Twelve-year-old Aman makes his way through the labyrinthine shanties of Y K Jhuggi camp in Yamuna Khadar area of east Delhi.
He reaches his class in a small hut made with hay and covered with plastic sheets near an under-construction flyover. As he intently pays attention to Shivaji Maharaj’s glorious battle, a big smile beams across his face.
He no longer has to work in the field and like his friends, he too can study.
Aman is part of an informal school/coaching centre started by Satyendra Pal for children of slum dwellers.
This pay-as-you-like school runs under a flyover for students of class 1 to 10. So far, close to 150 children have been a part of this school.
For students of higher standards, the classrooms are set up in the open under the flyover and for lower grade children, they are conducted in a hut.
Satyendra, who is currently pursuing BSc in Maths, started the school in December 2015 after shifting to Delhi from Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun district.
The 25-year-old, who lives in the same basti, noticed how the children were not allowed to attend the government school on the grounds that it is 2 kilometres away from their settlement.
“Most of the parents here work in the fields and they have no time to drop and pick-up their children from school. Grown-ups are able to attend the school but the younger ones have to stay back at home as the road to school involves crossing roads. As a result, many of the children are unable to get an education. Thus, I started school so that when they are old enough to go by themselves, they won’t have to struggle with their curriculum,” Satyendra tells The Better India.
Looking at this injustice being meted out to the hapless kids, Satyendra came up with the idea to start his informal school.
Importance of Education
Satyendra realised the importance of education when he had to discontinue his studies after clearing class 12 exams. On his father’s request, he had to drop his education and pick up the family occupation of farming in 2012.
Things changed when, a year later, he attended a course on Buddhism and the teachings of B R Ambedkar for a couple of months at the Nagarjuna Training Institute in Nagpur.
“I was on a break when my uncle took me there. That course completely changed my perspective towards education and I enrolled myself for a graduate course at Agra University. This course also led me to start the school for slum kids,” says Satyendra.
He had no place, money or resources to establish a school, so he began the classes under a tree with just five students of class seven.
For almost a year, Satyendra and his students sat on the ground until a do-gooder donated plastic sacks and a chair. As more and more slum children started turning up for his classes, he found it increasingly difficult to accommodate everyone and that’s when he built a small hut.
The hardest part was to convince the parents as for most of them the priority was to financially support the family. Education as always, takes a backseat in face of abject penury.
Satyendra even faced a backlash at home for “wasting” his time in teaching kids when he could help his father grow vegetables.
There were also times when students dropped out of his classes due to lack of interest.
Yet, he never let these problems get to him and instead worked harder to continue the classes even if it meant teaching just one child on bad days.
Improved Grades & Reigniting Interest
Aman, who once hated solving Math equations, now dedicates his free time to practice Math, “It is no more the dreaded subject, it is a game I enjoy. I hope to join the school next academic year,” he tells TBI.
Like Aman, a lot of children can be spotted with books and pencils completing their homework outside their homes.
However, the biggest impact, says Satyendra, is to see an improvement in grades of students above class seven. Students who were barely clearing subjects like Maths and Science are now getting better grades.
Seeing their improvement, some of the parents are even donating money to purchase stationery. Many people from the area have donated boards, chairs and books.
Once he completes his graduation degree, Satyendra hopes to take admission at the Azim Premji University in Bengaluru for a Master’s course. He hopes to join the Indian Administrative Service to further bring about a change in the education sector.
However, he has made arrangements to ensure the school continues its good work, “Currently, there are five other passionate volunteers who are also teaching the children. In my absence, they will continue to teach as many kids as possible,” he concludes.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)