Makeshift schools in Gurugram firing up young dreams
Earlier this year, Kavita Singh got her 12-year-old daughter Poonam enrolled in Class 5 in an afternoon school run by a private school in the city. This was Poonam’s first experience of studying on the premises of a formal school—unimaginable for the mother-daughter duo until some time ago. Originally from Darbhanga district in Bihar, Singh, her husband and daughter came to Gurugram with the hope of finding a livelihood a few years ago. To make ends meet, she started working as domestic help, while her husband took up other small jobs.
Circumstances didn’t allow them to educate their daughter. A chance meeting with a teacher, however, changed that.
Two years ago, Poonam started going to a makeshift “school” in Sector 52 and has not looked back since. “My daughter, along with other children from our jhuggi, was taught by the teacher for two years. Before joining her classes, she never studied. During these two years, she learned the basics of different subjects, and with the help of the teacher, she started going to the afternoon school this year,” Singh says.
The teacher that Singh speaks of is Pooja Sindhu. A resident of Wazirabad, 38-year-old Sindhu has been teaching underprivileged children in and around Sector 52 for the past two years. For several children like Kavita, Sindhu is a ray of hope. “For us, the fact that our children are getting to study or go to a school is a big thing. This was made possible by the efforts of madam,” Singh adds.
Sindhu is not a qualified teacher but teaches over 300 children in three different makeshift schools with bare minimum supplies.
Over the years, however, organisations, as well as individuals, have pitched in with support—classes that used to take place under a transmission tower are now taking place in sheds.
“I was always drawn to books and grew up seeing people around me going to good schools and colleges. I ached for the same but my family wasn’t well off. Due to financial stress, I had to drop out of my BA degree in the first year. My dream of studying further could not be fulfilled, but I want to play a small part in ensuring that other children are not robbed of their dreams,” Sindhu says.
Through her efforts, Sindhu has helped many underprivileged students get admission to afternoon schools run by various private schools in the city.
These children, mostly from underprivileged families, are getting another shot at education through several makeshift schools that are run by good Samaritans across the city. Operating out of sheds, or under a canopy of trees, or sometimes on footpaths, these schools with rudimentary structures have become a blessing for several children who wish to attain an education, but lack the resources.
Roshan Kumar Rawat, 41, is another individual who provides the joy of learning to the children of construction workers through eight makeshift schools that go by the name of “Free Pathshaala (free school)”. The owner of an HR consultancy firm, Rawat started his first school in May 2015 after observing scores of children of construction workers who had no recourse to the learning of any kind. “I would see children of construction workers aimlessly roaming around. They would accompany their parents to the worksite and spend the whole day doing nothing. I reached out to their parents and realised that the nature of their jobs was temporary, due to which they were constantly moving and government schools were reluctant in providing admission to their children,” Rawat says. Resolving to make a difference to the lives of these children, Rawat started teaching them in the few free hours that he had. “I thought that I could do something small in my neighbourhood. Gradually, as things were set up, volunteers and teachers started coming in,” he says.
The schools — located in sectors 45, 46, 51, 52, and 57— have received tremendous support from people, and the eighth such school was started less than a month ago. The schools, however, continue to operate in open spaces like parks. “If we start focusing on things like getting a building space or a fan and other amenities, the primary job of teaching would take a back seat and we would end up diverting our energy towards paying bills of various kinds,” Rawat says. He adds that the finances of running the schools are managed through an initiative called “Raddi se tarakki (growth through scrap)” wherein money is raised by selling scrap collected from people.
Gaffoor Ansari, who works as a construction labourer in the city, is thankful to Rawat for making English lessons possible for his daughter. Ansari is from Chhapra in Bihar and his eight-year-old daughter Nargis studies in one of Rawat’s schools. “She has learned a lot at school. She also understands English and Hindi. Without the school, learning these subjects would have been difficult. If all goes well, we will try to get her admitted to a private free school,” Ansari says.
For another set of 30 children near Jharsa Chowk, learning has been made possible by the efforts of Usha Gaur. Gaur, 63, a retired school teacher, is loved and respected by the neighbourhood children. Six days a week, Gaur runs a school from 11.00am to 12.30pm for the children of labourers and domestic help in a corridor of Sector 31, Huda Market. In addition to teaching them the basics of Maths, English, and Hindi, she also makes them dance and sing occasionally. A resident of a condominium in Sector 31, she has been teaching children since 2015.
“These children live in neighbourhood slums and I would often see them loitering in the streets, whiling away time. Teaching was something that I could do for them. They cannot go to a formal school but I felt I could contribute in some way and make a difference,” Gaur says, talking about her motivation of connecting with these children. She has plans of spending her retirement teaching the children. “Mine is not a formal school, but my job is done if I can impart some new knowledge to the children. These children only need a little push to give them a direction in life,” she says.
Challenges faced by the schools
Educating children in these makeshift schools, however, also comes with its fair share of challenges. Ensuring safety and regular attendance of students are major areas of concern, the teachers say. “Our schools operate out of temporary structures and we have to take safeguards to ensure that students are safe. We always keep a close watch on them to make sure that children are not hurt in any way,” Sindhu says. Absenteeism is another cause of worry for the teachers. “We hold regular discussions with parents so that they continue to send children for classes,” Rawat says. Sindhu says that she visits the homes of children if a child is absent for two days in a row. Through these little interventions, teachers in these schools are making efforts to sustain the momentum that they have built over the years.