From A Chance Classroom 

In this article, Chirag Arora., a resident-teacher at IAAT, Gurgaon, shares his experience of creating an impromptu roadside classroom.

‘The breadwinner’ was the movie I watched a few days ago. I was overwhelmed by the story of the girl who showed the courage to step out from her house for her family to survive. While watching the movie, I knew, “I would not be able to forget this girl and her story”.

After a few days, I met a new version of “the breadwinner” while I was sitting on the concrete bench in a South Delhi market. Her name was Rainav. Out of nowhere, she appeared in front of me, a five-year-old girl wearing torn and shabby clothes, yet with a pleasing smile. She said, “Please give me some money”. Striking a conversation, I asked, “Why do you need money?” There came a well prepared, standard reply, “I want to eat something.” I took out my lunch box and shared some fruits with her.

While she was eating, I observed her arms which were marked with pen-marks. These pen-marks reflected her choice to learn. Strewn across the back of her palm were crude pen-marks of A, B, C, D.

I asked her from where did you learn this? Perhaps seeing an unexpected response, she promptly replied, “school mein sikha”. Then, the conversation of few minutes followed…

Me: school jatein ho aap?

Rainav: haan, jati hu main.

Me: aaj nahi gayain aap school?

Rainav: school to 1 bje hota hai na. yahi pass mein hi rehti hu mein. Apko pata hai meri teacher ne kaha hai, ki agar hum sub class mein padhenge na to wo nayi uniform le kar ayengi humare liye.

Rainav: pen dedo mujhe ek. Likungi mein.

I took out my kit with pen and chalks. When I gave her one pen and a paper to write, one could see the excitement in her eyes. Interestingly, this also attracted the attention of a group of other similar children, and they all came and started demanding for pen and paper. I took out my stationary kit and distributed pen and papers to them.

One child came and asked for a new pen because the one he was carrying was not working. I gave him a chalk to write and told him that he doesn’t need paper for this – he can write using chalk anywhere, be it wall or bench, or even ground.I  observed this group of boys and girls for about 15 minutes and felt quite satisfied as I could see their craving for writing on paper or with chalk overcome their desire for begging to eat. I am sure we have encountered so many kids who come to beg and we often feel uncomfortable dealing with them. Instead, in this case, despite surrounded by fear of society and family constraints, they still managed to create their own space of joy and learning. They were talking, sharing, and engaged in learning by doing – no noise, no person walking by, or the heat of the sun, or Delhi’s pollution came in the way of their engagement with their learning. I sighed in amazement-”If I could bring this kind of engagement in my classrooms… I would consider myself a competent teacher!”

I shall remember these “Breadwinners” for a long time.

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