The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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In a class of her own, with kids

She’s a teacher with a passion for education. But her love of learning has taken Sudeshna Sinha to levels of achievement not necessarily her own. It’s the youngsters that the 41-year-old inspires to new heights. Her proudest achievement to date is Aashirvad Vidyalaya, a Hindi-medium school for around 182 underprivileged kids aged between eight and 16 years.

Mainly children of immigrant workers from UP, Bihar and Rajasthan, the youngsters land up at the Bowbazar campus of St Joseph’s College after being forsaken by normal schools. Aashirvad becomes their “second shot at a better life”, where education is “not tedium but a source of knowledge, as it should be”, stresses the founder of Aashirvad.

The co-director of the Bowbazar school started an hour-and-a-half long project in 1994 at the insistence of the Christian Brothers of India. They ran St Joseph’s College and St George’s School, where she was working at the time. But the kids were so enthusiastic that she had to convert it into a full-fledged institution within six months.

“The curriculum is developed as we go along, to suit the needs of the children, and to make the exercise interesting for them,” Sinha explains. For three hours every afternoon, after a midday meal, the kids learn science, maths, language and social studies, but with a twist.

So, personal health and hygiene and first-aid is taught as a part of science. Interviewing local freedom-fighters and relating their own poverty-stricken lives to that of Dr Ambedkar is at the heart of the social studies class. Language-learning involves reading storybooks and writing poetry, often composing music to go with the words. After Class VIII, the kids are given the choice of taking the National Open School board exams, “which most of them do”.

It is their regard for innovation and imagination that attracted the secretary of the Sishu Siksha Kendra programme, the panchayat and rural development’s undertaking to promote middle-school education in the rural areas, to Aashirvad, with a view to using it as a model.

A remedial teacher by training, Sinha’s profession involves working with problem children. After a B.Sc in psychology from Gokhale College, she left for training at the then Spastics Society of India, in Mumbai. After returning to Calcutta, she worked with the society and Reach, a school for special children, before joining St George’s in 1992. The rest as they say, is history.

Sinha is a tele-counsellor with the NGO Serve and has been conducting teacher-orientation programmes in schools. She also helps out with the primary education project of Swanirvar, an NGO started by her husband in North 24-Parganas. “It’s all in a day’s work,” she smiles.

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