There is a big city in India, which is also its capital, New Delhi. This city houses a big chunk of the country’s who’s who, politicians, VIPs, Commissioners, Judiciary, Barristers, etc. In very sharp contrast, this city also houses under-resourced people from economically adverse backgrounds right within a few kilometres of the houses of many who’s who.
While education in India has only been a privilege of those with deep pockets, there have been generations who have been kept distant from an excellent, empowering education. This is the population who have been born and brought up in slums, unauthorized colonies and kuchcha (semi-permanent structure) houses who have not seen what it looks like when your lives matter when you are cared for when you aren’t a mere neglected second class citizen.
Mohalla playschool-oasis in the middle of a desert
In East Delhi, there is a squalid, overcrowded urban shanty town by the name of Khichdipur. For any middle class, upper-middle-class urban dweller, that place has all the parameters of where he/she would not want to be. But lo and behold, there is a rented space over there which defies every aspect of the surrounding. The sight is both vivid and heartwarming. The children (age group 2.5-6 years of age) are in an eager rush to be at that place. There are happy choruses, rhymes, clapping and cheering voices being heard through and through. This place is the Mohalla Playschools or Anganwadi which the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi Government has taken as its mission to revolutionize to further advance the Delhi Education Revolution.
Children learn and listen more willingly when they are met with kindness, empathy and patience; when their core need for connection or attachment is met.
“The most initial and pressing need is to change the physical look of the playschool so that when the child enters the classroom, he/she has access to a conducive environment. Therefore, we undertake the task of whitewashing the classrooms, painting and beautifying the walls and maintaining hygiene in the toilets. Earlier, by denying them these basic facilities, the message that was being sent to them and their parents was that they are second class citizens. At no cost, we want our children to feel that way,” says Nisha, Advisor to Deputy CM, Manish Sisodia, the woman who led the Mohalla Playschool project from the front.
Prior to starting the movement towards revamping the Mohalla Playschools, there was a massive amount of groundwork that went in. There are a total of 10,000 Anganwadis, in which 20-25 students were enrolled. It was found that there was a gap between the enrollment numbers and the actual number of students. The food quality was very low and the physical condition of the Anganwadis was shabby, dilapidated and unhygienic such that children refused to come to the Anganwadis.
There are two appointed staff at the Mohalla Playschools – Sanchalika (Teacher) and Sahaika (Helper). The next action step was to double the salary of both Sahaika and Sanchalika. The salary of Sanchalika was raised from Rs 5,000 to Rs 9,936 and the salary of Sahaika was raised from Rs 2,500 to Rs 4,839.
The Delhi Government also appealed to local social workers of their areas to come forward and extend their support. There were many educated women from within the community who came forward to give their time and energy. All of them are unpaid volunteers who are striving with a noble spirit to work for a social cause.
The social workers swiftly got into action and started checking the register to close the gap between the enrollment on a register and the actual number of students attending the Anganwadis. The women went door to door for spreading awareness about the reformed existence of Anganwadis, which existed for so many years, but none of the parents wanted to send their children earlier there. These social workers continue to check the quality of food, whether or not the dispatched material, chart papers, toys etc. are reaching the Mohalla Play School. What’s more, they even appeal to people within their local areas to contribute toys, educational material or any other resource within their limited means. Surprisingly, many of them also got overwhelming responses from the people who were reached out to.
After the groundwork was completed, the next macro measure was to conduct empowering training for Sanchalikas and Sahaikas. Towards this endeavour, the Delhi Government collaborated with an NGO, Pratham and there are regular training being conducted for the Mohalla Playschool staff. The Sanchalikas are being given and in the near future will be given training on Pedagogy for Early Childhood, nutrition requirements of children, using learning aids effectively, parent engagement etc.
The Sahaikas goes door to door every morning and brings students to the Mohalla Playschool. Therefore, she is being trained in ensuring safety measures for children pre and during the school hours. Other aspects of the training include maintaining hygiene, cleanliness, ensuring children take food and eat the entire portion to ensure their dietary requirements are fulfilled.
The result of this training has been that the Sanchalikas and Sahaikas feel a lot more skilled and equipped to effectively execute their roles. They also feel that by raising their salaries and giving them opportunities to grown themselves through training, the Delhi Government has not left them in a state of perpetual neglect and made them believe they are also worthy human being whose contributions and existence are valued. And as a very natural result, the care, concern and love have cascaded to the children attending the Mohalla Playschool as well.
Engaging the parents
The Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi Government has not just focussed on improving the infrastructure and teaching-learning process, they have extended their focus to ensuring that parents also become fully aware and engaged.
“The child stays in the school for only 2.5-3 hours, however, the majority of the time child spends at home and therefore, the parents become an integral and significant stakeholder in the education of children as well,” says Nisha.
Every 19th of the month, the Mohalla Playschools hold “Bal Bodh Diwas” and parents are invited to meet the Teacher and Helper. The Teacher shares the progress of the students, the role of the parents is appreciated and the support required going forward is asked from the parents.
Babita, a local social worker in Patparganj area says, “Parents used to lament that they do not have the capacity to pay a monthly fee of Rs. 400-500 and therefore, they dare not dream of sending their children to private cretches. Now, with the opening of Mohalla Playschools, we are so fortunate that our students are getting such facilities at par with the private ones.”
“Our children have started maintaining cleanliness, they urge us to keep their clothes clean and sometimes, they scold us when we throw litter other than in dustbins. Every morning they are on task and always on a mission mode to reach the school on time” says a mother with a chuckle and shining gleam in her eyes.
The Mohalla Playschool appears on the onset to have triggered a revolution in itself and the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi Government must be applauded for their painstaking efforts to trailblaze this initiative. The most challenging undertaking is to bring every stakeholder at one table and in alignment towards a common cause. The Delhi Government has been effective at making this possible and therefore, they have created a model which will inspire many other states to follow.
To sum the result of all their efforts in one line – earlier, the children did not want to come to the playschools and now they don’t want to go back from there.