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

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