Monday, December 12, 2016

Connecting The Dots...

Over the years, we have come across many self-motivated individuals and groups that are contributing to the cause of education for underprivileged children in the society. Some of them are helping the children learn through classes conducted at community level, some are creating awareness among the parents about importance of education, while some are actually taking the children to nearby formal schools and trying to retain them there. Although all of them are determined and motivated, it is a fact that they are facing many challenges due to limited physical and knowledge resources.

Door Step School is trying to connect the dots by offering knowledge support to such volunteers and groups. As an organization with 25 years of presence in the field of education, Door Step School can provide training and monitoring support, guidance in preparing and using innovative teaching tools, insights on community-level issues, and methods of pulling in other resources.

If you are part of (or know about) any such volunteer groups working (or willing to work) for education of underprivileged children in their area, do connect with us. We would be happy to help for optimum utilization of volunteering resources towards the larger objective of ‘Education for All’…

Write to eccex@doorstepschool.org or call 986-000-8070 for more details.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Children's Day: Fun Fair in PMC Schools

A fun fair for children from all PMC (Pune Municipal Corporation) schools in Kothrud area was organized on the occasion of Children's Day. Various fun activities like storytelling, streetplay, group songs, and dance, etc. were conducted at Samrat Ashok Vidyamandir in Karvenagar. Door Step School set up a stall of innovative teaching tools for learning mathematics. Children from various schools in Kothrud area visited the stall with lot of curiosity and enthusiasm. A group of children from Door Step School's Baal Gat performed a streetplay on topic of Child Rights, which was much appreciated by school teachers and government officials present at the function.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Inspiring Story of Volunteers from Hyderabad

Bhanu Chander works as a STEM trainer for a Robotics company in Hyderabad. He and few of his friends wanted to help children in nearby slums get education. They visited the slums and interacted with parents and kids to understand reasons for children not attending schools. Apart from financial constraints, it was also observed that many parents did not know about local schools and their admission procedures. The volunteers approached a residential school and helped five children get admission. However, the children did not continue due to various reasons, fear and insecurity of the parents being major reasons. Accepting the failure of their first attempt, the volunteers then tried to get these children enrolled in nearby government schools. Most of the children belong to labourer families who have migrated from other states and cities to Hyderabad. Obviously, the children do not understand the local language - Telugu. The government school teachers informed volunteers that the children need to know at least basics of the Telugu language, if they want to attend the school.

Stuck in this situation, Bhanu started looking for help and came across Door Step School's programmes for migrant workers' children. In the month of October 2016, Bhanu wrote to us about his experience and plans about the children. His friends had already decided to start teaching the children on weekends, but they were clueless about how and where to start. During next one month, we had numerous interactions through e-mail, phone calls, and WhatsApp. We discussed various options like involving a local NGO from Hyderabad, conducting the study class in nearby school, building rapport with the parents, etc.

The volunteers have now started their weekend classes in the slum. They are introducing Telugu, English, and basics of Mathematics to the children between 5 and 14 years age group. Around 20-25 children attend these classes conducted by volunteers on Sarurdays and Sundays. They keep a track of what is being taught in each session, so that they can plan further sessions with same or different volunteers as per their availability. Door Step School has a reading skill development kit already prepared and being used for Marathi language. We are trying to replicate a similar teaching module for Telugu. We are also working out how English and numeracy skills can be taught to these children with help of simple teaching tools and workbooks.

The volunteers recently celebrated Children's Day in the slum. Parents have started responding positively and are happy to see their children learning something new every week. The volunteers are very much determined to bring these children into mainstream of education by start of next academic year. The Every Child Counts campaign was launched by Door Step School in 2011, with a vision of involving concerned citizens in education of out-of-school children, making it an organic and sustainable model of community development. Bhanu and his friends from Hyderabad are setting a wonderful example of how citizens can contribute towards the larger goal of 'Education For All'.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Spreading the Light of Wisdom...

(Submitted by a well-wisher and supporter of Door Step School - Ms. Sayali Kulkarni)

"Diwali is the festival of light, and light signifies wisdom." -  H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

The children and Staff of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Bal Mandir (SSRBM), Bavdhan, Pune believe that a festival is celebrated only when we can share the joy with people around us. We may make some delicious Diwali sweets but if we have no one to enjoy them with it is no celebration.

We at SSRBM Bavdhan decided to make beautiful Diwali lanterns to sell and raise money in order to make Diwali special for others.

The children, their teachers and other staff members put in their time and effort whilst the parents supported this wonderful project by buying these beautiful handmade lanterns.

We are very pleased to announce that raised amount will be using to buy books for the children of Primary ZP School, Abdagirewadi, Tal- Phaltan, Dist- Satara.

Most of the children of this school come from  poor families where the father, mother & other members are working on daily wages.

We brought the books from the Door Step School NGO. Special thanks to Mandarji Shinde & team for great, quick support.

It was really great moment to see happy faces with big- eager eyes of lovely kids.

This way SSRBM, Bavdhan team were able to support not one but two best causes.

Happy Diwali to you all.

(Door Step School thanks Ms. Sayali Kulkarni and SSRBM team for spreading the light of wisdom among children from Abdagirewadi ZP School. We are happy to see the brightened faces of children enjoying our books and teaching aids.)




Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Teaching Alphabets...


Teaching alphabets is not an easy task. Under the Grow With Books programme, Door Step School's Book-Fairies teach children by using innovative methods. Most of the methods are play-based and interactive. The objective is to create interest about alphabets and to increase familarity of words. Children in this video are saying aloud the words written on the floor as one of them moves from one word to another...

Saturday, October 22, 2016

'जाणीव सामाजिक बांधिलकीची' - दै. सकाळ

'मॉन्ट व्हर्ट' कन्स्ट्रक्शन ग्रुपच्या बांधकाम साईट्सवर 'डोअर स्टेप स्कूल'तर्फे चालविल्या जाणा-या शैक्षणिक उपक्रमांबाबत शनिवार, २२ ऑक्टोबर २०१६ च्या दै. सकाळ पुरवणीत प्रसिद्ध झालेली माहिती.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Door Step School at Corporate Diwali Mela

It's festival season and several corpoates supporting Door Step School are organizing Diwali Mela (Fair) across Pune city. These are opportunities for the corporates to introduce NGOs they are supporting, to their employees. We are being invited to put up stalls at the Diwali Melas organized inside the corporate campus or at other locations around. Various gift articles and books are on display at the Door Step School stall. There are greeting cards, pen stands, and tea coasters with drawings of children printed on them. There are beautifully painted Panati (Diyas) for sale. But the best item on our stall is books published by Door Step School. These include workbooks and storybooks used for reading skill improvement programmes at government schools and educational activity centers on construction sites and slums across the city. The visitors to our stall get to know about the methods used to teach children from marginalized and migrant communities. The kids among visitors are attracted to teaching aids and word games specially designed by Door Step School. Overall, it is an opportunity to showcase our work and publications to new people. Through each such event, we gain more supporters for our work. We thank our corporate partners for giving us this opportunity!

(Photos: Door Step School Stall at Harbinger Diwali Mela 2016 in Pune)








Thursday, October 20, 2016

Education Makes The Difference!

Every day, thousands of people from several states and villages in India migrate to the city of Pune in search of employment. With the industrial and infrastructural development, Pune keeps attracting people with various backgrounds - from young to old, from unskilled labourers to skilled professionals. The visible differentiating factor among all the migrants is their education, which decides their volume of earning, standard of living, and social status in the city. Fortunately, it is possible to cross the levels by means of education.

The work of educating children from migrant labourer families starts with creating awareness among the parents. Parents' participation is considered to be crucial for education of any child. Door Step School conducts parent awareness activities at the labour habitats and tries persuading the parents to send their children to school. Since the migrant parents are not comfortable enough with the local environment themselves, they are further afraid of sending their children away for any reason. As a result, their children remain deprived of education for the duration they live here in the city. Most of the times due to limited social exposure, the parents cannot even imagine how education could have made a difference in their lives. Door Step School field team has a hard time convincing these parents and getting access to their children.

Our field team is often supported by volunteers from corporates and institutes. These are the educated people who spend their weekends on the ground, understanding the problems and queries of parents, informing them about importance of education and benefits under Right To Education (RTE) Act, and actually helping their children reach schools. In the Baner - Balewadi area, a group of volunteers from 3DPLM Software Solutions, Hinjawadi is helping Door Step School field team in connecting with the parents.

The parents are labourers who usually leave their homes for work before 9 o'clock in the morning. Keeping this in mind, the volunteers turn up as early as 8 AM, sacrificing their weekend plans on Saturdays and Sundays. They start observing activities of our field team for first few meetings, after which they begin participating by talking with the parents and explaining importance of education and benefits of RTE Act, etc. Brahmanand, Shitala Prasad, Namrata, and Bharat are regularly seen at the early morning parent meetings and activities with children. During one such meeting, one of the volunteers, Brahmanand came up with an apt comparison of migration. While talking with the labourers from North Indian states, he said, "Even I am a migrant like you who has come to this city for a job. We hail from the same North Indian states. The only difference between you and me is education. If you want your children to be as successful as I am, please send them to schools now!"

This emotional appeal touched a cord and we could see the changed response of parents in further meetings. The volunteers from 3DPLM Software Solutions have also participated in activities like arranging games for children at the vasti, helping the parents in school enrollment procedure, etc. Door Step School thanks all the volunteers for their concern and support. We are sure that the children and their parents are inspired by them and have understood how education can make a difference in their lives!




Saturday, October 15, 2016

वाचन प्रेरणा दिन - २०१६







भारताचे माजी राष्ट्रपती 'भारतरत्न' डॉ. ए.पी.जे. अब्दुल कलाम यांचा जन्मदिवस (दि. १५ ऑक्टोबर) 'वाचन प्रेरणा दिन' म्हणून साजरा करण्यात येतो. या निमित्ताने यावर्षी पुणे व पिंपरी-चिंचवड येथील शाळांमधून विविध उपक्रमांचे आयोजन करण्यात आले. सर्व शाळांमधून मुलांनीच लिहिलेल्या 'डोअर स्टेप स्कूल'च्या 'वन पेज स्टोरी' उपक्रमातील गोष्टींचे सामूहिक वाचन घेण्यात आले. या उपक्रमात ज्या विद्यार्थ्यांच्या गोष्टींची निवड झाली होती त्या विद्यार्थ्यांचे 'वाचन प्रेरणा दिना'निमित्त आपापल्या शाळांमधे कौतुक करण्यात आले. मुलांना वाचण्यासाठी प्रेरक वातावरण निर्माण व्हावे म्हणून गोष्टीच्या पुस्तकांची वर्गांमधून मांडणी करण्यात आली होती. काही शाळांमधे विद्यार्थी व शिक्षकांनी एकत्र बसून पुस्तकांचे वाचन केले. मुलांनी 'वाचन प्रेरणा दिना'निमित्त विविध घोषवाक्ये तयार केली व म्हटली. वाचनाविषयी प्रेरणा देणारी भित्तीपत्रके शाळांमधे प्रदर्शित करण्यात आली. यावेळी डॉ. ए.पी.जे. अब्दुल कलाम यांच्या अल्पचरित्राचेही सामूहिक वाचन करण्यात आले. 'डोअर स्टेप स्कूल'च्या पुस्तक प-यांसोबतच शाळांचे मुख्याध्यापक, शिक्षक, पालक, तसेच सहाय्यक शिक्षणाधिकारी, मराठी साहित्य परिषदेचे पदाधिकारी, असे मान्यवरही या उपक्रमांमधे सहभागी झाले. मुलांमधे वाचनाविषयी गोडी निर्माण व्हावी या हेतुने आयोजित केलेल्या या 'वाचन प्रेरणा दिना'स सर्वच शाळांमधील विद्यार्थ्यांनी भरभरुन प्रतिसाद दिला.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Project Review Meetings at Door Step School

Over last 25 years, Door Step School has expanded reach of educational activities from hundreds to thousands of underprivileged children in Pune. The objective is to take education at the doorstep of children, hence the activity centers are spread across entire geography of the city and surrounding area. The teaching methods and teacher training model have almost been standardized over these years. However, close monitoring and periodic reviews play an important role in effective implementation of Door Step School programmes. The organization follows innovative tools of data collection and data analysis, for impact evaluation and corrective measures. Apart from monthly review meetings, Door Step School also conducts half-yearly project-wise presentations. The field team presents activities carried out through last six months. Achievements in learning levels against targets set at the beginning are reviewed, problems and special mentions are discussed, and the efforts of teachers and support staff are well appreciated. These review meetings are important for the entire team for knowledge sharing among people working in various areas and situations. All team members are excited to share their experiences and success stories. This is an opportunity for the organization to review and ensure all pieces of the programme are in place. This is also an opportunity for the field staff to showcase their work and gain motivation to keep working ahead!




Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Door Step School Vehicles

Door Step School runs various programmes for education of underprivileged children in and around Pune city. These include Educational Activity Centers run at construction sites and mobile classrooms used in temporary slums. All the children covered under Door Step School programmes are encouraged and helped to attend nearby government schools for formal education. Apart from creating awareness about education among parents and enrolling children in schools, Door Step School also provides school transport facility wherever possible. At present, five vehicles (vans and bus) are used for ferrying children to and from schools across Pune. Four School-on-Wheels buses reach out to around 400 children every day, offering education at their doorstep. Along with the teachers and escorts, our drivers (fondly called Kaka) play an important role in both school transport and mobile classroom programmes.

We express our gratitude towards our vehicles and entire transport team (driver Kaka's) on the occasion of Dasara (Vijaya Dashami) Pooja. We are happy and proud to see everyone in the team equally concerned about and aligned towards the organizational goal of 'Education for All'.




Wednesday, October 5, 2016

New School-on-Wheels for Door Step School

As a part of efforts to educate out-of-school children living in temporary slums and labour habitats on construction sites, Door Step School runs School-on-Wheels programme which is a bus converted into a mobile classroom. Sometimes, even setting up a temporary shelter as a classroom is not possible at locations where children live. The School-on-Wheels bus provides space for DSS teachers to conduct educational activities at such locations. The bus is modified to accomodate 20 to 25 children at a time. It is equipped with a blackboard, learning charts, mini-library of books and toys, etc. The bus covers 3 to 4 locations in a day, conducting sessions of around two to two and half hour duration. Focus of the programme is to make the children - often first generation learners - familiar with a learning environment. These children are eventually enrolled in nearby government schools for formal education. The sessions in School-on-Wheels bus support the education of both school-going and out-of-school children.

A recent addition to DSS School-on-Wheels programme is the bus donated by Tata Consulting Engineers Ltd. Mr. Amit Sharma, MD - TCE officially inaugurated the School-on-Wheels bus and also visited one of the temporary slum class at Baner, along with several other management and staff members of TCE. Door Step School appreciates the concern and support by TCE, which is going to help education of many children across Pune in coming times. Thank you!






Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Every Child Counts – Bengaluru Pilot

Every Child Counts – Bengaluru Pilot

Bengaluru continues to see significant construction activity. A vast majority of these construction workers are migrant labourers.  Education of their children poses a challenge. Only a small percentage of the children of migrant labourers attend school, the rest remains out of school because of various reasons, they need to stay at home to take care of the younger siblings, or schools are inaccessible or simply they can’t cope up with schools having stayed out of school for prolonged time.

Though various NGO’s and government have been working to address this problem, it is a work in progress, any help is usually welcome.
 It is with that premise, this initiative originated, asking the question:

“How can an ordinary citizen in Bengaluru contribute to the cause of the education of the migrant labourer?”

 That question brought together a team of a set of likeminded people, with a desire to contribute something to cause of the education of the children of migrant labourers. The first lead to finding the answer was the “Every Child Counts Citizen Campaign” or ECC.  Inspired by the successful journey of ECC Pune, which has been working for the last five years with a similar objective, the team aligned to the goals and methodology set down by that campaign.

The goals and the plan to achieve the goals began to take shape. The short term goal was to pilot an ECC Clone in one location of Bengaluru. Haralur road, which borders the HSR layout, Hosur Road and Sarjapur Road, which has been witnessing a boom in construction activities was selected as the pilot location. Enrolling the out of school around two government schools of Haralur road thus became the primary objective of the campaign.
The campaign adopted the same structure ECC Pune had laid out.


  • Citizen would survey the locality, identify out of school children between the age of 6 and 10, and collect the details.
  • Citizen would engage an NGO and with their help, use the data collected to chalk out a practical plan to enrol the children identified to the government schools. The best case would be NGO selected would have funding to set up bridge schools in that locality.
  • NGO with the citizen execute that plan – enrol children directly to schools, set up bridging facility for the ones who cannot be enrolled.


As the citizen volunteers were not part of any NGO, the team choose to stick to the name of original – Every Child Counts – Bengaluru Pilot.

Given that the citizen volunteers had minimal experience in such surveys, the team approached for help, ECC Pune, Azim Premji Foundation and Gubbachi, all experts in this area.

Experts from ECC Pune were more than willing to share not just their experience, but also the toolkit required for the campaign. Gubbachi assured that if in case it emerged that there is a significant number of out of school children in Haralur road, they could potentially be the partnering NGO in the campaign.

Thus after an orientation session held attended by 11 citizen volunteers, the campaign kick started.  The citizen volunteers surveyed the Haralur area for 4 consecutive Sundays. Open source Android apps for surveying were also made available. The volunteers met with parents or relatives of children of the labourers.

The volunteers were received mostly warmly by the people. Their apprehensions would often ease out after a few minutes of conversation. Knowledge of local language became crucial to the success as majority of the people surveyed were from North Karnataka. Knowledge of Hindi, Telegu became useful too. The clusters surveyed ranged from decently organised labour camps by the big builders, to unhygienic chaotic shanties. Sunday 12.00 became the standard time for surveying the locations, as the team found the parents of the children being available on site for conversation.

Most of the parents were willing to send their children to school, provided some of the concerns were met. This included -


  • a safe transport to the school,
  • a day care for their younger sibling,
  • mitigating unsafe conditions in the schools.


The initial survey was led by volunteers with prior experience.  The apprehension that whether novice citizen volunteers would scale to their level dissolved in the second week, where the first timers did a wonderful job of initiating and carrying on conversations with the labourers.  Though the number of volunteers dropped, the volunteers from the same locality continued the survey till it covered the target area.



With 52 children identified in approximately 1 square kilometre, the first phase of the campaign achieved what it set out to achieve, a handful of volunteers completing the survey of the locality, identifying children in the age group of 6-10. The labourers found were mostly from north Karnataka, and the rest from West Bengal.


The campaign has now moved on to the next phase, evolve a plan of action along with Gubbachi.  The data thus collected have been handed over to NGO Gubbachi.  Therefore the campaign stands at a crucial phase, where without any funding, it has to solve problems such as setting up a bridge school, arrange for transportation, etc. The positive response from Gubbachi has kept the hopes of the team high so far. The team hopes that in the coming weeks, it will be able to address most of these challenges.

- Reported by Ranjit A Pillai, ECC - Bengaluru

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Celebrating Teachers’ Month - Challenges and Changes in the Community (CLC)

Door Step School’s endeavor to reach the underprivileged and deprived communities living in urban setting led to the establishment of Community Learning Centers (CLC) right at their doorstep. Each CLC along with its satellite centers serves a large number of communities living in its vicinity, providing the school-going children - study support, access to books, and a quiet place to study; for others - a chance to go to mainstream schools; and for those who just cannot go to school - an opportunity to get literate. 

Although the CLC is similar to the Educational Activity Center (EAC), it has more amenities in its main center. Computer training, e-learning facility, science lab, sports, and various other volunteer-based activities are also conducted by or in partnership with the teachers. The CLC is open for longer hours to serve the children effectively.

It is just 8:30 in the morning and Lakshmi has already opened the Community Learning Center in Dattawadi and is getting ready for the first batch of students for the computer course. She is busy cleaning and tidying the center and ensuring there is power supply; and just in case there isn’t, she has to decide which alternate lesson plan to follow.

Soon after, at about 9:15 AM, Nisha, Anjum, Vrushali, Chhaya, Mangal, and some others can be seen walking around calling out to children in various locations of Dattawadi; Punam, Savitri, Zarina, and Monica are doing the same in the by-lanes near Shivaji Housing Society; and Shubhangi and Kunda near Vaiduwadi in Hadapsar. All these ladies are teachers at the three main Community Learning Centers and their satellite locations, the latter enabling a deeper reach into the communities they serve. Like all the other Door Step School teachers, they play multiple roles in their line of duty. Their day starts like the ‘pied piper’ - attracting all the children and escorting them to the center; and then they transform into ‘life coaches’ who ensure the children learn happily a number of things; and finally ends at 5:30 PM when they hand over the mantle of responsibility back to the actual parents and head for their own homes!

The teachers have various reasons for choosing to work for Door Step School. Some like Mangal, Vrushali, and Nisha live in Dattawadi and are familiar with the local people and their problems; Anjum, Zarina, and Monica knew about Door Step School as they have also grown up in the area; and others like Savitri, Punam, and Lakshmi liked teaching and wanted a job! No matter what the initial reason was, now they share the passion of doing their best to ensure all children in their area are identified, enrolled in school if required, and attending school regularly!

"Working in the community areas has its own challenges," says Mangal who has a Diploma in Education and is with DSS since 1994. "All slums are full of out-of-school children. These children lack suitable role models and hence do not see the importance of attending school regularly. They find easy ways of earning money – begging is very common and many children, although enrolled in school, are found at traffic lights and outside shops indulging in this activity. Some of them help their parents in selling various items at traffic lights. So engaging them in educational activities is very challenging." She has been working in the Shivaji Nagar area for about 12 years. "At first when we started a satellite center near the District Court, it was in the open.. but there was a good response. A number of 5–10 year olds attended our class. We enrolled them in the nearby school and although many did not complete school, some of them did attend till Grade X. One has completed his post graduation and a few others have completed high school; but all are working and have responsible jobs and have kept in touch with me. Now, when their employers praise them, I feel very happy, because when they were in school, nobody except Door Step School staff praised them!’ she adds emotionally and wipes a runaway tear.

Vrushali also nods her head and adds, "Their irregular attendance and wayward behavior does not endear them to school staff! In fact, our biggest challenge is to ensure that they attend school regularly. We conduct a number of parents’ meetings, keep interacting with the parents and children, but it is still an uphill task. On the other hand, some children really surprise us! We started a new center on Sinhgad road. After a number of teething troubles, just as the children got used to the idea of going to school and had settled down, their entire community shifted to Hadapsar! But this time the children called us to inform that their parents had identified a school in Hadapsar and they would be continuing school without any interruption. They also invited me to their new home and school! I was so happy that I treated my family to ice-cream!"

Challenges come in various shapes and sizes! The CLC in Hadapsar is relatively new. Kunda, Shubhangi, and others spent a lot of time preparing teaching aids, charts, etc. to set up the center. They had gone house to house in the surrounding area to tell parents and children about the new facility. Most of the parents gave a luke-warm response that upset the DSS staff. However, within two days, the number of students went up to more than 300! "Then the challenge was how to keep them constructively engaged!" exclaim Kunda and Shubhangi in unison. "It was a test of our training as well as our experience. Now we have made groups and a schedule for them so that no one wastes time and there is optimum utilization of facilities."

Savitri is working with DSS since 2004 in the Vadarwadi area. "The local people here are very orthodox. They do not allow girls to study beyond Grade VII and they are married off very early. But now with constant interaction and awareness programs, there is a change in the attitude of the girls themselves who insist they want to study further. They talk to us about all that happens at home and ask for our advice. The few who study and get good jobs serve as role models and motivate other children." Monica quickly adds, "Many students and their families are very proud of Savitritai and appreciate her contribution to their community."

So, what motivates these teachers to keep working in spite of such challenging situations? "It is change… and that is inevitable!" chorus the ladies! "The best description of change is when our ex-students come to meet us and tell us of what they are doing and how they are in turn influencing others. Some of the girls whom we taught are married and have children of their own; and they are determined to send their children to school. Some are even working as teachers with Door Step School or take tuitions at home," elaborates Mangal.

The regular refresher training also gives them the confidence they need while working in the community. "The information about the Right to Education (RTE) Act further strengthens our views and gives us an edge while talking to parents. I have learnt the difference between just wanting to do something and actually doing it, from Door Step School and I am improving every day just by experience," Anjum puts her thoughts in apt words. Just then Vrushali makes an important observation, "Qualifications of a teacher are not as important in the field as the knack of handling people, especially kids. I think all kids are very talented and we have to be able to identify their special skills and encourage them to keep them in school. They crave for appreciation and attention because they don’t get it at home!"

The Computer lab is a major attraction for all the children with an optional fee of Rs.50/- per month. Lakshmi recounts nine year old Veerbhadra’s determined effort to pay from his saved ‘tiffin’ money. "I encourage children to sit and do whatever they can; and with a little guidance, most youngsters learn quickly." And the same is true for the teachers – all are encouraged to be computer literate.

Sports and science activities conducted through the CLC widen the experiences of the children as well as the teachers, exposing them to new learning opportunities. Participating in the annual sports meet has considerably expanded their general knowledge of sporting activities on the whole. "Now I know the rules of various games and the famous people associated with each game," smiles Zarina. 'During the Olympics, we had a quiz every day. Children love to play kho-kho, kabaddi, and throw ball; and everybody including us loves to do lezim." Adds Monica and their shared laughter speaks more than their words!

The teachers also escort the children to ‘Quest’, a science lab where the children get hands-on experience of various aspects of science. The escorting teachers are also encouraged to participate. As a result, some of them put up an impressive science exhibition to demonstrate various principles of science in daily life. The children were motivated to do something better than their teachers when it was their turn. "And that is the best award for a teacher, isn’t it?" asks Nisha with a knowing smile.

There are many activities organized by volunteers from India and all over the world. "They treat us with great respect and ask us many questions. We invariably use a smattering of English and a lot of body language to communicate!" smiles Savitri. "We learn many things along with the children; now I want to learn English," she adds hesitantly knowing she has said it many times before! "Our interaction with various volunteers has made us aware of different aspects of many countries - art and craft, languages, food habits, dress, and even some of their problems!" observes Shubhangi and adds, "My family is very jealous of me because I get to meet people from so many countries!"

Zarina narrates an interesting incident that has motivated her to do her job very sincerely. Just before 26th of January, she was supervising the speeches and songs the children had prepared for celebrating Republic Day at the CLC. As the class is conducted in a shared facility, some of the senior people from the community were also present. On 25th of January afternoon, she received an invitation asking her to come along with the DSS students for the flag hoisting ceremony in the community. Just as the celebration began, there was an announcement on the public address system requesting the DSS teacher and students to come forward and hoist the flag! This was followed by the speeches and songs prepared by the DSS students. They were very excited and honored. The parents of other children were so impressed that soon their children also started coming to the CLC for guidance.

Chhaya has a rather unusual incident to tell. Once while escorting 7-8 children on their way to school, she was crossing the busy road near Shivajinagar. It so happened that her husband along with his seniors was waiting at the same traffic light in a vehicle. When her husband waved and mentioned it was his wife, the senior officer was very keen to know more about her work. He was so impressed with the details that he invited Chhaya to a social awareness program held in their office and felicitated her and asked her to talk about her work. "Door Step School has given me the confidence to speak in front of a room full of strangers and more important, the conviction that I can do any work that I believe in!"

So what does it take to be a good Door Step School teacher? ‘A willingness to learn and work sincerely’; ‘Having faith in the capability of children’; ‘Having faith in yourself’; ‘Just smile and keep doing your work’; ‘Perseverance, patience, and positive attitude’  ….. and their discussion continues.

May they continue to do their duty with the awareness and maturity that lies hidden behind their unassuming nature; and may their work bring about the change they not only dream of but are also sure of!

- Written by Archana Vyavaharkar, based on inputs from Door Step School Teachers

(This article is a part of Teachers' Month series by Door Step School, Pune. For other articles in the series, please visit http://blog.doorstepschool.org/search/label/Teachers%27%20Month%202016.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Celebrating Teachers’ Month - Taking the School to Children's Doorstep (School-on-Wheels)

The ‘School-on-Wheels’ is a signature program of Door Step School. A bright yellow modified bus full of teaching aids, charts, pictures and other gadgets along with two teachers reaches out to those communities for whom education is still a distant dream. At present there are four such buses; each reaching out to around 100  children spread over 3 to 4 sites in a day.

And who are these two ladies with confident smiles inviting all the children and their parents into the bus? Yes, they are the teachers of the ‘School-on-Wheels’ who willingly put their patience, perseverance and commitment to test as they move from one site to another in line of their duty. After an initial survey they identify a site to park the bus for two hours so that at least 15 - 35 children from the nearby area benefit from it.

Malti and Anagha are the teachers in the Wakad area. They have worked in DSS as teachers in various Education Activity Centers for the last five years. Malti says, "Our work on the School-on-Wheels bus is an extension of our EAC work. The main difference is we cover three different sites in one day; that gives us just about two hours to work with a group of children. And ours is a temporary arrangement until a shed or some other facility is given or identified to start an EAC." That means they have to work smart to be able to give maximum inputs to the children on any given site!

The big yellow bus attracts a lot of attention especially the first time that it arrives at a particular site. Children and adults are curious to know what it is all about. "When we go out to call them into the bus, it is an unbelievable opportunity for the children and they jump with joy! They are very excited to step into this different world. But the parents hesitate, and reluctantly give in to their children’s enthusiasm." Anagha adds, "Some parents are paranoid and think we are here to kidnap their children! It takes a lot of convincing and a few days are spent before they allow the children to come and sit in the bus for two hours."

Malti elaborates, "The first thing we teach the children, is the importance of being neat and clean. We use various games, songs and puppets for this. Some of these children were enrolled in schools. But because of their unclean habits and appearance were treated badly and now they refuse to attend school. We have to change this perception and need to work with the children as well as the schools."
Sonali and Pragya are the School-on-Wheels teachers in Kondhwa area. They both want to know if their bus is suitably decorated! One forgets it is a bus once you step inside. If you were to make a list of things found in a common classroom and compare it with the School-on-Wheels, you would tick every single item on your list and then probably make another list of the more uncommon items! There are two black-boards, one at each end; the one behind the driver displays the number of students in attendance; the other black-board is for teaching and playing games. All the storage compartments are neatly labeled for easy access of their contents. A number of charts and craft items display useful information for ready reference. There is also a list of safety tips for the children; and another promotes good hygiene. Letters of the Marathi alphabet and numerals sway in the breeze. Colorful pictures done by the students adorn the sides. It is an ideal place indeed for any educational activity.

The teachers keep the children busy for the two hours that they spend on the bus. Sonali gives the details, "They are divided into four groups based on their learning levels. Each group is given a language/math teaching aid to start the learning process. It could be a game that encourages them to identify letters or match shapes, find the missing letters from a ‘Barakhadi’ chart, or form words. After they have spent time in seeing, touching and handling shapes and letters, it is time to do some writing work based on their competency levels. After this they read – from charts, books, black board or flash cards. The last time slot is for story telling or some creative activity which is based on the project title for the month and/or the festival during that month."

Maya confidently adds, "The curriculum is very well planned and adapted as per each child’s need. It is a result of relentless research, observations, and feedback collected over the last 20 years of working in the field." She expands further, "We maintain a detailed report of every single child that attends the class. It is a record of what a child does every time he/she attends the class and the outcome is discussed and recorded every week. Is the child able to keep up with the expected outcomes? What is encouraging (or preventing) the child? Is the attendance regular? What is the cause for absence? Does a child have any health/hygiene issues? Which parents need to be counseled and for what reason? Some parents are grateful that their children are getting the attention they deserve; some are indifferent; and some are almost hostile for bringing a change in their environment. We have to deal with all types of parents and convince them of the advantages of education and the change for the better that it will augur."

Lata from the Hadapsar School on Wheels laments, "It is sad to see that in spite of our efforts, there are still some parents who do not send their children to school. They prefer their children do house work and look after their younger siblings. A lot of patience and continuous effort has to be invested before such parents can be convinced of the advantages of education."

"The School-on-Wheels attracts a lot of attention. Some people stop and ask us how we run a school in a bus. Some are curious to know which children attend the school. Some junior college students are keen to see it as they have a lesson in their English text-book about Door Step School. Some regular schools want the bus to come to their school so that their students can see it. All such comments encourage us," says Jyoti rather seriously.

Lata says on a lighter note, "I always liked travelling but I never imagined that I would be spending eight hours a day in a bus like this! My five year old son asks me if I give a ticket to all the children!" Everyone joins the laughter.

Anagha sums up for all of them, "Our families are also very intrigued by the way we conduct our work. They are always keen to know where all we go in a day and how many children we enroll in schools. My daughter is only eight years old but she also keeps a look-out for out-of-school children!"

Yes, it is indeed an interesting way to teach and learn. No wonder, everyone wants to be a part of the School-on-Wheels story!

- Written by Archana Vyavaharkar, based on inputs from Door Step School Teachers

(This article is a part of Teachers' Month series by Door Step School, Pune. For other articles in the series, please visit http://blog.doorstepschool.org/search/label/Teachers%27%20Month%202016.)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Celebrating Teachers’ Month - The EAC teachers - Part 2

(Read Part-1 here: http://blog.doorstepschool.org/2016/09/celebrating-teachers-month-eac-teachers.html)

After lunch, the younger children take a nap, but for others, it’s story time. Pournima, Priyanka, and all the teachers love this activity. They list out the benefits of story-telling but the best part of it is the rapt attention and excitement of the children. They have the ever popular stories and the stories the children like to make up with a few given characters; the chain stories, and the ones read out to them from a book.

Priyanka exclaims, "The children have even written one-page stories on their own and these have been illustrated by other children and published as a book! Isn't that exciting?"

All children read every day for at least half an hour. "They are given books as per their age and competency level and we supervise these reading sessions. Regular reading practice has improved their reading skills and they are able to concentrate for a longer time," observes Deepali. She also admits that her interest in reading has increased manifold only after joining Door Step School. Arati has an interesting incident to relate. Once a child's mother came in while the reading session was going on. She wanted to take away her 12 year old daughter to help her with housework. She was so amazed to hear her daughter read from a book that she changed her mind and started crying instead and said she was saved from committing a sin! "We hope many other parents also allow their daughters to continue in school. It is very sad when after Grade VII, the girls are not allowed to attend senior school. We try our best to convince their parents."

Interacting with the parents on a regular basis is an important part of their job. "After all it's the parents who are responsible for the education of their children and we also inform them of the Right to Education (RTE) Act and the importance of education," explains Anita, "but sometimes it's very frustrating when a child suddenly stops coming to school. This is the biggest challenge we face."

"At the same time, there are parents who are upset when we have to close our class because the construction site is completed," says Sucheta and she mentions Virender's mother who was willing to take up a house on rent near the school. Saroj relates an incident how seven year old Sindhu's father brought four other children to be enrolled in school, along with their parents. "We are motivated when parents support us and appreciate our work and we see a change in their attitude."

Sharada and Revati are fluent in Kannada and hence are able to talk with the Kannada-speaking parents convincingly. But Deepali says confidently, "Even we have picked up a few words of Kannada, Telugu, and Bengali - and because we meet the parents regularly, we can communicate effectively with the non-Marathi/Hindi-speaking parents."

That is the other common feature among the teachers. They not only like to teach but also like to learn as their work itself involves learning new skills. Their interaction with various stake holders increases their communication skills. Pournima states rather emphatically, "In the past, I would hide myself if a stranger came to our house. Now I can confidently speak to anybody without making a fool of myself! And we are respected because we are Door Step School teachers."

Regular art and craft activities help the teachers discover latent talent that they put to good use. Varsha wants to do a course in water colors and Priya in sketching. "I know what I like to do so now I can plan for it!" she says with a determined look.  However, the most popular activity is singing and dancing with the children. "I think we all hesitate to do it at home; so we enjoy it here as we are not only allowed but also encouraged to do so!" comments Ashwini. The hidden child in them takes over at such times and they take pleasure in these simple joys that celebrate life.

Sharada candidly admits that she has learnt many things along with the children. "I had forgotten all the maths tables and various facts in History, Geography, and Science. Now, when some students ask me to help them with their work, I enjoy re-learning all the subjects that I had first done in school - this time it's with a new understanding."

Ashwini smiles and admits, "I joined Door Step School in 2004 when I was in high school (Grade XI) because I liked the idea of being a teacher more than being a student! Although I grew up in Pune, I never knew so many children in a city like ours are not able to attend school. My work encouraged me to continue with my education simultaneously, and I completed my Masters in Sociology in 2014. My dream is to start my own organization and reach out to more children outside Pune."

Uma continues on the same lines, "I completed my B.A. in 1994, then got married and joined Door Step School in year 2010. I was motivated after I realized how much I am capable of doing and completed my M.A. in Sociology after a gap of 17 years! Door Step School encouraged me to study and felicitated me as I had stood first!" She now motivates other teachers to study further.

Besides academic qualifications, they take home many important nuggets. Deepali says "I've learnt not to compare any two children, including my own."

"I often ignored many questions that the children asked. Now I try to understand why a child is asking a particular question; and usually there is a good reason for it!" observes Anita.

"We learn to make teaching aids using ordinary things that encourage recycling; different types of art and craft techniques; and our project work makes us aware of many scientific facts. I used to be terrified of eclipses; but now I find myself explaining them to my neighbors and friends!" states Sucheta.

"Our interaction with volunteers from different countries has expanded our world view. We are surprised at ourselves when we communicate in broken English with all these visitors," add Pournima and Mangal, smiling all the while. "We are determined to learn English so that we can keep in touch with them."

"My experience with Door Step School and interaction with volunteers has made me realize that we should not limit ourselves to the welfare of our family, but should extend it to all whom we can," adds Uma philosophically.

"Most of us grew up in families with limited resources and we always appreciate people who donate for a worthy cause. Now due to our family responsibilities, we feel bad that we cannot give money to the needy; but a volunteer explained to us that educating the underprivileged children is sharing something very valuable with them! We are helping these children achieve their potential just like Door Step School is helping us discover our talents! We want them to become very successful in life – in fact that is our ardent wish!" they collectively put forth their views, their thoughtful faces nodding in assent.

Our good wishes are with the EAC teachers. May all the children you reach out to fulfill your wish...

- Written by Archana Vyavaharkar, based on inputs from Door Step School Teachers

(This article is a part of Teachers' Month series by Door Step School, Pune. For other articles in the series, please visit http://blog.doorstepschool.org/search/label/Teachers%27%20Month%202016.)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Celebrating Teachers’ Month - The EAC Teachers - Part 1

Mornings are always a big rush. Sucheta impatiently waits for a bus at Dhanori and checks her purse if she has enough money for a rickshaw; Mangal and Pournima somehow manage to get onto a bus on Sinhgad road; Anita scrambles into a six-seater heading to Matalwadi; Ashwini has to wait for one going towards Kondhwa; Priyanka is walking towards Manjri from Hadapsar; and Uma has strapped her helmet and set off towards Wakad on her two-wheeler. Their destinations are far apart but all share a common thread of work and are determined to reach their work place on time.

These ladies are some of the Door Step School teachers working in close to 100 Educational Activity Centers (EAC) spread all over Pune and its outskirts. Each EAC is a self-sufficient unit taking education to the doorsteps of the most deprived children living mainly in labor camps at construction sites, brick kilns, slums, and temporary hutments. The teachers create opportunities for learning where none exist and they help enroll children in mainstream schools.

Like the Book-Fairies, at the time of joining Door Step School, most of the teachers have attended high school and some have done a teachers’ training course for 'Balwadi' (Pre-primary). Three weeks of in-house training conducted at 'Parivartan', the DSS training center, followed by hand holding in the field transforms them into multi-tasking, full time Door Step School teachers. 

Mangal's smile and cheerful greeting welcomes the children. There is a burst of requests... Ratan, Vikas, and Rekha attend the afternoon shift in the nearby school and need the teacher's help with school work; four year old Rani wants to show her a new toy; Sachin has made a working model of a water-pump for this month's project; and they all want immediate attention! "But what do we do first?" Mangal asks; and they rush to tidy the tin shed and lay out the mats and start the prayer. It is the start of an exciting day filled with activities!

Anita has a relatively difficult job. She first has to decide where to conduct her class for the day - under a tree or in some other shady place? There is no designated place for her class as yet but there are many enthusiastic 6-9 year olds in the labor camp who have never been to school. She has only about a month to get them started before enrolling them in the nearby Zilla Parishad School. She heads for the tree as it offers the only piece of shade. Soon she is surrounded by the children and the site watchman brings the few things kept in his shed. They spread out the mats and the foundation to their education begins!

Uma, Sucheta, Priyanka, Ashwini... all begin their day at any given EAC in similar ways. After welcoming the children, badges are distributed and the class is organized as per the time table. Various planned activities are then conducted to help children learn in a playful way; competencies are recorded and plans made for their enhancement! But the most important responsibility is ensuring the safety of all the children.

All the teachers have many thoughts to share about various aspects of their work.

Uma starts with the importance of training. "Once we understand the aim and the method of working, it makes things relatively easy for us. Then we don't mind walking in the sun or rain, and learn to ignore other hardships." Then Priyanka elaborates, "Our in-house training gives us the confidence to step out into the field; but it is our experience in field that enables us to do our work efficiently and with conviction." "Yes", agrees Deepali, "We learn many aspects of being a teacher in such a short time that it can be overwhelming. But as we start working along with an experienced teacher, our roles and responsibilities become clear." Sucheta adds, "Observation of other teachers helps me the most. I note how they talk to various people and how they interact with the children; how they manage different tasks and yet retain their calm... that really helps me to improve as a teacher." Just then Pushpa exclaims, "But the refresher training sessions we have every month help us develop further. We also get to meet our friends! After every session we have something more to pass on to our students, their parents, or any of the people with whom we interact on a regular basis." And suddenly they wonder if they will ever learn all that they would like to learn!

Identifying each child's competency level forms the base for mapping his/her progress. "We have a basic literacy plan for 90 days during which we can teach a child to read and write Marathi," explains Sangeeta. "But," Anita complains, "you may think 90 days is such a short time; but unfortunately some of the children do not stay in one place even that long! We all get very upset when any child suddenly stops coming to class. Then we try and find out where the parents have moved and whether the child is going to another school or not."

As a result, the teachers have learnt the importance of making every day count. They use various teaching aids (specially designed by Door Step School and very often made by the teachers themselves) to engage each child in a fruitful manner. Anita's favorite is asking the children to match picture and word cards. The children just love the game and two or more children can play and improve their vocabulary as well as start recognizing words at a glance. Mangal enjoys playing a reading game adapted from the popular "Musical Chairs" game along with the children. Children run around cards with words or sentences laid out in a straight line on the floor. When the music stops, they have to read from the card that is in front of them and follow the instructions in it! There are many variations to this game and it is also adapted to teach numbers and simple mathematical operations.

Priyanka likes the games they make up with their badges. "Children are so creative and observant that we all have a good time while asking about the details given on the badge. It also helps develop their social and communication skills." Children also enjoy other activities adapted from popular games such as 'Snakes and Ladders', 'Lotto', 'Dominoes', 'Monopoly', etc.

"We are encouraged to develop play-way methods and share our ideas at refresher training sessions. We have chit-chat sessions, art and craft, song and dance, storytelling..." The list is endless and so is their creativity. Their smiles are wide and enthusiasm is infectious, as we take a break for lunch.

(Read Part-2 here: http://blog.doorstepschool.org/2016/09/celebrating-teachers-month-eac-teachers_26.html)

- Written by Archana Vyavaharkar, based on inputs from Door Step School Teachers

(This article is a part of Teachers' Month series by Door Step School, Pune. For other articles in the series, please visit http://blog.doorstepschool.org/search/label/Teachers%27%20Month%202016.)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Celebrating Teachers’ Month - The Book-Fairies in School

All Book-Fairies work for the school intervention project called "Grow with Books". It includes three inter-related programs conducted within school hours for Grade 1 to Grade 7 students of mainly municipal, Zilla Parishad, and a few semi-private schools. These programs ensure children learn to read in Grade 1 itself and then with some supervision and guidance, discover the joy of reading.

Sangeeta, Komal, Shabana, and Surekha work for "First Steps Forward" -  a specially designed teaching program for Grade 1 students, implemented every day for about 45 minutes in 239 schools across Pune. Their efforts fortify the teaching-learning experience of children, thus increasing the number of children reaching expected levels of learning by end of Grade 1. They also encourage the children to actively participate in school activities and attend school regularly.

At the start of each academic session, these Book-Fairies make a detailed teaching plan for the entire academic year. Sangeeta is not very happy by the number of holidays in August and September. Surekha shares her earlier experiences to determine exactly how many working days they will have in hand to divide the portion and they all wish they could reduce the number of holidays! They know that large gaps in attendance cause set-backs in a child's progress. Shabana suggests a home-work plan, and 'sibling pairing' that had worked last year!

They continue planning and discussing various aspects. Suddenly Komal says, "At first I thought all this detailed planning is totally unnecessary, but now that I know it really works, I find myself making plans for everything - whether it is 'What do I teach next week' or 'How can I afford to buy a second fan for my house!'" The others shyly admit they do the same. In fact, they find themselves applying various aspects of their training at home.

"Time management is very crucial as we have to juggle all kinds of home chores along with what we enjoy doing in school", adds Shabana. The others nod knowingly and get back to working on competencies and time schedules.

The Book-Fairies share this plan with the regular school teachers and work in a coordinated manner so that the children benefit the most. They use a number of activity-based teaching-aids designed by Door Step School and made by themselves. Some of the popular ones are 'Word Chain', 'Snakes and Ladders', and 'The Mango Tree'.

Komal laments, "I wish I knew about such teaching methods when my children were in primary school. I had to struggle to teach my own children! In fact I wish I had joined Door Step School ten years ago when my neighbor first mentioned it!"

A competency-based test for reading is conducted for each and every student every month and the results are documented regularly to track their progress. This forms the base for planning what works best for each child; which aspect needs more attention; what spurs the child to do better and so on.

Sangeeta says very solemnly, "When a child is unable to read a letter or a composite letter and suddenly one day is able to do so... the sparkle and happiness in the child's eyes is worth more than all our efforts put together!"

"And then we write a report for every child!", exclaims Surekha. "I used to find this task very difficult but with constant guidance and encouragement from my team leader, I can now write reports with very few mistakes." She stresses her point shaking her head and rolling her eyes. The others laugh and add how their handwriting as well as language have improved. They sometimes feel they are back in school themselves and just then some child calls out 'Teacher!' and they come back to reality and become aware of their responsibilities.

Geeta, Vaishali, Suchitra, Shubhangi, Kanchan, and Pallavi are Book-Fairies for Grades II to VII. They conduct the supervised reading program once a week as well as give out the books for the lending library. And just in case any child is unable to read, it is back to the 'First Steps Forward' strategy.

The efforts of Book-Fairies in categorizing the books suitable for age and competency pay off when the children are very excited to get a book they can read and understand.  Pallavi adds, "The love for reading is further encouraged when we read a part of a story from a book and the children develop the story further. The children come up with creative suggestions and we all have a good time." Kanchan adds, "This activity also improves their language through verbal expression." Vaishali admits that she likes her job because she gets to read a lot of books! She happily carries 100 odd books to every school and never gets tired or bored. Her enthusiasm is reflected in the children when they are given books to take home! She further elaborates, "They feel very proud and responsible and handle the books with care." The children are encouraged to read out from the books at home so that their parents can appreciate their progress and send them regularly to school.

In spite of all these efforts, some students do not come regularly to school. Shubhangi and Sunita are ready to visit the homes of children with irregular attendance. Sunita has done this before but Shubhangi is hesitant to step into this uncharted territory. But once in the field, she manages quite well. One parent is abusive and does not want to talk to them; in another house, the child no longer lives there but the neighbors guide them to the child's new home. By this time, a few children are accompanying the two Book-Fairies and guiding them through the narrow alleys to homes of the children absent from school! They speak to the parents and tell them about the Right to Education (RTE) Act and the benefits of education and to send the children regularly to school. By the time they return, Shubhangi is standing taller and her self- confidence has increased by leaps and bounds. She has taken another step to self-discovery.

Every Book-Fairy vouches that the time spent in the classroom with the children is worth all the trouble they have taken to reach there. One common refrain is that they forget all their personal problems when they are busy teaching, telling stories, conducting other activities to encourage regular attendance or intently listening to their children read and helping them with whatever needs to be done. An environment of books has encouraged many Book-Fairies to not only read, but also to write poetry, short stories, and articles based on their experiences. Many have completed formal graduate courses in Arts and Commerce.

The Book-Fairies feel very proud when the little ones address them as 'teacher' and enquire about them when they are absent. Komal says, "Even our own children don't realize when we are not feeling well, but our students immediately sense something is wrong and ask us if we need to sit down or if they can get us a glass of water!" The Book-Fairies feel that 'teacher' is not an ordinary word; it has an intrinsic power and they have experienced its life-changing effect.

Most of the Book-Fairies live within a short distance from the school, hence their neighbors and friends know what they do and regard them with respect; and their family members who once introduced them only as their daughter-in-law, daughter, mother, sister, or wife, now proudly add the powerful pre-fix 'teacher'!

Yes, the ladies have expanded their identity. May they continue to do so on their journey of self-discovery.

- Written by Archana Vyavaharkar, based on inputs from Door Step School 'Book-Fairies'

(This article is a part of Teachers' Month series by Door Step School, Pune. For other articles in the series, please visit http://blog.doorstepschool.org/search/label/Teachers%27%20Month%202016.)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Witnessing Stones Turning into Diamonds…

Door Step School was founded with a vision of empowering children from marginalized communities to become self-dependent and confident educated professionals. Over past several years, numerous teachers and facilitators from Door Step School have been striving to educate underprivileged children across Pune city. It was heartening to witness the results of all the hardwork, when the students of yesterday came together as grown-up individuals achieving personally and professionally today. The occasion was Past Students’ Gathering organized on 14th of August 2016 by Door Step School, Pune.

Door Step School has been introducing innovative programmes to address specific obstacles in the children’s journey towards education and self-development. These programmes include educational activity centers and study classes at slums and labour camps on construction sites, mobile classrooms, reading classes at government schools, and other such activities with children and their parents. Most of the beneficiaries of Door Step School programmes belong to migrant communities and the teachers usually lose contact with their students once they migrate from one location to another. Despite many efforts to track them after migration, not more than half of the children are successfully contacted. The greatest satisfaction for any teacher is in witnessing her students progressing in their lives. But Door Step School teachers are often deprived of this sense of achievement, thanks to the migrating nature of their students.

However, this year Door Step School decided to bring as many past beneficiaries together and organized a Past Students’ Gathering in the month of August 2016. All the serving teachers were informed to invite as many past students as they could contact. The teachers, supervisors, and coordinators did a great job in tracing students from batches as old as 2006 (10 years) and 2003 (13 years). Around 90 students attended the event and shared their life stories with other past students. These children (now adults) ranged from 14 to 27 years of age, all of them either continuing or having completed their formal education. Most of them are first generation learners, with no educational background at home. In their impromptu speeches, all of the students expressed gratitude towards Door Step School teachers for inspiring them to learn and pursue education.

The number of attendees for this gathering was much smaller against thousands of students touched by Door Step School over last 25 years. However, those who were present on this day, truly represented the remaining thousands in several ways. These students belonged to permanent slums, temporary slums, labour habitats on construction sites across Pune. While some of them are pursuing higher education, some have started their careers in various fields. Among the attendees, there were graduates with degrees like B.A., B.Com., D.Ed., and even LLB. Some of them are working as office assistants, accountants, and even bank managers. Some of the girls who would have been married off or would have ended up working as house maids, could continue their education because of support and guidance from Door Step School teachers. These girls are now becoming financially independent and some of them are even sustaining their families, through jobs or self-employment like running small shops and tailoring works. Some of the students are appearing for competitive exams to serve in the government jobs and some were so inspired by their teachers that they have now become teachers themselves. That can be considered greatest of the achievements of Door Step School programmes!

All the students thanked Door Step School for being the stepping stone to their growth in professional as well as personal lives. However, Door Step School teachers very well understand and acknowledge the hidden capabilities and passion among these (and all other) children, which just needs a little encouragement and direction at the right age. While the teachers are busy with finding and supporting further lots of children, these past students have boosted their hopes and motivation for sure!


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Celebrating Teachers’ Month - The making of 'Book-Fairies'

It is the first week of June and schools are still to reopen after the summer vacation. The 'Grow with Books' office is a beehive of activities. There are groups of ladies sitting in all the rooms - Some are having a serious discussion; some are sitting with a pile of books sorting and covering them; one is jotting down 'Things To Do' on one of the whiteboards; a few others are busy at the computers. Another group waits anxiously – almost with baited breath for some important information!

They are all teachers in Door Step School's 'Project Grow with Books' - the reading skill development programme being run in government schools across Pune. But surprisingly no one refers to them as teachers for they have another more apt name - "Pustak Pari" or "Book Fairies"! With their wand of innovation, patience and determination, they weave magic in school classrooms by ensuring children first learn to read; and then, read for the fun of it. 

All these ladies have a number of things in common. Most of them grew up in small towns and were married off soon after their Grade X examination. They were initially housewives, living a life revolving around their families, but with no say in any family matter. Their aspirations were bundled up and put at the back of the kitchen cupboard. They never stepped out of their homes on their own and were never encouraged to do so. Then how did they turn into book-fairies?

Sangeeta, a Book-Fairy of ten years, smiles and says, "I think we were given invisible wings by Door Step School; they held our hand and led us to where we are, giving us more than we could have ever dreamt of!" Loaded words but they are immediately seconded by Geeta. "I always wanted to be a teacher but I could not study after completing Grade X as my village did not have a junior college. And I was soon married off to the first proposal that came my way! But now I am a teacher and a leader of my group!" Vasanti adds that her father was a porter and could not afford to send her to a school beyond Grade VII. But he encouraged her to teach the small children living nearby and always told her she should try and be a teacher! She moved to Pune soon after she got married. And as luck would have it, the Door Step School coordinators visited her area trying to identify if there were any ladies who were interested in working as Book Fairies! Her husband and in-laws allowed her to step out of the house as the school was nearby and they did not think that she would be selected to teach! Not only was she selected but was also encouraged to continue studying and give the Grade X exam as an external student. Similar stories pour forth from all sides. An opportunity is what they craved for and Door Step School came by and gave wings to their dreams!

The group sitting anxiously suddenly comes to life. These are the Book-Fairies in the making. Pooja is one of them. She is full of self doubt but Manisha reassures her not to be afraid and asks her to tell a story based on a series of pictures she is shown. This is an interview in progress. Soon, Pooja is selected and she is so happy her eyes overflow with happiness.

The metamorphosis starts as all the selected candidates are given a ten-day training in which they are told about the project and how they have to work along-side the government school teachers to ensure the children learn. They are also taught how to use the teaching aids specially prepared for this project, how to conduct competency based reading tests to determine the competency levels of children in a class. In the following three months, hand holding by seniors and effective guidance and feedback while working give them the self-confidence to tackle any situation that comes their way.

Vaishali adds, "I was like a caterpillar, but now I feel like a butterfly!"

Every month, the Book-Fairies receive Refresher Training for writing reports, time management, communication skills, conducting parents’ meetings, and whatever helps them. This is also an opportunity to share their experiences in the field and sort out various issues. Shabana, Surekha, and Komal look forward to such meetings as it gives them a chance to interact with the other Book-Fairies.

The Book-Fairies also carry with them at least 70 to 80 competency and age appropriate books to be given to the children as part of the lending library. Here, in the office, some of them are reading the books and identifying their competency levels. They are also enjoying reading these books and sharing something which suddenly brings forth laughter. Sharmila holds a book close to her and exclaims, "I love the smell of new books. It reminds me of my childhood and how my mother used to save money to buy me a book once in a couple of months! Ever since I started working as a Book-Fairy, I tell my mother all the new stories I read and she feels very proud of me!"

Swati from the other group tells them to hurry up and start covering the books. This is a tedious job but needs to be done to lengthen the life of a book. Many little hands are soon going to flip pages and get drawn into the world of letters. At present, there are more than two lakh fifty thousand books including more than 2,500 titles, which exchange hands every few days. After all, there are 239 schools in Pune, PCMC, Maval, and Mulshi blocks that the Book-Fairies cover. Although most Book Fairies are from an area close to a given school, many of them are willing to travel long distances to ensure an allotted hour in a school does not go waste.

As they finish their work, they finalize plans for the school visits. Yes, their skills will soon be put to test as they conduct classes in various schools. Arati, Sarita, Geeta, and Sunita are together again in the same group. They look forward to working as a team once again and they eagerly wait for the schools to reopen.

(This article is a part of Teachers' Month series by Door Step School, Pune. For other articles in the series, please visit http://blog.doorstepschool.org/search/label/Teachers%27%20Month%202016.)