Right to Education…Not on paper, but put into practice

I came to Pune on a vacation and bumped into this wonderful NGO, ‘ Door Step School’ run by Rajani tai and her team. I appreciate the transparency and laud the efforts put by Rajanitai and her team in making ‘ Door Step School’ a blessing for the children of the migrant labourers. 

It was pleasant meeting Ms Raji. Satyamurthy too, who has dedicated her time and is using her Corporate experience for the cause of taking every child to school!

A big thanks to Rajani Tai for her time. It was a privilege to interview a very humble and down to earth person…Rajani Tai. Dwarka Parichay team wishes ‘ Door Step School’ the very best.

Interview by Ms. Rajlaakshmi Vishwanathan
e-mail: rajivivin@yahoo.com 

What inspired you to initiate Door Step School?

It is very difficult to say what inspired me to do the work I am doing for more than 25 years now. I got married in 1955 at the age of 18. At that time I had almost completed three years of college (got married in the month of Feb. and exams were in April.) I studied one year after my marriage and in 1956 completed my graduation (B.A. or Bachelor of Arts) with Marathi as my main subject.

I always wanted to do post graduation in Marathi and my ambition at that time was to teach in a college. However, my husband’s job was transferable and I could not pursue my education. During that period I was a total homemaker having no activities other than looking after my family and raising children.

However, at the back of my mind the desire to study further was always there. But at one point I felt more attracted to a course in Social Work than in Marathi. It was when by chance I came across an article about this course in a Newspaper and somehow I felt like keeping the cutting of that article with me. (Here I really do not know why I did so because normally I am not a person who carefully keeps some newspaper cuttings, or letters or any such personal records with me. )

As a result, after a gap of fourteen years, I once again joined college in 1970 for doing my Masters in Social Work (MSW). By that time I had three children eldest studying in 9th grade and youngest in 1st grade.

I always liked the idea of working for society, helping people etc. In books or movies I would identify with characters that were selfless and would sacrifice for parents, family or society. But in reality, till that point, I had not done anything which could be called “Social Work”. After completing my course I worked as a Foster Care Worker in an NGO and later joined my almamater, College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan, University of Bombay as a Research Assistant.

That, I like to do Research or rather I have an analytical mind, was a revelation to me! I came to know that during my Social Work studies. In 1976, I started teaching Research Methodology, and Indian Social Problems in the same college. My experience of the field through students’ placements, and through different research studies led me to the work I am doing today. For example, our College had initiated ‘School Social Work’ in Municipal Corporation Schools in Mumbai. We used to place our MSW students in schools who then worked with the drop-out students and their parents; they organised study classes and book banks etc. for the students in BMC schools. Experience of work with drop-out students clearly showed that the reasons for dropping out are directly related to the children’s / parents’ circumstances – which are not in their or our immediate control. E.g. if parents are working, it is the children of the family who have to take on responsibilities such as looking after younger siblings, looking after house which has no security – not even a simple door; filling water when water comes through tanker or public taps at any odd time. There is nobody else to do these jobs but the children! They cannot afford to stay away from home for nearly eight hours a day to attend a formal school. This is a typical problem of nuclear family units particularly of migrant population residing in city slums. This led to the idea of taking education to these children at their doorsteps.

Experience of difficulties in Adult Education highlighted the need to focus on children’s education as a priority. The decision to work in the field of education was based on many factors but mainly due to the importance of education in a person’s life; the tremendous leverage that quality education provides and its snowball effect covering every aspect of life; and also the need to give it only one time. If we work in health field, for example, the service is given to an individual and it benefits only that individual. There is hardly any snowball effect, and the need is likely to recur so we serve one individual again and again. This does not make it less important but it is more difficult. I selected the easy path.

I had the opportunities to try out my ideas in small ways with the help of my students which I did whenever I saw the need and an opportunity. I have started a Balwadi in my apartment building for the servants’ children who were the residents of the servant quarters in that building. There were about 40 servant families and enough number of children to run one Balwadi center. We had an overhead water tank and there was enough space under that tank to hold the classes. It was started in 1979 and although I have left the premises in 1987 the Balwadi is still running.

At that time new VIdhan Bhavan (in Mumbai) was under construction there was a labour camp and many children would gather everyday in the morning at the Band Stand opp. Mantralaya because some people used to come their regularly to give food to these children. ( I used to stay in the vicinity) With the help of my students I used to take literacy classes for these children right there at the Band Stand. With such experiences and experiments the idea of Door Step School took shape in my mind . In 1987-88 I found Ms. Bina Lashkari, who was my student , willing to work with me on this project. My earlier efforts to get somebody to work with me had failed. The blueprint was ready so with Bina’s help we registered the NGO named The Society for Door Step Schools in 1988-89. Since then we are working together on this project.

What are the hurdles you came across in the initial stages?

Since I was already in the field of social work I had the experience and knowhow. Hence I have not faced any major hurdles in the beginning. But after working in the field for more over 25 years I see the following as problematic.

1 There are so many different groups of children who remain out of school due to their circumstances that finding suitable ways to reach out to them is challenging. E.g. there are domestic workers, there are hotel workers, there are children who work on docks and go to sea on fishing boats in deep sea and stay there for days. There are children on streets for whose parents they are main source of income; there are adolescent girls, there are migrant families such as construction labourers, brick kiln workers whose children need not necessarily be working but still remain out of school due to their parents’ occupation. Although we try different ways to reach out to these children we have still not been able to find out appropriate ways of reaching out to groups such as hotel workers. And of course each group has its own peculiar problems. Identifying them and dealing with each on its own terms is the main challenge.

The lack of ‘culture of education’ in family is a major block in children’s education. Educating parents for their role as a school going child’s parent is difficult; but even more difficult is to change the attitude and lack of interest of the educated class regarding this issue. Educated people have not given a thought to the significance of Universalisation of Education. We as a class look at our uneducated brothers as a hopeless case. This attitude needs to be changed. But changing it is a big challenge.

Could you tell us about some programs that have gathered momentum now?

I would like to mention here 3 programs which are unique in their own way, which we have been implementing successfully for some and which have great potential for scaling up.

a) Project Foundation program which gives education as well as day care facility for children of labourers working on construction sites. This project was launched in 2003-4 starting with a survey of educational status of construction labourers’ children. We surveyed 380 construction locations in the city of Pune and found 4500+ out of School children in the age group of 5 to 14. ( According to Pune Municipal Corporation records there were over 1500 buildings under construction at that point in time.) since the number was very large and since very few NGOs worked with this group we focus on this group and work on nearly 100 locations covering about 4000 children at any given point in time. We give day care to all children age group 0-14. ; pre-primary education to 3-6 year olds and enrol all 6+ children in government schools, provide study support to 1st and 2nd graders and school transport as and when necessary.

This program has been replicated by an NGO in Ahmedabad and another in Kanpur.

b)Project Grow With Books: ( vachanat Gati tar Abhyasat pragati) is a school intervention program aiming at improving reading skills of children in1st to 4th grades. The program works on two assumptions

· Ability to read well leads to better study results

· Reading being a skill it can be acquired only through regular practice.

In 1999 we started this program in 10 schools today we are implementing it in 234 schools in Pune Pimpri Chinchwad and surrounding villages. This program is highly replicable, scalable and cost effective. Five other NGOs from the city of Pune are replicating this project in another 100 schools. In addition 3 NGOs from Chennai are also implementing this in Chennai schools , An Ngo from Egypt and a group from Burkino Faso also are implementing this project in their respective countries.

The nature of this program can be briefly described as below

Use school timings , school infrastructure and school students. Take once a week supervised reading and some fun activities aimed at vocabulary building and language development, give level appropriate books home to read for additional practice. Take help of class teachers as much as possible.

c) Every Child Counts (ECC) Citizens’ Campaign

This project was launched in Nov. 2011 with the aim of enrolling all school ready children in Pune city in school by 2015. Since the scope both geographically as well as in terms of numbers was vast we designed it as a Citizens’ campaign. The major steps involved are as follows.

· Approach different volunteer groups and work out a plan with them giving them dates , areas, timings and the team that will accompany them in the initial hand holding stage

· Selecting a geographical area with the aim of enrolling 100 percent children in school.

· To do that we need to locate the children, which requires survey of the potential areas.

· Such areas need to be identified and mapped to make the task of survey easy and systematic

· On the same map show the locations of government schools in that area. So once children are located selection of schools is easy and obvious .

· Contact school teachers prepare them for new admissions which are generally not welcome as these children are likely to leave school in the middle of the term without giving any notice.

The program is highly scalable and should be seen as the first necessary step towards universalization of elementary education.

How do you manage to convince builders to help you since you are working in a very niche area …. Education and day care for children of migrant labourers?

Convincing builders is still going on but initially we approached the builders through builders’ associations. We first convince the committees and then approached the general body. This helped about 10 percent . The next step was to start the classes without asking for financial support and show the results which brought another 25 percent change.

Third step was to agree to run a day care center for eight hours a day including all children from babies to 14 year olds. Agreeing to work six days a week and taking vacation only four days of diwali to show that staff can be on leave turn by turn but the show must go on. 

What are the gaps you came across while dealing with the schools, parents and keeping the children motivated?

The major problem is the teachers’ attitude towards this group of children. There are three main problems from teachers’ point of view:
· Children have no schooling experience. Many a times language spoken at home is different
· They look dirty and undisciplined.
· They leave any time during the year without taking school leaving certificate.
· They do not have documents such as birth certificates etc.
· They need to be admitted in age appropriate classes. And given additional coaching out of school hours which is a very impractical suggestion.
· Administratively these things are problematic particularly leaving without informing the teacher.

The main problem is of the procedures which are laid down keeping in mind a different population which needs to be appropriately changed now.

Parents lack of understanding of the responsibilities of a parent of a school going child is also a challenge.

Very low quality of education in schools about which they come to know and see the damage done only after the child has spent seven to ten precious years in schools that render them useless for any kind of skilled job and so also for manual labour which will enable them to earn a decent living.

What is the vision that you uphold for Door Step School?

Now that we have gained a lot of experience, developed a variety of programs all focusing on education of marginalised groups we would like to share our experience with others and expand the program in different parts of India. We do not seem to have experience and expertise to scale this ourselves, so we welcome those with that kind of experience and expertise to come forward and work with us. ‘ We believe that we shall overcome, one day the mammoth problem we face today.’

There are multiple ways in which you can support our cause:

1) Under our initiative ‘Every Child Counts- Citizens’ campaign (ECC)” (http://www.doorstepschool.org/pune/every-child-counts/) we identify the out of school children between 6-8 years of age and enrol them to nearby Government schools. This campaign could be extended in your town if we could have a group of people interested in the same. We will be glad to provide the required guidance and material for the same.

2) You could connect us with any institutions or organisations who would like to collaborate with us to work on the ECC campaign.

3) Connect us with the Education board to check the possibilities of starting our initiative ‘Project Grow with Books’ in the Government schools (http://www.doorstepschool.org/pune/grow-with-books/) We could perhaps explore the possibility of starting this initiative with any educational institutions /organizations

4) We also invite donations from any interested donors. You will find details of transferring funds in the below link: