The primary education reforms report submitted recently to the Gujarat government has recommended action against NGOs running alternate school. Gyan Shala, one of the largest NGOs involved in this activity, was specifically mentioned in the report. Ritu Sharma visits one such centre.
In a 10×15 feet typical classroom, little children sit on chairs and tables reciting after the teacher in a slum in Vasna area of Ahmedabad. The class looks packed. A Gyan Shala centre is in progress.
Three of Lakshmi Marwadi’s five children are studying in one of the oldest Gyan Shala centres running since 2000, a few footsteps away from their one-room home. The siblings — Roshni (11) Devangi (10) and Narottam (9) — are all in Class IV.
Lakshmi, who lives in the slums of Vasna area of Ahmedabad, with her family, finds Gyan Shala schools safe and convenient since the nearest municipal school can be reached only after crossing the busy main road and market. There are several families like hers who prefer sending their children to this informal school run by an NGO than the municipal school, which has annoyed municipal authorities who are trying hard to bring children to enrol in their schools.
Gyan Shala, an NGO funded by governments of both Gujarat and Bihar, apart from other private organisations, has been specifically targeted in the education reforms report recently submitted to Gujarat education minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, on measures to improve primary education.
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The five-member committee, led by Ahmedabad Municipal School (AMC) board chairman Jagdish Bhavsar, that submitted the report to the Gujarat government, names Gyan Shala and says, “In city and rural areas, several organisations under the pretext of social work, adopt illegal ways to stop children from getting admissions in Class I in municipal and government schools. Strict action should be taken against such organisations.”
Gyan Shala, run by Education Support Organisation, was set up in 2000 by a group of the then faculty members of IIM, Ahmedabad, and the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA). While no fee is charged from the students of elementary classes, it takes “minimal charges” (equal to 25 per cent of programme cost) for middle and high school programmes.
Initially begun with Classes I-III , it expanded to middle and recently to high school. In 2005-06, Gyan Shala started its middle school programme covering Class IV till VIII followed by 2011 when it started the high school module with 180 children who took Gujarat Open High School Exam, this year.
Gyan Shala runs over 1,500 classes, covering around 41,000 children this year, in the slums of seven cities in four states – Ahmedabad, Surat, Patna, Bihar Sharif, Muzaffarpur, Kolkata, Kanpur, Lucknow and Farrukhabad. Lakshmi, a housewife, says, “We have heard of so many children being abducted and of road accidents while commuting to the municipal school. This is the reason we did not put them in a municipal school till now.” She says that a teacher came home to inform them about the school, took details of her children, and that’s how they enrolled.
In a similar case, Malti Passi from the same slum was the first from her family to enrol in a Gyan Shala 10 years back. Presently in Class X, she is preparing for her first state board exams to be taken through open school board. Three of her siblings — Shanti (Class IX), Srikrish (Class V) and Sakshi (Class IV) — are also going to various Gyan Shala centres.
During the Shala Praveshotsav, the annual school enrolment drive, the staff from municipal schools tried to convince their parents to shift them to municipal schools, but in vain. “It is very convenient for all of us to go to a same school, that too in close vicinity,” said Malti.
Nine-year-old Sejal Prajapati has been in the Gyan Shala centre for three years and is now in Class IV. Her sister Kajal is in Class VIII at Vasna Municipal School, but wants to shift to a private school the next year. Their seven-year-old brother Badal is in Class I at a nearby private school. “Sejal was enrolled at Gyan Shala since we did not have her birth certificate. Her sister wants to be in a private school like my son,” said her mother.
Gyan Shala and the government, however, have not been on the best of terms since last year, when Prof Pankaj Jain, a doctorate from IIM-A and a founder member of Gyan Shala, filed a petition in the Gujarat HC against state education department and AMC School Board for failing to provide recognition to 2,200 underprivileged children from slum areas in Ahmedabad.