As I headed to the community in a low income area of Bangalore, the address I was given was of a local photocopy and fax shop. This is the shop where one of the application centres has been set up by my host organization for the admission cycle in Bangalore.
During the admission cycle, socio-economically disadvantaged families having children within the eligible age group (this might vary from state to state), can apply for admission at entry-level classes in private unaided schools for free education up to standard 8, under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, Section 12 (1)(c). The application form allows parents to opt for as many schools in Bangalore (other states it might vary) within their locality in order of preference. Once the application cycle closes, based on the results of the lottery, seats are allocated to the children whose application gets selected.
When I finally reach my destination, I find a lot of people at the shop and as I make my way inside the shop, I am introduced to Ayaz bhai.
Ayaz bhai is the owner of the shop where the application centre has been set up. He has four children: three sons and a daughter. Two of his sons as well as his daughter are studying in private unaided schools under Section 12 (1) (c). Ayaz bhai is proud of his children, especially his daughter Rubina*, a 4-year-old, bubbly girl who is full of energy. Even the name of Ayaz bhai’s shop is named after his daughter.
While I sit in the shop, talking to parents who are visiting to get their applications filled online, I see Rubina come and go out of the shop a number of times. And as I make my first attempt to talk to her, she scurries away. As she glances at me for the next couple of times, I manage to get a smile from her. But still no words!
The next day of my visit, she comes and slides over a candy towards me. As I sit wondering if I should be accepting candies from a 4-year-old kid, she pushes the candy further towards my hand. I finally give in and take the candy, and suddenly Rubina and I are friends! While chatting with her, I get to know which school she studies in, the names of her three brothers, and after sometime she is sitting on my lap as we chat away about the khuskha (a kind of biryani rice) she had for lunch. We also talk about what she studied in school, and she happily takes my pen and notebook and writes the alphabets, her name, draws a doll for me and when I said it was good, she quickly jots down ‘good’ on my notebook as well!
Ayaz bhai tells me that Rubina is a very smart girl, smarter even than her elder brothers. And can even speak little English. But, Ayaz bhai is also concerned. He shared that the bubbly Rubina doesn’t interact much in her class or with her teachers. He shared the sense of guilt he has because of the fact that he himself is not very educated and well versed in English. He thinks because of this he is unable to support Rubina like other parents who speak English support their children. He said that he is still happy because he was able to send his children to a school of his choice for a good quality education. As I listened to him my mind wandered back to the very first blog I wrote on aspirations that parents have and the choices they make, for their children to do better than them in life. To address this issue, where parents are sometimes unable to support their children once they get into private schools under this provision, my host organization has a School Readiness Program (SRP) in Delhi to help bridge the learning gap a child from disadvantaged family experiences in private schools, by training the mother to prepare the child with basic literacy, numeracy, socio-developmental skills through school readiness kit. This is run by the Shiksha Sahyogis, the women entrepreneurs I wrote about earlier.
My colleague who is managing the application centre in Bangalore shared with me that, “Ayaz bhai has been a great support in running this application centre from providing space to infrastructure and also mobilizing the parents with regards to collection of documents. His previous experience in helping parents to apply online also has also come in handy in helping us solve queries the parents had”.
During our interaction, I asked Ayaz bhai the reason why he decided to support our organization and he informed that he had been supporting parents from the area to fill in RTE forms for the past many years. He is the go-to person for people when they want advice on certain documents like Aadhar Card, Income Certificate and others to be made. Even while the forms are being filled up, mostly parents consult Ayaz bhai before selecting their preferred schools. He calls himself a business man turned social worker. He has been helping students of his area by informing them about and filling forms to avail scholarships. He got the dates of the application cycle announced in the local mosque and church to create awareness among people. His belief that education can lead to development and end the cycle of poverty, resonates with me. “Educating one child can help hundred children”, he says.
When he was made aware of provision Section 12 (1)(c), some years ago he had proactively filled in application for his son, to understand the process. ‘Jab hum khud tayyar honge, tab hum dusro ki madad ke liye tayyar honge’ (Once we ourselves are ready to do something, only then are we ready to help others). This year, he has filled in the application under the provision for his youngest son as well. “I’ve been supporting others is why I think three of my kids got into good schools, he says, Inshallah, this one would too!”
*Names of children have been changed to protect their privacy.