“There is a 12-year-old girl who stays in a slum. She used to go to a government school but had to drop out because her family could not afford her education. She then started working as a child labourer and continued to do so for about two years to help her mother earn a living. After some time, an organization approached her and wanted to help her study again. But where are the schools for children like her who have to start with the very basics? She will not be able to understand anything if sent to a classroom full of children her age. We call such students ‘out of system children’,” says Ananth Kumar, the founder of Kaliyuva Mane – a free quasi-residential experimental school for rural children.
Kaliyuva Mane means a ‘home for learning’ in Kannada, and it is the absence of a mainstream classroom system that differentiates this school from other experimental schools in the country.
“Schools for children, not children for schools – that is the policy we work with. Currently, about 35 kids live with us on the campus and the others are day scholars. We bring some of the kids, who live a little far away, in our own vehicles. Those who come from nearby villages take the city bus and others who live close by, walk,” says Ananth. No fee is charged for boarding, transportation or tuition.
“In 1992, I settled down in Srirampura village on the outskirts of Mysuru. There I got a chance to observe the education system in rural India closely. And I saw that children were going to school but they were not able to reach the learning levels they should have. Children in Class 5 were not able to read books used in Class 1,” he says.
Greatly influenced by the teachings of Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo for service towards society, Ananth, along with some friends, started teaching free supplementary classes in the village.A government school gave them some space on its premises to teach from 6-8 am and 7-8 pm. The response from the children was very good and it was this volunteering experience that inspired Ananth to plan his dream school.
“Ideally, we want to support the students till they stand on their own feet. But it is very difficult due to financial constraints and limited manpower. But even then, we support some students who come from extremely underprivileged backgrounds when they enter college,” says Ananth.
“Education depends on a lot of things – the environment at school, parents’ education, financial level of parents, etc. In 2010, a 16-year-old boy named Prashant came into the school. He was a child labourer, a school dropout, and his mother worked as a domestic help. He came in asking for work. I asked him if he wanted to study instead and he said yes. He passed his board exams with flying colours, went to college and has now found a job. Similarly, there is Manu. His parents are farmers and he had to drop out of school after Class 1. When he came in, he could only write his name in Kannada. Today, he has a job with a government agency. Impact stories like these keep me motivated to continue doing what I am doing, every single days” concludes Ananth. To help him continue working for this cause, donate here.
This story was originally published in The Better India.