The flip side of the Right to Education (RTE) was the lowering of learning standards in government schools as parents of slum students were convinced that their children would be promoted to the next level without any efforts. As part of the RTE, children could get admission in class 5th even without prior attendance, leading to high dropouts as they preferred fending for themselves. The midday meal was the only attraction to go to schools.
However, due to the free tuitions provided to the underprivileged by Beena Rao, a lecturer from Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology (SVNIT), the abusive slangs used by over 5000 children from slum areas in Surat have been substituted by scientific jargons.
A native of Patan and the daughter of a violinist, who teaches blind students, Rao voluntarily, started teaching the underprivileged students since 2006. In 2009, she began the initiative, ‘Prayas Free Coaching Classes’, pooling in young college students who devote their evenings to educating slum kids. She started inviting doctors and police officials as guest lecturers on the first day of the coaching classes in order to induce parents to send their children to schools. There are eight different coaching centers in Surat, boasting of over 1, 200 students. She also organizes workshops to hone the skills of these kids in areas of craft, yoga, science, and sports.
These kids are now able to read and write, understand the importance of hygiene, truth and honesty and show better results in academics by large.
Her father was her role model ever since she was a kid. He would teach blind students for free in his spare time and this always inspired Rao.
Classes are conducted in the evening from 6 pm to 8 pm. Apart from teaching basic subjects, she also imparts moral education and encourages students to engage in various art, craft activities.
Rao recalls an incident when she needed Rs.15,000 to pay the volunteers, but she didn’t get any response from the people she approached. A man from Halpati Samaj community who owned a liquor shop came to Rao and offered help. Rao was surprised and asked him the reason behind his gracious gesture. “I don’t want my kids to sell liquor when they grow old. I would like them to study and get a good job and you are helping them achieve it,” the man said. Rao was moved and decided to do more for the community.
Beena Rao has only one mission – to make slum children as good as mainstream students, even though she herself earns nothing from the trust.
Images: Prayas Free Coching class in slum area