School on wheels under threat?

School on wheels under threat?

WHERE LEARNING IS FUN: The mobile school is a one-year alternative school initiative of Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) for the children of slum dwellers and  migrant labourers with no exposure to prior schooling. PIC BY AUTHOR“I want to be an engineer when I grow up,” says Rajesh (11), a student of Class 6 in Channasandra Government School in the City. A year ago, his parents — illiterate migrant labourers from Chitradurga — would have dismissed such dreams but today their eyes shine with pride and hope thanks to Sanchari Shaale.

Every morning Shanthraj, Kokilavani, Jayamma and others shepherd close to a hundred poor children like Rajesh, aged between 3-11 years, into eight buses across the City as a part of a special programme called Sanchari Shaale, popularly known as ‘mobile school’.

The mobile school is a one-year alternative school initiative of Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) for the children of slum dwellers and migrant labourers with no exposure to prior schooling. After a year at the Sanchari Shaale, the children are admitted to government schools. “The rising maintenance costs of buses and the recent directive from the HRD Ministry that children must be educated in neighbourhood schools could put an end to Sanchari Shaale,” says a source in the Education Department.

But SSA director, Sandya Venugopal Sharma, rubbishes such fears. “There is no move to curtail the services of the mobile school,” she insists.   

Lofty goal
The aim of the initiative is to make every child an ‘eager learner’. “Our aim is not just to teach them the alphabet, but to attract them to school, teach them cleanliness and make them responsible individuals,” says H K Marankaiah, Assistant Director of Public Instruction. He oversees the mobile school programme in the City. 

Fifteen out of the 40 students of the first batch of 1999 have written the II PUC examination this year, giving the Department of Education, Government of Karnataka, the confidence that the mobile school can bring dropouts back to school. Officials of the department say that 7,200 students have benefited from the Sanchari Shaale programme out of which 4,260 students completed their schooling. The eight yellow buses start at 8.30 am every day scouting for students from slums, construction sites and railway stations. By 10 am, the buses roll into government schools, where the children go through a session of prayer and physical exercise. They are then divided into three groups based on their age.

The 3-5 year olds are taught the alphabet in English and Kannada. They also do basic number work. All their learning is oral. The 6-9 year olds practice the alphabet and numbers. The 9-11 year olds are taught basic concepts in maths along with language work like sentence construction and reading. The buses drop the children back home by 4.30 pm.

The children also learn the importance of personal hygiene. Kokilavani, who has been part of Sanchari Shaale for eight years now, says: “Cleanliness and moral values are imparted to the children as part of the programme.”

The teachers face an uphill task. They not only need to enthuse many reluctant learners, they must also convince parents who would rather send their kids to work than to school. But it is children like Rajesh fill them with a sense of purpose and determination.

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