By Somali K Chakrabarti
Illiteracy is a major problem that impedes the development of a country.
At 287 million, India has the highest population of illiterate adults.
According to a report by UNESCO, India is one of the ten countries with more than 10 million illiterate adults.
Due to poverty, marginalization, and inadequate facilities many children in India do not have access to primary education, which impacts a child’s overall development.
Expanding access to education, through formal or informal programs, is therefore vital for improving children’s development, increasing the efficiency of the education system, and for reducing inequity in the broader society.
Varanasi Boat School – a novel concept
One such initiative has been taken up at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. Varanasi, the spiritual and religious hub in India, has also been the home to many poets, writers and philosophers like Kabir, Munshi Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Tulsidas.
As tourists flock on the banks of river Ganga throughout the year, Hari, a local 10 year old child spends his time his time loitering on the banks of river. He has other friends of his age who join him on the ghats. Together these children engage in different sorts of trades and other activities, and wander aimlessly on the streets. Learning or going to school doesn’t interest them at all.
To get children such as Hari, interested in the process of learning, and keep them off the streets of Varanasi, NGO Guria has come up with a unique and innovative concept of a “Boat School”. After some amount of convincing, Hari agreed to go and see the boat school.
Intially he was hesitant, but now he enjoys going there with his friends. They spend two hours after their regular school in the Boat School, and study, play or revise without any pressure or tension. They now have ‘opportunities to listen to stories, learn rhymes, indulge in imaginative play, ask questions, play simple games and do simple problem solving.
A parallel education system
This parallel education system provides a stimulating and ideal learning environment that creates a “feel good” experience for Hari and has helped him to develop a positive self-image.
This experiment to promote active and interactive learning is conducive to the children’s overall development.
There is still a lot more potential to enhance learning opportunities for these children, by bringing about a magical transformation with restoration of the interiors, providing necessary books, CDs, furniture and toys.
This experiment, if successful, will be replicated in other cities too.
Let’s hope that the Journey of Doing Right helps to shape the future of children like Hari in the holy city.
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