Friday, February 8, 2019

Unconcerned or helpless,ignorant or constrained?

We bring you the 2nd article from the series of articles that Rajani tai will be writing fortnightly for Chaturang, supplement of our local newspaper - Loksatta.

About twenty years ago, we started a class near Spicer College which was then the outskirts of the city and new roads were under construction. Obviously the labour force working there stayed in a nearby hutment, comprising of twenty huts, which meant twenty families and about thirty children. We used to conduct classes for the children living there.

As there was no place to start a physical center, we used our “School on Wheels” bus. This bus is specially designed like a classroom, with seating arrangement, cupboards for storing books and equipment, a blackboard and drinking water to name a few. We conducted classes of two and a half hours with children of all ages attending the class. Parents worked nearby so they could keep a watch and moreover those children with young siblings could both study and take care of the young ones.

The classes were held daily. Routines were set, the children too, started enjoying the experience and learnt to sit at one place. As per our normal schedule we had planned to enroll the children in a nearby school after they were familiarized with the basic alphabets, arrange for their transport if required and help them with their homework after school- in short take up the role of their parents. But it was not to be.

One morning when the bus reached the destination there was no one around – neither the parents nor the children. The empty huts stood as silent sentinels.We tried finding out the whereabouts of these people. There were no cell phones to speed up communication. Then we decided to be there early in the morning and the mystery was solved. A truck was there to pick them up and take them to another work site at the other end of the town and drop them back after a day’s work.  We requested the parents to leave the children behind, but the question put up by the parents was very cogent – “who would take care of the children once the class is over? If, we were willing to take the responsibility of looking after them for the whole day then they would leave the children behind.”

We now had a problem on hand. We had no infrastructure to take care of the children for the whole day. Enrolling them at school meant only half day engaged. Here we were eulogizing about education and when the need arose shirking the responsibility by saying it doesn’t fit in our rules – it just didn’t seem right.

The parents took a step forward and offered to take the younger children along with them, and give packed meals to the older children who were to study and spend the day with us. Now we had to take up the responsibility. There were about ten to twelve children above six years. We decided to take them to our office.

Now our office was very small – just two rooms and that to in a private house with a garden around. We were worried how the children would behave – will they pluck the flowers, make noise, misuse the toilets, will the owners object? And many such qualms.

But no such thing happened. They were very quiet, they played with whatever material we gave them, ate their food quietly and after the heat reduced stood on the terrace watching the road. No shouting, no quarrelling. We were very curious to know what food they had brought with them. It was a very pleasant surprise to see each one of them having similar brand new stainless steel double decker lunch boxes with rice and curry in it. The parents had specially made this purchase!

After a few days the parents were again transferred to Aundh at Spicer College. We started planning to prepare the children, to take the school entrance test in March. Accordingly, we sounded out the school authorities of a nearby school. And once again, one morning when we reached the site, there was no sign of the people, their huts. We had no clue about where they had gone, no messages, no notes, no farewell, and no nothing. 

Our teachers were greatly disappointed. But we had nothing to fall back on to trace their whereabouts. Therefore the only way to console ourselves was to believe in the teachings of the Gita –“Putting in efforts to the utmost of our ability is our responsibility, expecting the results as per our aspirations is not in our hands. 

What was the take home from this experience? The children of the road construction workers is a group of children who are deprived of education. Hence, wherever it was possible we set up classes for them. The main shortcoming of the parents was their work pattern. They didn’t stay in one place for a long time. As the work progressed they had to shift their dwellings. Many a times their settlements were away from the cities with no proper access, roads which turned into sludge during the rains. How do we teach such children? What does the behavior of the parents near Spicer College reveal? – Their disinterest in their child’s education – then what do you make of the preparation they did to send their children to the day care? What does their leaving, without informing us tell? – Their unconcern or their ignorance or is it plain compulsion.

For the original article in Marathi please visit Shikshan Sarvansathi-Article 2

Rajani Paranjape

Translated by: Wasudha Korke

Friday, January 25, 2019

Education for All - Seems easy but very difficult to achieve

This is an abstract of the 1st article from the series of articles that Rajanitai, Founder and President of Door Step School, will be writing for “Chaturang” a supplement of the Marathi Newspaper “Loksatta”.

About 30 years ago there was a Global Conference on Education, sponsored by UNICEF, UNESCO, World Bank to name a few, at Jamtein, Thailand. Representatives from both the developed and undeveloped world, so also renowned educationists, persons involved in education participated.  Extensive discussions and deliberations took place to analyze the state of school going children, the dropouts and those who never went to school. The outcome was, that a target was fixed for the year 2000, wherein all children, the world over, in the age group of 6 to 14 years would get quality primary education. The slogan floated was “Education for All”. 30 years since and we have not  yet achieved our target and the date has been shifted to 2030.

In India things are not very different in spite of efforts like “Each One Teach One” or the Right To Education Act (RTE). The reason being, not understanding the real difficulties encountered in achieving the seemingly simplistic target of “Education for All”, hence not being able to find the right solutions. We know that in Government schools education is free but we do not know whether the freebies reach the students in time. And as the saying goes, that nothing is free in this world and we have to pay for it, it is the children who actually pay, through the wasted years of their lives, waiting for the dole. One fact is amply clear that this war against illiteracy is not very far away but is right at our doorstep.

Through the various experiences gained during the School projects conducted by the School of Social Work, at Nirmala Niketan Mumbai, where I was a Professor, the idea of starting an organization in imparting education to the under privileged was born. A few take homes from these experiences were, firstly it is essential to have an organization dedicated to this work. Secondly, to ensure continuity and consistency and punctuality, a prerequisite for teaching, it is necessary to have paid employees. Thirdly, it gave us an insight into the practicality required to successfully run an organization and lastly, the reasons for the neglect and indifference towards education faced by the deprived children. Hence, I along with a few of my colleagues started “The Society for Door Step Schools”, which is popularly known as “Door Step School”, in Mumbai, 30 years ago.

Our work started with a slum near Cuffe Parade. We insisted that every child above 6 years of age either went to school or attended the classes we conducted. To achieve our aim, we undertook surveys by mapping the layout of their houses, identifying children from every household, monitoring their attendance and altering the timings and places of our class to suit the children. We have maintained this agility and flexibility to change our approach and plans to suit the children, even now. Yet after 30 years of work, we cannot emphatically claim that we have achieved 100% success in any of the slums we have worked in. The learning process continues.

Through the series of these articles, I would be sharing with you the various efforts, the various experiences, its analysis and the reasons for not achieving the 100% literacy target. Also, we would be thinking on ways and means in which we as the educated can do our bit to achieve the target.

Mrs.Rajani Paranjape

For the original article in Marathi, please visit: shikshan-sarvansathi

-Translated by Wasudha Korke

Congratulations Rajani tai!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Education in its different forms...

Door Step School works towards the education of underprivileged children through various innovative methods and programs. School on Wheels has been our signature program since 1998-99, where a bus is fully remodeled to serve as a mobile classroom and library. Currently 6 School on Wheels are covering 24 locations and reaching out to 650 to 700 children everyday. In such a scenario, safety of our children and staff becomes very important.

DSS organised a fire extinguishing training for our School on Wheels team on January 5, 2019 at our head office in Aundh. The training was conducted by Fire Care Services and received by 30 teachers, 11 drivers, 3 supervisors and 2 coordinators. The entire team got a hands on, on how to use the fire extinguisher in case of an emergency.

Fire Extinguisher training in process

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Clown Popo visits School on Wheels children.

On 17th December 2018, Door Step School in association with Clowns without Borders and Red Nose Entertainment arranged a program named Clown Popo and made our children laugh through the magic of theatre and clowns. Clowns without Borders is an International organization in Sweden that performs for children and brings laughter and healing for a brief moment in their lives.

We arranged this program for 50 children from different sites at Adi Shakti Yoga Hall on Sus Road in Pune. The act consisted of 3 characters and was based on some of the scenes from Mahabharata. In addition to this, the act had a comic tone because of which children had great fun. Children enjoyed a lot and especially the magic trick made all children curious about how it was performed. All children enjoyed to the core and requested the team to visit our NGO again so that they could watch a new story and have a gala time.

Children engrossed in the show.