At 1.50 p.m. at DPS Gurgaon
in Sector 45, the school bell rings pronouncing the end of the school day. 4000 students of the morning shift leave to head home by bus, car and foot. In file 1500 children for the afternoon school that runs on an open school syllabus and offers an education to a set of children who could never have afforded a DPS school.
The students filter in neat uniforms, shoes and with school bags and are at school till 5.30 p.m. A different set of teachers – guided by the morning cohort – teaches the students.
Soon after the main DPS branch
at Gurgaon was started in 2002, there was a consciousness that the school needs to find a way of including those who couldn’t afford the standard DPS education. “Kids out of school was an issue for us from day one”, explains principal Aditi Mishra.
Well before the Right To Education
and other similar initiatives, the concept of a parallel system that catered to children who couldn’t afford the standard DPS education had been instituted by Shayama Chona, former principal of DPS R K Puram and Mishra’s mentor and guide, a lady Mishra says is a “philanthropist of the highest order”.
With the same objective in mind – when the DPS Gurgaon
started - the school’s patron Dhara Jaipuria was keen to start any kind of school that would cater to the under privileged. “The marginalized sections were always on our radar”, she says. As a result, the school explored three options: the anganwadi option, setting up schools in the local bastis or use the existing premises.
The last option was decided upon and led by Mishra, a team of teachers went to all the nearby villages to convince parents to send their wards to study for free. To start with, 200 children from 5-7 years – mostly first-generation learners - began to come in from 2003 in the afternoon session. 10 ad-hoc teachers were hired – more by word of mouth than anything else – some worked on a voluntary basis and others were paid a small amount – a sort of extra pocket money (Rs 15,000-20,000). A few morning shift teachers pitched in by staying back to train the afternoon session staff. Timings were fixed between 1.30-5.30 p.m.
To ensure that parents didn’t have to spend any money, the regular DPS buses that dropped the morning shift children picked up the children from the villages. The day school parents were requested to keep their old uniform (which they outgrew but were in good condition) for the afternoon school kids. Even a keen inspection will not reveal that the uniforms have in fact been passed on by the students of the morning shift as they outgrew them. Textbooks were recycled as were notebooks, shoes and socks. “The system of recycling was adopted right at the start and almost all our parents were happy to cooperate”, explains Mishra.
In year 3, the school decided that every child in the afternoon session must bring in two more children. Classes grew organically and by year 3, the school had 500 children. Parents typically are night-watchmen, security guards, roadside tailors, drivers, cooks and maidservants – many of whom felt that their wards were getting a better education through the open school system developed by DPS rather than at the local government school.
As the number of children grew, teachers were found; many of them retired teachers who didn’t mind coming in for the afternoon. “In my view, 60 is no age for retirement anymore; at 60, they are fit and fine with a wealth of experience” adds Mishra.
To encourage good performance among the children, the school decided that students who perform well in the afternoon open school programme will be brought into the morning CBSE shift and be educated for free.
Chand Tara, who joined the school when she was 6, was moved to the morning shift in Class 4 in 2007. She is now pursuing her B.Comm (honours) from Maharishi Dayanand University. Her father is a tailor and mother a housewife and the young 20 years old – a first generation learner - says wants to become an accountant. There are many examples like Chand Tara as 60 girls have made their way from the open school to the CBSE system.
In one year, some boys were brought into the morning programme but it didn’t work for a host of reasons. “This may be a politically incorrect thing to say but I found girls far more focused and less caught up in the trappings” so at some point the school decided to move only girls by and large into the morning shift.
Typically, students take the open school exams; many go into IGNOU, Kurukshetra University and a bunch of other second and third tier colleges. Among the girls who were moved to the CBSE programme, 4 of the girls have got into Delhi University now and their education is being supported by the school (through a corpus in which everyone including teachers contributes).
“My teachers have even given nice new clothes and shoes to girls who make it into DU as they must be well dressed”, adds Mishra, saying that her teachers don’t tom-tom what they do but they do more than anyone can imagine. Her own school batch-mates from DPS (1979 batch) have agreed to support the kids education if need be.
But at some point, Jaipuria and Mishra realized that there must be an avenue for students who are not academically oriented and who want to start earning a living. So in 2014, a new vocational training centre – Pravaah - was started at the DPS primary school basement. The school already had a small group being trained as tailors. “We decided to give it a larger canvas”, says Jaipuria. Today almost 300 young adults (between 17-25 years) come to the centre on a daily basis and receive training in beauty and care, data entry, tailoring, electrical repairs, plumbing and carpentry.
As a practitioner, Mishra says that the Shiksha Kendra model works better than RTE (where 25% of the seats are reserved for children from a less privileged background) for a variety of reasons. One, the children who enter the regular stream as part of RTE tend to struggle academically as they are often first generation learners. There is a separate stay back programme and one where teachers provide extra support but the children struggle a fair bit nonetheless.
The stark difference in their lifestyles doesn’t help matters. “They feel they are very different when they see how they live and how the others live”. Socially, the children don’t feel accepted and many parents from better off families even withdraw their wards if they befriend children from these sections. “If the class divide is there outside, it is hard to keep it out of the classroom alone”, explains she.
Jaipuria seconds Mishra’s view. She says that when the Shiksha Kendra children are pulled up into the morning programme, at least that one part – the academic part – is looked after. “They are on a par with the rest of the class and sometimes even ahead of them academically. Then they don’t seem to care about what they are wearing or carrying in tiffin or what pen they are using”, adds Mishra.
The RTE she argues can work in a “utopian” scenario. “There are some basic human needs – food, shelter and clothing – and when many of these are missing, how can you insist on education above them all ?”, she asks. But when many other needs are not satisfied, putting education before everything else is a bit like putting the cart before the horse.