She got up to face a small blackboard perched on a wooden stand. “My dad drives a water tanker, my mom cleans houses,” she told me in Hindi, as she swirled her palms across the damp surface. “And I come here to play and learn.”
Educating children in a city of more than 18 million people?—?of which at least 1.7 million are children under 6 years old, according to the national census?—?is a daunting task.
Mumbai’s education system has fallen gravely short of absorbing its children. Only 400,000 children were enrolled in municipal schools in 2014, according to a report by Praja, a non-partisan research and advocacy organization. That number actually dropped 11 percent since 2009, despite increased government spending on education.
That leaves more than half of the children in Mumbai either out of school or learning in private institutions.
In response, community members, activists, and educators have carved out classrooms between the hidden folds and seams of the city. They offer safe and regular learning spaces to students who can easily fall throughout the gaps. Some you have to literally climb into to access, while others are built on wheels. For thousands of students across Mumbai, these classrooms have become tiny oases, a place to call their own for a few hours every day.
Manasvi Khasle walked up and down a narrow aisle. She called out even numbers and waited for her class to say the next one. The 22-year-old teacher knows how to command the attention of the 20 students sitting in neat rows in her unusual classroom: a yellow school bus parked near a smoky crossroad of factories and railway tracks in south Mumbai.
“In the beginning I had to go to their homes and call them to class,” she said. “Now they see the bus pull up and just come.”
Khasle has been teaching for eight years with Door Step, an organization founded in 1988 that runs classes for more than 10,000 students, in school buses and tiny community centers. The buses can only hold 20 students, most of them between six and twelve years old, without much space to wiggle around or store books. But they have unique benefits?—?like their ability to reach many of Mumbai’s poorest migrants who live on illegal plots of land where schools can’t be built.
Image Source : DFID/Nick Cunard