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

Monday, September 26, 2016

Celebrating Teachers’ Month - The EAC teachers - Part 2

(Read Part-1 here:

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

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:

- 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

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

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

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Celebrating Teachers’ Month - 5th of September to 5th of October 2016

All schools in India celebrate "Teachers' Day" on 5th of September every year to commemorate the birth day of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the second President of India, and an exemplary teacher himself. This day, we honour our teachers and appreciate their contribution to the larger goal of nation building.

Door Step School teachers are a very special lot. They are our foot soldiers, through whom we interact with all our beneficiaries - the most marginalized children - on a daily basis. Implementing every single DSS project has been made possible thanks to their tireless and sincere efforts. Their job description requires them to have excellent social skills to interact with various stake holders, be efficient multi-taskers, confident to step into the unknown, a willingness to learn on the job, and a commitment to ensure that the children learn - an Olympian task in which each of them is a medal winner!

Today we take this opportunity to celebrate not just a "Teachers' Day" but an entire "Teachers' Month" from 5th of September to 5th of October 2016 (World Teachers’ Day) to honour and appreciate their contribution.

Most of our teachers are ladies; many of them could attend school only till Grade X or at the most complete high school. Somewhere along the way, they were impressed with their school teachers and dreamt of being one. Unfortunately they could not pursue their education as they belonged to orthodox homes where marriage takes precedence over education; and taking up a job is possible only after overcoming various personal obstacles. Now, working as facilitators, they have discovered the joy of teaching and learning as they fulfill their dream! Stepping out of their homes for the first time, they have gained self-confidence and a boost to their self esteem as they take small but firm steps towards financial independence.

With great pride, we start a series entitled, "An Introduction to DSS Teachers" as a part of "Door Step School Teachers' Month". More than 500 teachers make up our task force. The stories we share here are representative of many others who belong to our organization. They may have different names, but they will definitely identify with what is written here as their own!

We hope this will give all our well wishers an insight to our teachers' nature of work; and the positive attitude, patience, and perseverance that form their core. At the same time, we look forward to your comments and suggestions.

With best wishes to all teachers in their endeavor to spread the light of education...

Rajani Paranjpe
Founder - President,
Door Step School

Teachers' Day Award for Door Step School

Mrs. Rajani Paranjpe, Founder of Door Step School received 'Outstanding Educator Award' from International Institute of Hotel Management (IIHM), Pune on occasion of Teachers' Day 2016! We believe this award belongs to Rajanitai and the hundreds of teachers fighting all odds to educate children from marginalized communities across Pune. Thanks IIHM for recognizing the efforts and appreciating the hard work.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

सलाम या शिक्षकांना...!

प्रत्येक विद्यार्थ्याच्या आयुष्यात शिक्षकाचं स्थान खूप महत्त्वाचं असतं. पण 'डोअर स्टेप स्कूल'च्या शिक्षिकांच्या कामाचं महत्त्व समजून घ्यायला ते प्रत्यक्षच बघितलं पाहिजे. त्यांची कामाच्या ठिकाणची परिस्थिती, त्या पार पाडत असलेल्या जबाबदा-या, आणि रोजच्या कामाचं स्वरुप समजून घ्यायचा आपण थोडा प्रयत्न करुया...

'डोअर स्टेप स्कूल'च्या शिक्षिकांचं काम सुरु होतं घरोघरी जाऊन मुलांना गोळा करण्यापासून. एखाद्या तात्पुरत्या उभ्या केलेल्या शेडमधे 'डोअर स्टेप स्कूल'चा वर्ग चालतो. ही झोपडीसारखी शाळा बिल्डरच्या परवानगीनं बांधकामाच्या साईटवरच उभारली जाते. बांधकामावर दिवसभर काम करणा-या मजुरांच्या मुलांकडे या वर्गातल्या शिक्षिका पूर्ण लक्ष देतात. या वर्गामधे पिण्याचं पाणी, बाथरुम, लाईट, किंवा खिडक्या वगैरेंसारख्या साध्या-साध्या सोयीही नसतील कदाचित... पण निदान डोक्यावर छप्पर तरी असतं. खरं तर, तेही असेलच याची खात्री नाही, कारण काही वेळा हा वर्ग उघड्यावरच एखाद्या झाडाखाली किंवा दुस-या कुठल्यातरी झोपडीच्या सावलीतही चालवला जातो. वर्ग कसाही असो, सगळ्यात आधी या शिक्षिका तिथं साफसफाई करतात आणि जमिनीवरच चटया अंथरुन बसायची सोय करतात. वर्गाच्या भिंती मुलांचं लक्ष वेधून घेणा-या रंगीत तक्त्यांनी आणि इतर मजेशीर गोष्टींनी भरलेल्या असतात.

एका वर्गात साधारण ३० ते ५० मुलं असतात. यामधे अगदी काही महिन्यांच्या तान्ह्या बाळांपासून १२ वर्षांच्या मुलांपर्यंत कुठल्याही वयाची मुलं-मुली असू शकतात. ३० किंवा त्यापेक्षा जास्त मुलांसाठी दोन तरी शिक्षिका असतात; अगदी छोट्या बाळांना सांभाळायला एक आणि इतर मोठ्या मुलांकडं लक्ष द्यायला एक. या मुलांच्या घरी बहुदा शिक्षणाचं काहीच वातावरण नसतं आणि चांगलं दिसणं - स्वच्छ राहणं याबद्दल त्यांना माहितीही नसते. मग या शिक्षिकांनाच स्वत: या मुलांना स्वच्छ करावं लागतं, तेव्हा कुठं या मुलांना कळतं की आपण किती नेटनेटके आणि छान दिसू शकतो. कुठंही रहात असली तरी मुलं ही मुलंच असतात, ती पटकन या चांगल्या गोष्टी शिकून घेतात आणि घरी जाऊन आईवडीलांनाही सांगतात. हळहळू शिक्षिकांच्या प्रयत्नांना यश मिळत जातं आणि ही मुलं स्वत:चं स्वत: आवरुन नीटनेटकी वर्गावर यायला लागतात.

शिक्षिका मोठ्यानं टाळ्या वाजवून मुलांना प्रार्थनेसाठी एकत्र आणतात - आणि प्रार्थनासुद्धा कसली? तर कितीही अडचणी आल्या तरी शाळेत जात राहण्याची मुलांची प्रतिज्ञा! त्यानंतर थोडासा व्यायाम केला जातो. गाऊन आणि नाचून व्यायामाचं महत्त्व सांगितलं जातं. या शिक्षिकांकडं एकाच वेळी अनेक गोष्टी करायचं कसब असावं लागतं. पहिल्यांदा तर त्यांना मुलांचे वेगवेगळे गट बनवावे लागतात, फक्त वयानुसार नव्हे तर त्यांच्या वाचन क्षमतेनुसारसुद्धा. मग त्यांना आपापल्या क्षमतेनुसार काहीतरी करायला दिलं जातं. यासाठी 'डोअर स्टेप स्कूल'च्या शिक्षिकांनी स्वत: बनवलेली शैक्षणिक साधनं आणि खेळणी वापरली जातात. या शिक्षिकांना मुलांना शिकवण्याचं काम तर असतंच, पण त्याबरोबरच रडणा-या मुलांना शांत करणं, नाराज मुलांना हसवणं, आणि मुलांची आपसातली भांडणं सोडवणं, हीदेखील कामं तितकीच महत्त्वाची असतात. त्यानंतर 'खाऊची सुट्टी' होते, पण मुलं त्यासाठी वर्गाबाहेर जात नाहीत. उलट याच शिक्षिका त्यांना अन्न वाया घालवू नये, जेवताना खाली सांडू नये, चांगलं आणि पौष्टिक अन्न खावं, वगैरे गोष्टी शिकवत राहतात.

या मुलांपैकी शाळेत जाणा-या मुलांचा 'घरचा अभ्यास' पूर्ण करून घेणं आणि शाळेत वेळेवर पोचण्यासाठी त्यांना वेळेत तयार करणं हेसुद्धा काम या शिक्षिकाच करतात. बाकीच्या मुलांना मग चित्रं काढणं, कागदाच्या वस्तू बनवणं, वगैरे कामं दिली जातात. सकाळच्या शाळेत जाणारी मुलं तोपर्यंत परत येतात आणि या वर्गातल्या मुलांसोबत आनंदानं चित्रं काढायला लागतात, निरनिराळ्या वस्तू बनवण्यात सामील होतात..

यानंतर असतो गोष्टीचा तास, मग एखादा विज्ञानाचा किंवा भूगोलाचा किंवा सामान्य ज्ञानाचा उपक्रम, त्यानंतर शाळेतून दिलेला 'होमवर्क' करुन घेणं, थोडंसं बागकाम, वर्गात मुलांनी घातलेल्या पसा-याची आवराआवर, मग बाहेर खेळायला नेणं... अशी कामांची यादी वाढत जाते. या सगळ्याच्या मधे-मधे वर्गावर येणा-या पालकांशी बोलावं लागतं, त्यांच्या छोट्या-मोठ्या प्रश्नांना समाधानकारक उत्तरं द्यावी लागतात, आणि त्यांची काळजी व शंका दूर करून त्यांच्या मुलांसोबतचं काम सुरु ठेवावं लागतं. मुलांच्या शिक्षणात पालकांना सहभागी करून घेण्याची महत्त्वाची जबाबदारीही त्यांच्यावर असते. गरज पडल्यास बांधकाम साईटवरचे सुपरवायझर, ठेकेदार यांच्याशी बोलावंही लागतं. मुलांच्या सुरक्षिततेकडं विशेष लक्ष दिलं जातं. या पद्धतीनं तीस-तीस मुलं सांभाळणं म्हणजे चेष्टा आहे का?

या सगळ्या कामांच्या नोंदी ठेवणं हेदेखील एक स्वतंत्र कामच असतं. मुलांची हजेरी, आठवड्याभरात मुलं काय-काय शिकली, कुठली शैक्षणिक साधनं जास्त वापरली जातात, कुठली साधनं बनवावी लागतील, वर्गाला भेट देणा-या पाहुण्यांच्या नोंदी, आणि काय काय...

पण एवढं सगळं करुन या शिक्षिका तुम्हाला नेहमी हसताना दिसतील आणि तुम्ही कधीही त्यांना भेटलात तरी त्यांच्या मुलांचे काही ना काही किस्से तुम्हाला कौतुकानं ऐकवत राहतील. 'त्यांच्या' मुलांना शाळेतून मिळालेली बक्षिसं आणि पदकं त्या अभिमानानं वर्गात मांडून ठेवतील आणि कुठलीही 'आई' आपल्या मुलाबद्दल बोलेल तितक्याच प्रेमानं आणि गर्वानं त्या या मुलांबद्दल तुमच्याशी बोलतील!

तळपत्या उन्हात आणि धो-धो पावसात आपलं काम सुरुच ठेवणा-या या शिक्षिकांमधे सीमेवरच्या सैनिकांइतकी निष्ठा आणि जिद्द दिसते. 'डोअर स्टेप स्कूल'मधे शिक्षिकेचं काम करणं हा बहुतेक जणींच्या आयुष्यातला घराबाहेर पडून काम करण्याचा पहिलाच अनुभव असतो. बहुतेक जणींच्या घरांमधे तर शाळा शिकलेल्या त्या पहिल्याच मुली असतात. आपलं काम त्या अभिमानानं करतात, शिक्षणाचं महत्त्व त्यांना मनापासून पटलेलं असतं, आणि शिक्षणामुळं आपल्याला मिळालेल्या संधींचा फायदा या मुलांनाही मिळवून देण्यासाठी त्या प्रामाणिक प्रयत्न करत असतात. कामातून त्यांचा आत्मविश्वास जसजसा वाढत जातो तसतशा त्या आणखी जबाबदा-या स्विकारण्यासाठी तयार होत जातात आणि यामधे शक्य त्या सर्व मार्गांनी 'डोअर स्टेप स्कूल' त्यांना प्रोत्साहन देत राहते. या शिक्षिकांपैकी काहीजणी अर्धवेळ अभ्यासक्रमात प्रवेश घेऊन स्वत:चं शिक्षणही सुरु ठेवतात.

इतक्या कठीण परिस्थितीमधे इतकं कष्टाचं काम करत राहण्यामागं या शिक्षिकांची प्रेरणा काय असेल? त्यांना मिळणा-या पगारापुरती ती नक्कीच सीमित नाही. त्यांची खरी प्रेरणा आहे त्यांची स्वत:शी आणि समाजाशी असणारी बांधिलकी. आपल्या विद्यार्थ्यांच्या यशातच आपलं यश बघणा-या या शिक्षिकांना बहुतेक आपण या मुलांचं आयुष्य खरोखर बदलतोय - घडवतोय हे लक्षातही येत नसेल! जसे प्रत्यक्ष लढणारे सैनिकच युद्धाचे खरे 'हिरो' असतात, तशाच या शिक्षिका ख-या समाजसुधारक आहेत. या सगळ्यांना ईश्वर आणखी बळ देवो, याच 'शिक्षक दिना'च्या मनापासून शुभेच्छा!

- अर्चना व्यवहारकर
(अर्चनाताई 'डोअर स्टेप स्कूल'सोबत स्वयंसेवक म्हणून ब-याच वर्षांपासून काम करतात.)