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Posted at: Feb 11, 2018, 1:43 AM; last updated: Feb 11, 2018, 1:43 AM (IST)
Saba  Naqvi
MOCKINGBIRD
Saba Naqvi

Incredible children and their flying minds

Saba Naqvi
54 pilot schools in Delhi are changing perception towards schools run by the government
Incredible children and their flying minds

Saba Naqvi

Let’s confess. Most of us who complain about the government, on TV and in print, do not need to use government services such as schools and hospitals. The condition of roads impacts our perception of how a government is performing because our air-conditioned cars occasionally travel on those roads — good or bad. If we see flyovers and malls, our brains may register that as progress being made. Electricity matters to us because no one likes fumbling in the dark but imagine being without AC and TV in summer! The Union Budget interests us only so far as it reduces or increases our taxes and maybe the value of stocks we have purchased in the market.

 Most of us who would read this English language column are quite immune to the delivery of government services which is different from responding to politics that results in some of us being abused or even lynched. But most Indians, alas, are not as lucky as us and if their kids go to school, it’ll be a government school and if they fall ill, it’ll be a government dispensary (and many Indian children will die from highly curable diseases). We should be ashamed, but we are always talking of national pride. 

That’s why I was touched and rejuvenated after visiting a government school in Delhi — somewhere between the crowded ITO crossing and New Delhi Railway Station. It’s called Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya and is one of the 54 pilot schools in which Rs 5 to 10 crore have been invested by the Delhi Government. The results are impressive, partly because the education policy of the Delhi Government has addressed the very crucial aspect of teachers being re-educated and motivated and then mentored by select teachers. Till Class VI in Delhi, children go to schools run by the municipal corporation, after which the schools are the responsibility of the Delhi Government. What is also being done at that stage is that children of the same class are being dealt with differently, depending on their reading abilities.

There were some incredible human stories I picked up. A Class V student, Vishal, is the son of a vegetable vendor and he comes from some distance to attend school. He recently came second in a mental mathematics competition held at the state level. Principal Dr Davindera has been at the school for nine years, but it is clear that the last two years have been transformative for the 1,000 children-- some of them come from backgrounds where both parents work as labour. One day, he saw three of his students selling dusters and food at traffic lights. The next day in the school, he checked and realised that the boys were doing okay, getting around 55 per cent in grade 6 and 7. The school would end at 2 pm and the boys would change the uniform and be on the streets selling wares by 3.30 pm. They have to earn their living, the principal told me, but they come to school regularly. 

A mathematics teacher told me the story of Shubham Kumar, another child from a working class family, who joined in grade 6 where he was first placed with the students whose reading skills were limited. But the boy kept staring at the maths books in English and the teacher realised that he wanted to be in the English medium section. The child forced himself to learn the alphabets and a year later, he is scoring around 90 per cent. His brother has just entered school, but the teacher says he is not like Shubham, point being that some children have the ability, provided they get the opportunity. 

With crores sunk into infrastructure, the school matches that from which my daughter graduated last year, minus the swimming pool. I walked into a science classroom of Class XII and the students were engaged, absorbed, proud to get the opportunity to learn with the best facilities. One little detail: in 2017, 372 children from government schools in Delhi made it to the IIT mains entrance exam, a seven fold increase from last year. Though I do not believing a career in engineering is the path to enlightenment, for kids to aspire to anything and get there is great. 

Being at the school reminded me of my old hopes for the country that included better schools and hospitals. And smiling beautiful children. I saw some today who were hopeful of better lives for themselves. They were proud to be at the school.

Somehow our simple expectations have got lost in our battles over identity and religion. We are so consumed by the charges and the counter-charges that we have forgotten the most important things we need to do. The AAP may have made political errors, but they are trying to do right by the vulnerable sections of society in Delhi. As it has tried with the mohalla clinics and polyclinics, in education too it is creating a model that gives primacy to citizens at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Let’s go beyond politics and recognise this. It’s about all our children. 

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