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Under a tree, flyover or on roadside: Delhi’s informal schools for underprivileged children

On Teacher’s Day, HT takes a look at volunteer teachers who run informal classrooms across Delhi to impart basic education to underprivileged children. These schools provide a platform for hundreds to later enrol into formal schools.

delhi Updated: Sep 05, 2018 12:23 IST
Fareeha iftikhar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
delhi,department of education,teacher's day
Students study in a school, run by volunteers, under the metro bridge near Akshardham Mandir in New Delhi, September 4, 2018. (Sushil Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Sitting in a packed “classroom” operating out of a shack, 50-year-old Pankaj Kandpal walks amid two dozen students, teaching them the basics of Hindi sentence construction. As he reads out a word, the students repeat in unison. Some, however, appear disinterested. But Kandpal says he has high hopes.

“I want these children to get a better chance at life than I ever had,” he says.

Kandpal is among dozens of volunteers across Delhi running informal classrooms to help under-privileged students with basic education to enable them to get into formal schools. Many of these “schools” function underneath flyovers, inside shanties, in the shade of trees and, at times, even on the roadside.

Even as hundreds of such informal schools are running for underprivileged students across the Capital, there is no official data on their tally. “We do not have any data of such schools. But, we have relaxed many admission norms to help the students studying in these schools to enter formal education. We are not denying admissions to any student coming from these schools. They are given admissions in classes based on their age,” said Sanjay Goel, director at the Delhi government’s Directorate of Education (DoE).

Under a tree

In east Delhi’s Yamuna Khadar, Kandpal’s classroom operates from under a tree. It has no walls or even a cemented floor. Most of his students, between 4 to 12, come from a nearby slum. The classroom was set-up in 2016.

“When I first came here I noticed that the residents of these shanties were not sending their kids to schools. Their parents are daily wagers and they do not know how to enrol their children in schools. I started this classroom to teach them basic Hindi, English and Mathematics,” he said.

His classroom has a black tarpaulin cover to protect children from elements. “I got the tarpaulin because it was difficult for the kids to sit here in the rain. I don’t want them to stop coming to classes for any reason,” he said.

“Once they understand the basics of these subjects, I will help them get admission into a municipal corporation nearby,” he said.

He says he knows what the children are going through because he had to give up his studies due to monetary issues.

Students study in a school on the banks of Yamuna river, near Mayur Vihar-I, in New Delhi. ( Sushil Kumar/HT PHOTO )

In the last two years, around 100 students from his school have secured admission in a government school in Mayur Vihar Pocket 4. “I maintain a register of students who have been taught here and later got admission,” said Chotte Lal, 46, another “teacher” at the school.

“In the last year, masterji has taught me to read Hindi and English. I can also do calculations now. I am the first one in my family who can read or write,” said 11-year-old Kavita, daughter of a vegetable vendor. She was recently enrolled in Class 4 at the government school.

Officials at the civic body school said that the students coming from Kadpal’s school are “smart”. “Most of them know basic reading and mathematics. It becomes easy for us to enrol in the classes based on their age,” said Meenakshi, a teacher at the school.

Since the school does not charge any fee, Lal said he has to do a part-time job to support his family. He works as a guard during the night and earn around Rs 8,000 a month. “Kuch pane ke liye kuch khona bhi padta hai,” he said

Under a bridge

A few kilometres away, another “school” operates from under a Metro bridge near Akshardham. The “Free School: Under the Bridge”, founded by Rajesh Kumar, had around 300 students from the slums dotting the banks of the Yamuna.

On the wall, which the school shares with the Metro station, there are painted patches which serve as makeshift blackboards.

An informal classroom under the metro bridge Akshardham Mandir in New Delhi.  Dozens of volunteers across Delhi running informal classrooms to help under-privileged students with basic education to enable them to get into formal schools. ( Sushil Kumar/HT PHOTO )

Every few minutes, a Metro roars past overhead. “By now, we’re used to it,” said 8-year-old Vanita, who recently secured admission in Class 3 at Nagar Nigam Kanya Balika Vidhyalay in Shakarpur.

Reminiscing initial years at the school, Kumar, said, “I was all alone in the beginning. It was very difficult to convince parents to send their children to a school that does not even have a structure. It was even impossible to convince them to send girls.”

“Today, more than 20 volunteers come here to teach.”

More than 200 students of Kumar’s students have joined formal education at municipal and government schools nearby. “Three have also enrolled in graduation courses at Indira Gandhi Open University this year,” he said.

Last year, 10 students from the school did diploma in pharmacy from the Delhi government’s department of training and technical education.

Meanwhile, a group of students were having hushed conversations about their surprise preparations for Teacher’s Day on Wednesday. “We will buy flower garlands for masterji tomorrow. These are the best teachers we have ever had,” said Subhash, who got admission in Class 7 at a government school last year.

Back at Kandpal’s classroom in Yamuna Khadar, 6-year-old Babli said she will be joining a government school this year. “I want to study and become a teacher like masterji.”

First Published: Sep 05, 2018 12:13 IST