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.
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 continued…