While writing a research paper on school dropout rates in Punjab in 2015, Sehar Bajwa realised that 28% of students drop out of school in spite of free and compulsory education being a right for all children below the age of 14. She realized that there was so much unfulfilled potential among underprivileged children but they dropped out because of overcrowded classrooms and coercion from their families to take up jobs.
That’s when the 17-year-old, who studies in Shri Ram School in Gurgaon, decided she wanted to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds broaden their horizons and not be shackled by the economic status of their families.
She started an after-school learning centre called Anmol Shiksha in Dera Bassi, Punjab, with the help of two single mothers who volunteered to teach.
The first batch of 60 students was trained in the four components that make up the centre’s curriculum – Moral Values, Leadership, Entrepreneurship and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).
On the Anmol Shiksha website, she says “The underlying aim is to help impart knowledge on the most relevant aspects of life in the most wholesome manner possible, to help rural children become more acceptable citizens…by enabling them to be job creators rather than job seekers and thereby constructively contribute to India’s progress.”
The children are also encouraged to engage with their subjects through hands on experiments. Sehar told The Times of India, “”We take them out to plant trees and consequently teach them about the plant type, the amount of water it needs and simultaneously teach them to sell the particular plant.”
Although Sehar is currently reaching out to corporates for support through CSR initiatives, the initial costs of her project was borne by generous friends and family. While someone provided study materials, another gave the land to set up Anmol Shiksha.
Sehar still faces difficulty in convincing some parents to let their children attend the after-school programmes instead of performing chores at home. But some of them are immensely grateful to Sehar for making education exciting again for their children. According to reports, the parents of two students named Rahul and Seema said, “My children’s’ value system has improved in a very short time and now even we learn through them all thanks to Anmol Shiksha.”