Sangam Vihar's old boys look to shed old baggage

Heena Kausar
Saumya Khandelwal

Sitting in their old classroom, four youngsters – all toppers of their batch – share memories of carefree days spent at the Government Boys’ Senior Secondary School in C Block, Sangam Vihar.

As Amit, Ibrahim, Anil Kumar and Deepak Kumar recall their journey from school to college, there is one thing they regret the most. “I wish someone had told us about the various courses we could take after school. I am sure we would have done better then,” says Anil, who is pursuing a BA course at the Saheed Bhagat Singh College.

The others nod in agreement.

Anil, who topped the school in humanities (intermediate level) with a score of 82.8 per cent in 2014-15, was planning to continue with his part-time job as an electrician. But college opened the gates to possibilities that school could not.

“In college, I met people from different backgrounds. It was during a discussion that somebody mentioned the civil services. I had heard of the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) but didn’t know how to pursue it. A friend has now told me all about it, and I plan to take coaching,” he says.

With little guidance at school and none at home, most first-generation learners find it difficult to navigate the path to adulthood. Deepak Kumar, the school’s science stream topper with a score of 76 per cent, had to skip a year to prepare for engineering entrance examinations. “I hadn’t even filled the forms for some entrance tests because I was not aware of them. After appearing for a few, I realised that one needs to study a lot more than what is taught in schools,” he says.

So, Deepak’s father rummaged through the family savings, gathering enough to send him to a coaching institute at Kalu Sarai. One year at the private coaching institute did for him what 12 years of schooling could not.

In school, Deepak had struggled to understand his subjects – physics, chemistry and informative practices – because there were no permanent teachers around. He was part of the school’s first science stream batch in 2013.

Many government schools don’t offer science, and launching a new stream is anything but easy. Principal Ashok Tyagi remembers how difficult it was to find teachers when he introduced the science stream in the school. He still does not have any permanent teachers on the rolls.

Deepak recalls how they were mostly taught by guest teachers. “One of them used to refer to ammonia as pneumonia. So, you can imagine what their teaching was like. How could we even think of our future when our present was so confusing?” he says.

Lack of teachers – good or bad – is a problem across government schools, with nearly 20,000 of 50,000 teaching positions lying vacant. Government officials say 17,000 guest teachers have been hired to plug the shortfall, but that would still leave 3,000 vacancies untouched.

Ibrahim, Amit, Anil, Deepak

Ibrahim, Amit, Anil, Deepak (from left to right) wish that their school had offered them better career guidance.

However, their bad days didn’t end with entering college. Assimilating into a crowd where most, if not all, speak in English was just the beginning of yet another struggle. “Everyone in class spoke in English, and I struggled to make sense of whatever they were saying. The lectures were mostly in English, so 'kafi kuch mere sir ke upar se jata tha' (most of it used to go over my head),” says Amit with a laugh.

The student, who ranked second in the school’s arts stream, is now enrolled at Aurobindo College. Amit’s goal is to become a professor.

Deepak believes his English education helped him in school. “Many students from my class were far more intelligent than me. However, as the science subjects were taught in English, they lost out on scoring. It took them extra time to translate the questions to Hindi before answering them. I was lucky that my previous school was an English-medium institute,” he says.

Meanwhile, they are still trying to fit into college. “It’s not just about English. Lack of communication is only the first step towards losing your confidence. No matter how brilliant I am, I will fail if I don’t have confidence in myself,” says Amit.

Anil found the initial months in college taxing. Even making friends became tough due to his poor knowledge of English. “I wish I had known the language. That would have made my life much easier,” he says.

The four believe that the country’s education system failed to act as an equaliser between them and other students from more affluent schools. The class difference didn’t bother them much.

“Our basics in education aren’t as strong. Till Class 8, nobody cares if we learn anything because we get promoted anyway. All hell breaks loose in Class 10 and 12, but it’s too late by then,” says Ibrahim, who topped the school’s commerce stream with a score of 85.5 per cent.

Ibrahim has a similar story to relate. He remained rudderless in school, but eventually took the advice of a friend’s elder sister to pursue a course in chartered accountancy.

However, his troubles are far from over. Given the financial condition of Ibrahim’s folks, it isn’t easy to pursue a professional course that requires coaching classes that cost anywhere between Rs 1.5 lakh and Rs 2 lakh. They are supportive, but he knows how much it weighs on them.

“My dad runs a bakery, and I used to help him during school. I hope to obtain my CA qualification soon, so I can start earning,” he says.

Still, despite all the shortcomings in their schooling, the four know they received opportunities in ways their counterparts from the opposite sex could never have. “I know of girls who never got a chance to go to college despite being very bright. Girls have to face far more difficulties than us,” admits Amit.