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Teaching deserving children and opening windows for them

Parvarish – The Museum School provides quality education to underprivileged children in Bhopal. This is a story about how the school has brought change in the lives of the students and how it has today become a symbol of hope, offering space for underprivileged children to learn, explore, and prosper

Shibani Ghosh teaching the students in an open environment. Photos: Shibani Ghosh

“My students from the Museum School are my inspiration. Their belief in me to guide their lives motivates me to move ahead in this journey despite everyday challenges,” says Shibani Ghosh, co-founder of Parvarish – The Museum School, which is providing quality education to underprivileged children in Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.

Marking 18 years of existence, the Museum School is testimony to the fact that it is indeed possible to include children from informal, underprivileged settlements in the mainstream by supporting their claim to their right to education. Over the years, several articles have been written on the initiative (the schools) and how it has improved the lives of many.

Shibani tells us how the journey so far has been difficult, yet satisfying. After completing her BEd, while she was exploring her career options, Shibani was sure of one thing – she wished to contribute to making a bright future for poor, underprivileged children. “These children are the future of our country and, if guided properly, they can bring a positive change in the world,” she says, while explaining how she never wanted to teach the children using the traditional ways of schooling.

It was then that Shibani started thinking about starting Parvarish – The Museum School. She took her first step by undertaking the process of first identifying children from low socio-economic settlements whose education had been halted for different reasons – financial, lack of interest, children engaged in labour or work, etc. Simultaneously, she started conversation with the National Museum of Mankind, the Regional Science Center, and the Regional Museum of Natural History in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh and proposed a collaboration.

Every afternoon, a bus brings children from across the city (Bhopal) to one of the museums, where they are provided practical lessons for two hours. It was challenging to re-introduce the children to education but within a span of time Shibani began preparing drop-outs for the Madhya Pradesh Board examination.

Reflecting on the challenges, Shibani says, “The major difficulty was bringing the children out of these informal settlements. Convincing parents was a task. As we were from an organisation, they were not able to trust us and had a major concern about whether we were really going to educate their children or exploit them. It took us a few months to build the trust.” Started with 20 children from one slum, currently the school accommodates more than 100 students from ten different slums.

Shibani has divided children into four categories – the first, Nanha (ages 5-7), the second, Bachpan (8-10), the third, Khile (11-13), and the fourth, Yovan (14-18). Children are taught in an open environment following an interesting teaching approach. Live experiments are conducted to teach children at the Regional Science Center. Besides, lessons on various art forms, performing arts, sports, flora and fauna, life skills, vocational skills, and personality development are taught.

“While the teachers are usually recruited from the same slums, established professionals are also invited to give lessons. In this way, by entering this school between the age of 5 and 10 years, the children become ready either for the MP Board course or for self-employment after vocational training,” says Shibani.

The school also had its fair share of ups and downs. Shibani started the school in 2005 by investing all her savings. Impressed by the work, the Tata Trust started funding, which lasted till March 2015. From March 2015 to October 2016, the school was going through a rough patch and hardly managed to sustain. In 2016, things started turning around when they received the UNESCO Award. The award brought a sigh of relief as the prize money was utilised to meet all the expenses, much of which, including honorarium to teachers, nutritious food for children, stationery, cost of bus transport, etc were being met from donations received from people who believed in the cause.

During COVID-19, the Museum School had to shut its operation. “Initially, when the lockdown was imposed, we thought it to be a matter of a few days. But gradually we understood that this would continue for a long time and then we asked ourselves, ab kya (now what),” reminisces Shibani. While she was trying to cope with the situation, a friend of hers from Austria offered to teach the children the French language via an online platform. The only difficult task was to arrange for smartphones and financial resources to pay for the Internet.

After consulting with the teachers and senior students, Shibani started organising online classes. “I started paying for the Internet, and the teachers, along with the students, started attending online classes. It went on for nearly one and a half years. I was continuously in touch with them in every way, helping them during COVID-19.” The online classes featured resource people ranging from Supreme Court practitioners to Doordarshan anchors, providing the children with a special perspective on life.

The practical lessons and skills learnt by the students in the Museum School helped a great deal when their parents lost their jobs during COVID-19 lockdown. When Shibani’s friend started a business during the time, she collaborated with the Museum School by providing employment to the students. The girls associated with the business started making different handmade products for the company, which were sold online, including Amazon. This helped the children support their families during the crisis.

The school’s alumni record reflects the quality of education imparted to the children. “I have been associated with the school for the last 14 years. I had joined the school as a student, and I am a teacher here now. I have gained immense confidence and learnt different methods of teaching children,” says Chanda Vatra. After seven years of education at the school, Rohit, a student, got a job with Tata Consultancy Services, and Sita Yadav, another student, now runs a boutique.

As many students are working along with their studies, the school ensures they conduct classes without affecting their working hours. According to Shibani, initially the locals had responded coldly to her initiative. However, seeing her persistent efforts, they started understanding the concept.

(Courtesy: Charkha Features)

September 2022