The mainstream education system, including the government system, has failed to meet the needs of the poorest people in the country. This system further puts them at a disadvantage and creates inequality. Even in cities, the typical government school does not really provide ‘education’; ‘Education’ also comes in its ‘packaging’ and with its biased ‘contents’. When children don’t adjust to these, it is put forth that ‘poverty’ has pushed them out of schools or the parents don’t want them to study or they will never learn.
Muskaan's goals is to provide opportunities for meaningful learning - an education that would enable children to determine the course of their lives and contribute to a better and equitable world, for themselves, their communities and other deprived and exploited population groups. Our education programme goes beyond traditional classroom learning to help students overcome educational challenges as well as relate to the realities of their lives.
Most of the interventions in education are focused in areas that are very vulnerable (identified by those areas where majority of the children, if not all, are out of schools; these areas overall with tribal pockets in a larger basti). So the focus here is on facilitating children’s studies in an interesting and meaningful way for them, while taking them through the formal school certificate examinations.Our ‘education’ work is operationalized through different forums.We find early childhood education activities and a support in senior classes is necessary along with elementary schooling, as these children are the very first generation learners of their close-knit communities. It is only through the back-up support of various forms that children and parents of Adivasi and Dalit families are able to fulfil their aspirations of formal education since the system works more to push them out than keep them on course. The conditions in families in terms of their cultural norms as well as poverty also imply that for a child to finish schooling, it is a big change at every stage of life.
Our education work be understood through the following components:
a) School – Registered under the name of Jeevan Shiksha Pahel, classes are run for Class 1 to 5;
b) Conducting educational activities through learning centres in bastis.;
c) Libraries for children across 3 to 18 years and onwards;
d) Balwadis or early childhood education centres in slums;
e) Boarding school; and
f) Youth Support Classes – for examinations in classes 8, 10 and 12
Libraries have been set up in 15 different basti's to help and promote the culture of reading among the children, youth, adult, and to get familiar with the books leading to enhance the expression capacity of each individual. This is being attained by different means like storytelling, discussions, book reading, art, craft etc.
We run a primary school (Jeevan Shiksha Pahel) which is registered with Madhya Pradesh Education Department. About 130 children aged between 6 to 15 years from 7 different slums attend our school which runs from 10am to 3pm Mondays to Fridays. Transportation to and from the slums are provided and children are also served a nutritious midday meal each day. We follow our curriculum while taking children towards mainstream certificate examinations.
The children are rarely able to access or grow in mainstream schools mainly because of the irrelevant curriculum and the discriminative treatment they face. In order to address these gaps, we set up Jeevan Shiksha Pahel where the teachers are continuously exploring with the children as to what they want and need to learn. In addition, lessons taught go beyond mainstream education with the aim of strengthening the student’s identity and self-confidence. The school is a place where children step out of the stresses of their daily lives to become a part of a comprehensive academic programme that is relevant to their lives.
Admissions have been given only to kids from the bastis where we work, or children of specific vulnerabilities who approach our office when they see this happy space where children are learning in a free environment.
In several bastis, many children continue to be out of schools and for them, coming to Muskaan school is not an option due to the distance and timing which may not suit them. In order to ensure that the children in these areas do get an opportunity for academic school learning, we run centres for 4 hours in the bastis.
As of April 2016, we have 8 learning centres which are running in six bastis (Rajeev Nagar, Shyam Nagar, Barkhedi Basti, Banjari Basti Kolar, Gandhi Nagar and Bagh Mugaliya).
In spite of this proximity to the centre, many children still don’t study for the full time and drop in at the centre for part of the classes. The community realities are such that children continue to work and are unable to take time out for school.
We have also established a boarding school where 30 children of mixed gender stay and study. This is a space for learning and community living where children and adults share responsibilities and take care of each other. The boarding school was established to allow children from exceptionally difficult families to study and maintain a structured daily schedule. Often for the first time, children have the opportunity to brush their teeth, bathe, study, play and eat at regular times. The intensive environment of the boarding school encourages the children to learn beyond Hindi, English and Mathematical literacy and to foster an interest in lifelong learning and positive happiness.
The children who attend the boarding school are generally responsible for all or part of their family’s daily earnings. Hence, this responsibility makes it almost impossible for these children to adjust to a normal school schedule. Furthermore, sometimes it is just not possible for girls to study in the slum due to family pressure and gender stereotyping.The boarding school not only provides a safe space for girls to study but also protects them from domestic and community violence.
Most of the children living in the hostel come from either single parent households (where the mother/father has remarried and the children are not fully accepted at home), household without parents where the children are dependent on elder siblings who themselves are very young, or households where both parents are extremely dependent on alcohol.
Early Childhood Education
The balwadis or early childhood education centres are spaces for a child’s early development. Currently there are 6 fully functional balwadis with an enrolment of about 200 children. Balwadis run for three hours between 11:00am and 2:00pm and during the session, a nutritional supplement in the form of a small meal is also distributed.
We started working with children aged between 3-6 in balwadis established in slums in 2005.
The main aim of the balwadis is to facilitate early childhood growth and development by providing an encouraging and enjoyable learning environment for the children through various activities. These include storytelling, play acting, sorting materials, puzzles, drawing, games and physical exercises. Activities are carefully selected with a view to facilitate the development of language and expression, logic building, hand control, independence and physical development among the children.
Mothers of young children are encouraged to visit the balwadis and discuss their child’s growth and progress. This helps to build and cement relationships with the mothers and develops the habit of focusing on a child’s educational development. The women feel their children enjoy spending their time at the balwadis and the activities help to build their confidence, communication skills, creativity and capacities. Mothers have also expressed that their children have become more responsive, attentive and expressive. Further, the women are also grateful for the hours their children spend at the balwadi as this frees up time for other activities besides housework, child rearing and income generating activities.
Our goal is for children to complete schooling up to Class 12. As children give mainstream certificate examinations for Class 5, 8 or 10, we attempt to enrol them in mainstream government or private schools. Sometimes children manage to adjust to mainstream schooling and sometimes they drop out. When they drop out we encourage them to continue studying with us and give the examination of the next level through Open University.
Various inputs are provided to make it possible for children to finish higher secondary school. If needed, children are linked with tutors for them to understand their subject content in a meaningful way and thereby cope with the pressure of examinations. Some children do not continue their studies and get married or look for work. We are constantly engaging with parents to help them see the value in encouraging further studies for girls and not merely view studies as something which is acceptable only until it starts interfering in their custom-accepted routines.
Books can open up people’s worlds in more ways than anything else can. We believe access to good books and journals would enable children to enjoy reading in a real way, instead of the heavy dependence on school textbooks.Libraries are thus being run in a few bastis with school-going children as well as those who have dropped out, from community spaces. Even where we don’t see it as a library program per se, we do use books and articles (fiction and non-fiction) in almost all our programs and activities with people of different age groups. ! For several years (2005-2012), we have run libraries through government schools and found these spaces to be energetic spaces which have enhanced children’s literacy skills also.