Sitting in a classroom at a government training centre in south Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar on a sunny Friday morning, 13-year-old Mohammad Asif is busy scribbling in his notebook. He wants to be careful and not make mistakes.
“Mai somvar se school jana shuru karunga. Mai bhi apne padaus ke bachhon ki tarah dost banaunga. Mai kadi mehnat karunga aur apne mata pita ka ke sapno ko pura karunga. (Finally, I’ll start going to school from Monday. I will make friends like the other kids in my neighbour. I will work hard and fulfil my parents’ dreams),” wrote Asif in Hindi on being asked by his teacher to jot down his expectations from a school.
A first generation learner, Asif couldn’t even identify alphabets when he was admitted to the Special Training Centre (STC) at the Shaheed Hemu Kalani Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in Lajpat Nagar last year. “After one year, I can read and write basic Hindi and can also solve some mathematics problems. But, I am scared about English,” said Asif, son of a truck driver who moved to Delhi two years ago from western Uttar Pradesh’s Chandausi area.
Asif is among the 6,000-odd out-of-school children who will join mainstream education in the city’s government schools from Monday, the first day of the new academic year. The children received training at the special training centres (STC) set up in around 900 government and civic bodies run schools in Delhi under the Union government’s Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) .
Since 2012, every year the STCs help out-of-school children enrol into their age-appropriate classes in government schools after giving them training for three months to two years depending on their needs. The STCs train children aged between 7 to14 years who would otherwise be studying in class 2 to class, depending on their age.
The SSA had conducted a survey last December and identified 11,306 out of school children —who have either dropped out of school or were never enrolled in one —residing in Delhi.
Mamta Choudhary, STC teacher at Asif’s school, said the centre will continue giving him lessons in English even after he joins a regular school. “Since nobody can assist his studies at home we will continue helping him till he understands the basics of the language. We worked really hard to make him learn the basics of the Hindi language but he is struggling with English. It’s impossible to make a 13-year-old learn everything from scratch. But, we are trying,” she said.
On Friday, the children’s last day at the STC, Choudhary had asked them to write about their expectations from a school.
Twelve-year-old Zohal, an Afghani migrant, wrote in Hindi, “Jab mai somvar ko school jaungi to mai naye dost banaugi. Mai unke barein me kuch sikhungi aur unko apne vatan k barein me bataungi. (When I will join school on Monday I will make new friends. I will learn something about their culture and make them understand mine).”
Zohal and her younger sister Morsal, 11, will join government girls’ senior secondary school in Sriniwaspuri on Monday. Both of them had joined the STC in the Lajpat Nagar school last year. “We had to drop out from our school in Kabul when we moved to Delhi in 2017. We want to study here now. I will join class 7 and my sister will be in class 6,” she said.
Sitting next to Zohal, Hadiya wore a distressed expression. When asked Hadiya, who is also from Afghanistan, said, “I have been allotted a different school because of my address. I’ll join class 6 at a government school in Ashram. I am scared what will I do if there are Afghani kids there,” she said as both Zohal and Morsal console her and promised to meet her every Sunday.
The particular STC in Lajpat Nagar has around 20 Afghani kids getting trained to join mainstream education in Delhi. Anuj Kumar Gautam, coordinator of STCs in south and south-east districts in the city said another 20 Afghani children are enrolled in the STC at Jangpura presently. Gautam said around 1,500 out-of-school children are joining mainstream in his districts this year.
A seemingly nervous Nitish Kumar, 13, who is from a small town in Nepal and will join a senior secondary government school in Bhogal, said, “ It’s been three years since I had dropped out from my school in class 5 in Nepal. I will now join class 8 and I am really nervous. The students and kind of education here is different from home. I hope I will cope up with everything.”
On the other hand, his friend Manish, 12, who had dropped out in class 4 and will now join class 8, said he was excited about going back to school. “I will never drop out again. I will study and become a doctor,” he said. When asked why he wanted to be a doctor, he said, “There is no doctor in my village in UP. I will work there.”