By Sarwar Kashani
New Delhi, Jan 24 (EFE).- Activist-teacher Satyendra Pal runs a free school under an elevated metro bridge in the Indian capital for the children of families living on the breadline.
Pal, 26, battled the brutal effects of poverty during his childhood, which almost forced him to drop out of school.
He did not give up and does not want others to surrender to poverty.
Pal runs the free education initiative because “every child deserves a chance but not everyone is privileged to get a decent education” in a country where tens of millions of impoverished children do not attend school.
Over the years, India has made some progress in improving access to quality education, increasing elementary school enrollment and reducing the number of out-of-school children.
A 2019 Unicef report noted that approximately 20 million children were still not attending any pre-school programs, and of these, more than a third were from the poorest families.
The pandemic has exacerbated the crisis.
The coronavirus outbreak quickly turned into a learning crisis for the poor as prolonged school closures affected access to education for 286 million children in India.
Nearly 247 million children could not go to school for more than a year, the United Nations Children Fund said in a report on unprecedented disruption to the education sector.
Approximately 1.5 million schools and 1.4 million learning centers shut down during the period.
In a report in November last year, Unicef warned that millions of children in India were at risk of not returning to education.
But Pal is trying to make sure that does not happen in the area where he runs the initiative.
The son of a poor laborer from Uttar Pradesh’s Budaun district had always wanted to go for higher education but lacked the means at home.
He has since graduated in mathematics and is now studying for a Masters in the southern city of Bengaluru.
He took a sabbatical in 2015 to start the Panchsheel Shikshan Sansthan school to provide free education to poor children from the slums on the banks of the Yamuna River in the east of the capital New Delhi.
The crowded area is home to some of the city’s prosperous middle-class professionals and houses some of the tallest residential skyscrapers in the capital.
However, it is also an abode to thousands of migrants or informal workers living in slums and working as daily wagers in the nearby satellite towns of Noida and Ghaziabad.
“Driven by a selfless goal of educating the underprivileged children, Pal started the school in 2015 with five kids. It grew bigger and we had 350 children before the pandemic,” Kuldeep Maurya, the de facto No.2 of the institution, told EFE.
“The lockdown forced us to shut down temporarily. But since our children do not have smartphones or laptops to attend classes, we returned to our classrooms with strict social distancing measures under the metro bridge.”