Sonika (12), clad in a blue salwar kameez, has come for her first class to the Ambedkar pathshala in east Delhi’s Jawahar Mohalla, a slum cluster. She looks hesitant to enter the room, where 45-50 students are busy opening their notebooks and turning to the homework page. The classroom in the office of the NGO, Mamata Welfare Society, is a small room with a couple of cupboards and a clock with a picture of Dr B R Ambedkar, after whom the initiative has been named.
The Ambedkar pathshala in Jawahar Mohalla — part of the Delhi government’s initiative to help students from weaker sections of society — has been running for more than a month now. Sunita Chauhan, the teacher in charge, says the idea is to provide students a remedial class after school. “We are trying to enrol students who don’t have the means to go for tuitions. The pathshala has seen a positive response—we already have around 60 students. The daily attendance is around 50. We start at 2 pm and finish by 5 pm, and we have classes five days a week,” Chauhan says, scolding a 7-year-old for not facing the teacher.
The eldest person in the class, Sana Khatoon, says the pathshala has helped her and other children. “I hope they continue to run these centres. The problem is that most of us live in small houses with 7-8 family members or more. It’s tough studying at home. Here, teachers help us with homework and teach us about great personalities,”says Sana, who studies in Class VIII at the Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in the neighbourhood.
Asked if they know who Ambedkar is, the students say in unison that they do. Krishna, a Class IV student says, “Ambedkar was the most educated man in the world.” Realising he got the answer wrong after getting a stare from the teacher, he quickly sits down. Another student gets up, and gives the correct answer to the delight of his teacher. “Ambedkar ne humara Samvedhaan likha tha (Ambedkar drafted our Constitution),” says Nisha, a Class VI student who says she learnt about Ambedkar at the pathshala.
Delhi Social Welfare Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam says that the idea behind Ambedkar pathshalas is to provide a level-playing field to children who are financially weak. “We plan to open at least one such pathshala in each ward (272 total) in the next year or so. We are trying to get funds from the state government and the public. We will encourage people between 20-30 years of age who are graduates to teach here,” says Gautam.
At the pathshala in Jawahar Mohalla, 12-year-old Sonika, who is attending the class for the first time, says, “Today was my first day. The teacher was polite and helpful. She helped me with some division problems that I had been stuck on. I am planning to come here regularly if my parents let me.”