A building to match any corporate establishment, ultra-modern classrooms with audio-visual aids for teaching and computers - this is not an upscale city school, but a unique private institution exclusively for Chandigarh's slum children.
As 'Sikhya: the school of learning' goes into its second academic session after being launched in March last year, its popularity among underprivileged children is growing. Starting with just 150 students last year, the school in Sector 46 now boats of 821 enrolments.
Be it studies, sports, nurturing hobbies, providing meals or giving vocational training, the school can give stiff competition to any upscale school in the region. This unique institution is run under the aegis of The Guru Nanak Vidya Bhandar Trust.
Said its chief patron Gurpreet Singh, a leading industrialist: "I am now in my 70s and have tried my hand in many vocations. But nothing has given me as much satisfaction as putting this school together. If we can touch the lives of a few unfortunate kids or bring a smile on their faces, it would have been a life well lived."
Not only are studies completely free, the students are also provided school uniforms.
While 90 percent of the teaching is done through audio-visual aids, every student above the age of five uses computer here. Interactive programmes, lectures by psychologists and personality-development sessions to make the kids emotionally strong are part of the curriculum.
Apart from these, there are vocational courses in hospitality, retail management, health, accounts and fashion designing for students of Class 6 and above. The school has also introduced special games accredited by the Australian Sports Commission.
"In a short span of just one year our students have won laurels in boxing, kabaddi, volleyball and martial arts at national and state level. To educate young women, we also have a crèche within the school premises where they can leave their siblings while they attend school," Sonia Channi, principal of Sikhya School, told IANS.
Said Rita, a student of Sikhya School who comes from Colony No. 5: "Since my parents are very poor, they cannot afford my school fees. But thanks to Sikhya, me and my brother could continue our education."
Channi added: "Our endeavour is to create a feeling of belongingness. We make these students feel that they are an essential part of the school and we can't run without them.
"The response has been quite good and absenteeism is very rare. In my opinion, 80 percent of our job is done when children come here willingly."
A recent survey conducted by the Government Home Science College here revealed that the students of Sikhya exhibit higher levels of resilience, civic engagement and belongingness compared to slum children attending other schools.