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22 slum kids hop on bridge to school

“School jakar kya karenge teacher theek se nahin padhati. Hamesha phone pe lage rehti thi. Ek saal ho gaya hum school nahi jate. (What will I do in school when the teacher is always on her cellphone. I’m not going to school for a year).”

Policy-makers who want Right to Education (RTE) Act to succeed should invite 11-year-old Vijay Mukhi for a crash course in ground reality. But for now, Digital Literacy Mission (DLM), a creative learning drive started by NML scientist Mita Tarafder, is giving Vijay and 21 children like him a second chance with free Sunday bridge course before formal schooling.

Twenty-two slum children identified by DLM on Sunday started their bridge course at Tata Steel’s Dhatkidih Community Centre, among which eight were girls. Most, like Vijay, who is happier cleaning toilets and working at a dhaba than going to his nearest government school, were dropouts. Around six, like Neha Parween, had never been to school.

Vijay earns Rs 2,000 a month and pools in the cash for his six-member family. Neha does all the housework.

“They are miniature adults who shoulder heavy responsibilities Children like them need to first be inducted in the whole process of learning and groomed for school to make the RTE Act effective in reality,” said Tarafder.

Tarafder’s team mates Joydip Pal and Mrityunjay Bhattacharjee are pursuing the XLRI certificate course in entrepreneurship. Four college students will also volunteer their services.

Tarafder said the Dhatkidih initiative was a spin-off from their successful Bhalubasa centre with 40 children.

She added that while this Sunday tuition would help prepare those who could take admissions at government and project schools, it would also go beyond studies. “Under DLM, we will engage them in music, yoga and games. They need to get an enjoyable slice of childhood,” she said.

Mohammad Shakil, a social worker in Dhatkidih, welcomed the move.

“Most children here are labourers. A few had studied at Thakkar Bappa Middle School but left as the teacher was unavailable half of the time. The Sunday tuition idea of these people (DLM) is very good,” he said.

Mrityunjay said the trick was in being pragmatic. “If we ask them to leave their work and give them books, it won’t help,” he said.