrounds can gain basic scholastic competence, good communication skills and self-confidence, they can find employment and build a good future for themselves.
On a mission to tackle this problem, James Ambat has built up Family Development Services (FDS). FDS operates Building Blocks, a network of seven pre-school learning centres around Bangalore, exclusively for children from impoverished homes.
FDS is an educational charity registered in India and partnered with other charitable projects – such as Escape from Poverty, in the UK and around the world.
Children from Bangalore slums are admitted to Building Blocks at the age of three, and from their first day, they are immersed in a total learning environment, with many educational toys and teaching aids.
The principle emphasis is on the English language, which is taught through the techniques of both sight-reading (word-recognition) and phonics.
The objective is to equip the children to continue their education for the following ten years, in a school where the English language is the teaching medium, and where the teaching standards are higher than in the basic state system.
They have excellent, highly qualified and dedicated staff who are focused on helping them break out of their impoverished background, and develop into valued members of society as citizens of modern India.
Building on a solid basis of language, the curriculum includes the core subjects of writing and arithmetic together with geography, science and general knowledge. Physical activities include music, drama, and dance, which all contribute to character building, self-confidence, and personal development.
Building Blocks Learning Centres operate 6 days a week and deliver a 3-year programme to around 600 children aged from 3 to 6.
They learn the basics of organised community life, discipline and hygiene when they sit down to their nutritious daily school meal.
The children are in small classes of no more than 30 and receive a nutritious meal at no additional cost.
Sharing meals at the table teaches children social skills and an awareness of nutrition and hygiene.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
At the age of three or four, they are already learning English nursery rhymes, and by the time they are six, they have had a good introduction to an all-round education at no cost to their families.
They are basically numerate and are literate in both Kannada (the local vernacular) and English.
With these skills, they can gain access to the private, English-language-medium school system. Then, by the time they reach age 16/17, they can earn a good living and create a safe, healthy, caring home and family environment for their future spouse and children.