Education As a Medium of Change

City NGOs teaching the less fortunate

“Guru Gobind Dou khade, kaake lagoon paay
Balihari guru aapne, gobind diyo bataye”

This couplet penned by Kabir beautifully summarises the importance of a Guru, or a teacher in a person’s life. If translated, the meaning of the couplet is that if a teacher and a God is standing in front of us, who is to be acknowledged first. In the second line, he says that the teacher should be the first to receive the acknowledgement as he is the one who shows us the correct path, the path of God.

Right from our birth, we encounter teachers in all stages of our lives. Our parents are the very first teachers in our lives. They teach us the basic ways of life-how to walk, how to talk, manners etc. After that, when we join school, we have teachers for different subjects, we make friends, who help us learn the qualities of empathy, love, sharing and many more and this goes on. Life is a great teacher in itself, each experience that we have in our life teaches us something.

As Indians, we are very much familiar with 5th September as Teachers Day. Each one of us has memories of celebrating this day in our schools in various manners. Some people dress up as the respective teachers and mimic them. In some schools cultural programmes are organised and a holiday is observed. The concept of Teachers’ Day in India came about when the 2nd President of India, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, when asked on how he wished his birthday to be celebrated, said, “Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if September 5th is observed as Teachers’ Day.”

Education As a Medium of Change

India, being a developing economy, needs to strengthen its human resources so that a wholesome development can be achieved. It was with this objective that the Right to Education Act was passed in 2010. The Act makes education a fundamental right of every child between the ages of 6 and 14 and specifies minimum norms in elementary schools. It requires all private schools (except the minority institutions) to reserve 25% of seats for the poor and other categories of children (to be reimbursed by the state as part of the public-private partnership plan). Children are admitted in to private schools based on caste-based reservations. It also prohibits all unrecognised schools from practice, and makes provisions for no donation or capitation fees and no interview of the child or parent for admission. The Act also provides that no child shall be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until the completion of elementary education. There is also a provision for special training of school drop-outs to bring them up to par with students of the same age.

Despite these steps, among others, being taken by the government, the literacy rate of India stood at 74.04% nationally as per the 2011 census and Uttar Pradesh being in one of the lower sections of the list with a literacy rate of 69.72%, which is well below the national average. One of the largest states of the country, we need to look at the reasons why we lack in developing one of the most important resources that exist in the country.

A careful scrutiny at the problems that plague the education system in India brings out some striking issues that need urgent attention. Poverty, inaccessibility, lack of teachers are some of the striking ones.

Despite education being the responsibility of the state, we as citizens also have a responsibility towards our countrymen. Taking up education as a social responsibility rather than as a legislative problem can solve it to a great extent. Even if each citizen decides to teach a few people in the locality, he can make a great difference to the society. Many organizations have initiated programs that brought out people to teach underprivileged children. Lucknow being a centre of learning, a few people have taken up the mantle to educate the less fortunate.

One such organisation is Sarthak Foundation. Founded by Ms. Kshama Hastak, Sarthak Foundation aims to identify non-school going children from the under-privileged section of the society and provide informal education to them and eventually help them get admission in schools. The foundation also aims to provide tutorials to the admitted and focus on their holistic development by conducting hobby sessions, sports activities, and talent competitions and also increase their awareness about matters related to health, hygiene, nutrition and environment.

The team of The Lucknow Observer interacted with Ms. Hastak about Sarthak, the motivation behind the foundation and its day to day functioning. When asked about the motivation behind it, she said that in the course of her teaching at Amity University, Lucknow Campus, she encountered some child beggars at the Malhaur crossing. On interacting with them, she found out that they could not attend school due to various factors and thus Sarthak was born with her and a few of her friends teaching 6 children. That was in May 2013. 3 years later, they have grown and now have 4 centres, catering to almost 400 students.

When asked about the problems she faced while working for this cause, she said that the major constraint they are facing is that of funding. With no government funding and limited resources, their plans to expand are getting slow.

On asking about the steps that can be taken to improve the situation of literacy in India by different organisations, she said that the corporates can encourage employees to devote few hours in community service, apart from the CSR. From the government, we expect a support to make this after-school system successful.

Shalini, a full time teacher at Sarthak, said that at the centres, the children are taught using interactive methods such as games, provides counseling to them, as well as their parents and a wholesome personality development. She also said that in her one-and half year of working with Sarthak, she has seen marked improvements in them.

Aditya, one of the students at Sarthak for the past couple of years, told us that they are taught all the subjects and it is fun studying at the centres because they incorporate fun into it. Apart from the studies, they also focus on other activities such as games etc.

Another organisation that works with the underprivileged children in the city is Project KHEL, KHEL being an acronym for Kids Holistic Education and Life Skills. Founded in 2012 by Mr. Akshai Abraham, he says the idea was conceived way back in 2009. He says that the idea behind Project KHEL is to impart life skills to children using sports and other methods that children enjoy doing. During the interaction, he told us about the model KHEL is based on. The facilitators visit the partner locations after school and conduct hour-long sessions which follow a life skills-based curriculum. Every week they interact with almost 1800 children and after 4 years of starting Project KHEL, many children have now opened up to the facilitators. The girls, who were shy and were hesitant in talking to people, are now interacting freely with the facilitators.

Uttam, one of the kids who have been a part KHEL for the past couple of years, says that learning through playing was a very good experience for him. He prefers the experiential learning that KHEL provides rather than the monotonous routine of the school. The facilitators make the very same boring classes interesting through interactive and innovative games.

Preeti, another student associated with KHEL for the past 4 years, she is now a Youth Leader at KHEL. She says that there has been a marked change in her confidence over the years. She has now gained confidence to speak publicly. As a facilitator, she says that KHEL develops games that lead to an all-round development of the students.

Interactions with the people associated with the cause of teaching underprivileged children has once again proved that all it needs is a small step to cause a change in the society, KHEL and Sarthak, both have had humble beginnings. Starting at the grassroots, it was their will and determination to bring about change in the society.

Seeing the problems that they face is two-fold, one of support and other of man power, a solution can be making voluntary teaching a part of the school and college curriculum. This would make sure that the students give back to the society. Apart from teaching, social interactions would help each participant in the programme, helping them develop their communication and interpersonal skills. The government should also promote such after-school programmes as they help in supplementing the school system and lead to the development of better citizens.

This teacher’s day, let us appreciate people who decided to give the gift of education to the less fortunate. Irrespective of the size of the organisation, or the publicity it gets, each one who is working towards the goal of inclusive education and a wholesome development deserves gratitude and respect from each one of us.

Siddhant Agarwal

The writer loves to spend time penning down his thoughts and reading books
(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 3 Issue 30, Dated 05 September 2016)

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