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What Free School Looks Like in India

A Pratham learning hub in Trilokpuri slum in East Delhi

A Pratham learning hub in Trilokpuri slum in East Delhi

This time last week I was all the way across the world in the sweltering heat and beaming sunshine of an Indian summer. I went to India to visit my partners for Mom Bloggers for Social Good, including Pratham, India’s largest education NGO, Save the Children, and WaterAid, one of the oldest NGOs that fights the global water crisis through educational and advocacy efforts and well as through bringing water to poor communities that need it. Site visits where my partners do extensive work in the field are extremely important to me because they provide the quickest way for me to learn about global development. I can read statistics and stories all day, but unless I get into the field myself I will truly never learn and understand the realities of what’s happening on the ground. That’s why field visits are a priority for me.

I was in Delhi along with Social Good Mom and Global Team of 200 member Nicole Melancon (Third Eye Mom). I remain sincerely grateful that I was able to go on an observational trip to Kenya with ONE and visit Ethiopia with Save the Children. When I started Mom Bloggers for Social Good, insight trips were one of the first cornerstones I laid for the organizational structure of the group in order to provide the same opportunity I had to my members. Last week the first trip came to fruition.

Nicole Melancon and I were in Delhi for four short days of which three were spent visiting schools, mothers’ groups, and a community toilet complex in an authorized slum. I loved visiting all of the sites, but the schools have a special place in my heart. Without a proper education children, especially girls, will have a harder time in life and will have fewer options to earn money and contribute to India’s economy and to their own household. A missed education means the cycle of poverty continues. In fact, if a girl goes to school and finishes her education she can increase her income by 20% over her lifetime according to the World Bank.

Pratham, the award-winning education NGO in India believes all children – especially the underprivileged — should be in school and learning well.  This is a wonderful goal, but is harder to achieve than one might think.  India has over 440 million children of which 12.6 million work in the labor sector according to Save the Children.

When I was in India last week I saw many street children who clearly were not in school. It was hard to see. In India, where dire poverty is rife, children unfortunately have to make a choice: go to school to improve their future or make a living now for themselves and for their families who desperately rely on them for every rupee they can earn. Pratham works diligently to provide school services for children who want to learn, but family and life circumstances make attending school difficult.

In Delhi, the population is exploding because of the sheer number of migrant workers who are seeking better lives in the big city. Most of these migrant workers live in the slums with their children because they can’t find housing elsewhere. For these poor children Pratham makes going to school easy as opposed to enrolling in government schools. Pratham provides half-day schooling because they realize some of the kids have to help their parents earn a living by selling vegetables on the side of the road or sewing clothes in their home. India is beginning to crack down on child labor, but manufacturers have gotten smarter by allowing children to work inside of their homes instead of in factories to skirt the law.

Below is a slideshow of a Pratham learning “hub” where children from preschool to 14 years of age attend classes to improve their basic communications skills. This is an English class we observed that children can attend free of charge. The school was created for children of poor migrant workers who come to Delhi to work from places like Bihar, the most under-developed state in the country according to the UNDP.

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  • Pratham Learning Hub 1 of 6
    Pratham Learning Hub
    Children learn reading and writing in English.
  • Pratham Learning Hub 2 of 6
    Pratham Learning Hub
    The teacher conducts a lesson with letters and pictures.
  • Pratham Learning Hub 3 of 6
    Pratham Learning Hub
    One child's work.
  • Pratham Learning Hub 4 of 6
    Pratham Learning Hub
    Kids in balwadi (preschool) recite a poem for us.
  • Pratham Learning Hub 5 of 6
    Pratham Learning Hub
    The teachers take meticulous notes about each child's progress.
  • Pratham Learning Center 6 of 6
    Pratham Learning Center
    This school had older students. These girls are learning to sew.

Learn more about my first Social Good Moms’ insight trip at socialgoodmomsindia.tumblr.com.

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