Saakshar - Non Formal Education Centre for Slum Children
Although there are many schools which children can attend in Delhi, there is a big problem with non-attendance, low literacy and a high drop out rate for children from the lowest socio-economic groups. This is due to parental ignorance and fear, the need to care for younger siblings, need to work, lack of social skills, prejudice and discrimination. In addition the quality of teaching offered in government schools can be good, but some are very poor, with teachers hardly attending, very large class sizes and an emphasis on rote learning without understanding.
The people served by Saakshar are living in slums, or are slum dwellers from central Delhi who have been relocated and given land by the government on which to build their own small homes. Many have moved from poor rural areas where their children received little or no education. For boys without education only unskilled day labour will be available to them. Girls are even more likely to be uneducated as they often carry the burden of childcare, domestic and paid work. Having missed out on education they are frequently married off at a young age and then treated harshly for their ignorance. In order to help to get these children into school, a charity called the Vigyan Vijay Foundation was founded which established a small 'non-formal' education centre called Saakshar (‘literate’) in 2002. Over a thousand children from slum pockets in SW Delhi have now been sent to mainstream schools and are completing their education through the work of Saakshar. Those who do well can go on to college and train for skilled jobs, and a few will have the chance to transfer to schools where they will learn English and can aim at professional qualifications.
There are four rented Saakshar classrooms running with ten dedicated teachers and a few other staff. With morning sessions in each schoolroom they teach over 100 pre-school pupils each year, preparing them for mainstream school, and then another hundred who come for extra tuition each afternoon. We are extending the working day of each schoolroom to provide more help and support for older children and they struggle to keep up with their studies. Saakshar gets disadvantaged children onto the education ladder, giving them motivation, literacy and numeracy and preparing them to cope with school, and then supports and guide them afterwards so that they are able to complete their education at 18. Saakshar also provides creche facilities so that girls can bring their younger siblings, and a basic midday meal, and without these two features many would not be able to attend. Many of the children are poorly nourished. Some have migrated into the city from rural areas and are quite socially excluded.
The aim of Saakshar is to 'mainstream' the children as quickly as possible, getting them into the school system and maximising their opportunities. At the VVF office, computing is also taught to older children to help them in the employment market, and tailoring is taught to older girls at Saakshar 2.
In Nasirpur slum the children always want to say hello and have their photos taken with their friends. The disadvantage they were born with does not show on their smiling faces. After seventeen years of work there, most children are attending school and the improvement in the children's lives is remarkable, although some still drop out of school early because of the need to contribute to the family income. Most, however, complete their education in 'Class 12' at 18 years old. Those who began as ‘tiny tots’ at Saakshar are gaining employment which would have been impossible for them without qualifications, and they are a shining example to others in their community.
VVF was founded by Asha Kumar in memory of her late husband, with the help of her daughter Lipika, her other daughters, and friends Prof. Ramachandran and Mr Seshadri. VVF's main activities are Saakshar, and skills and computer training.
Saakshar's dedicated teachers with Coordinator Preeti Jha (centre), Delhi February 2019