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.
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 now four Saakshar classrooms running with ten teachers and a few other staff. They teach about 100 pupils each year, preparing them for mainstream school, and another hundred who began at Saakshar and in full time education, who come for extra tuition each afternoon. Saakshar gets disadvantaged children onto the education ladder, giving them motivation, literacy and numeracy and preparing them to cope with school. They provide 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. Most 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.
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 nearly ten years of work there, school attendance has gone up from 33% to well over 60% and the improvement in the children's lives is remarkable. Now the older children who began as ‘tiny tots’ at Saakshar are gaining employment which would have been impossible for them without qualifications, and are a shining example to others.
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, Water and Environmental Programmes (which contribute to the cost of running the office in Mahavir Enclave), and skills and computer training.