September 26, 2001, Chandigarh, India
Lighting the lamp of knowledge for slum children
Lighting the lamp of knowledge for slum children
IT was the Punjab Governor, Lt-Gen J.F.R. Jacob, who had told Mr V.K. Mehan, Chairman, Sri Aurobindo School of Integral Education, that he admired the systems of learning that the school incorporated, but had also asked him what the management was doing for the less privileged children? He had then gone on to suggest that the school should take on the project of running a night school in one of the outer colonies of the city.
"I was reluctant at first because being a comparatively new school, I didn’t think we could handle it. Sri Aurobindo’s integral education aims at the physical, cognitive, creative and spiritual growth of a child. But originally, our growth plans didn’t really incorporate social service on this scale. However, when we considered the logistics of the project, especially the support we would get from the UT Administration, the Governor’s suggestion began to seem feasible and we decided to support any night school that the DPI, Schools, would earmark for us," says Mr Mehan.
In June, 2001, Sri Aurobindo School of Integral Education took up the project of night school education in Government Middle School, Colony No 4, located in Industrial Area, Phase 1. Although this is the 11th night school operating in the city, it is probably the only one that is being supported by a school. Vaoius NGOs and other institutions run the other schools. The night school runs from 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm.
In fact, on visiting the night school on September 21, 2001, the Governor was full of praise for the endeavour.
Says Mrs Amrita Vatsyayan, Vice-Principal of the school, " Government Middle School runs two regular school shifts, the morning shift, up to 2 pm and the evening shift, up to 5 pm. The children we are focusing on are those who cannot, for some reason or the other, attend either of these shifts. Mainly the reasons are that they’re kept busy through the day by their parents or are earning money, working somewhere. In fact, these are the children one comes across at places like the intersection of roads, toting a Shani Devta to solicit money or even begging at market places."
The night school, which began a couple of months ago, with just 20 children, now has a strength of 55. Says Anuradha, a teacher at the night school, "Actually, the numbers keep fluctuating, sometimes increasing to 68 and sometimes dropping even to 52-55. The main reason for the changing numbers is that these children belong to the migrant population. When the parents feel that they’ve earned enough to keep body and soul together for a few months, they simply pack up and leave for the village. They could return after a few weeks or a few months, or not at all."
The project did face problems at the time of its
launch, the main one being the resistance that the parents of these
children had to their ‘wasting’ time at school, when they could be
doing chores or earning money. The children themselves were reluctant
to succumb to the tedium of the school routine, used to, as they were,
of roaming freely about the streets. Says Mrs Vatsyayan,
"Initially, the teachers of our regular school, as also the
teachers employed by the night school project, had to do the rounds of
the colony. They went from door to door, convincing parents to let
their children come to school. We started classes with 20 children but
within a very short time, the number has risen to more than
double". Apart from verbal convincing, some material incentives
were also used to lure the reluctant students to school.
Smiles Mrs Vatsyayan, "At first, whenever we’d visit the school, we’d carry some sweets or clothes or sports goods to attract the children and keep them coming. But now that the children are settling in, we give sweets only at festival time".
The Aurobindo School management asked its own students to contribute their outgrown uniforms for the colony school children. Today, almost all night schoolchildren come to school in uniform. "The first lesson given was in hygiene. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the children take pride in keeping their uniforms spotlessly clean", says the Vice-Principal. Books are lent from the school library to supplement those recommended by the DPI. "The kids are taught Hindi, maths and English…they’re most interested in learning English actually," says Anuradha. Since the children are at various stages of learning, they’ve been divided into groups, on the basis of their levels of learning, somewhat like the free-progress system followed by the Aurobindo School at Pondicherry.
Surprisingly, in spite of their difficult circumstances, the children are still ready, indeed, eager to go to school. Sahil, whose father is a bricklayer, had to drop out of regular school because of the lack of funds. Twelve-year-old Ram Suresh dropped out after Class III because he felt too ashamed to go back after having failed. Thirteen-year-old Rehana and the two other Muslim girls, do attend a madarsa for religious instruction but haven’t been to a formal school because they have to sweep and cook while their parents go out to work. Rehana’s father works as a fruit- seller. Motherless Arjun’s name was struck off the rolls of a regular school when his father took him back to the village.
On his return, he just hung about the colony, not doing anything much.
"These children are familiar with deprivation, alcoholism,
violence and even crime. To motivate them to come to school is a
challenging job indeed. Still, it’s rather early and we’re going
to give it all we’ve got", says Mr Mehan.
MANY may not consider having an older man as a partner the biggest fashion statement but for the young women in Togo’s capital Lome, having an old boyfriend, provided he is rich, is the in thing.
According to a study done by the Sociology Club of the University of Lome, the only university in Togo, which has 12,000 students, 60 per cent of the 796 girls who were interviewed were proud of having boyfriends as old as their fathers. The fact that most of these men were married with children too did not bother these girls. Says Celine Modzro, a third year student of English: "I am seeing a 58-year-old man. He is married and has six children. Though I am only 23 years’ old, the fact that he is so much older or married with a family does not bother me. I am happy with him and I do not want him to leave his family and be with me."
Adds Isabelle C, a second year student of law, "I can never have a boyfriend who has the same status as me now that my needs are growing. Can someone who is a student support me with his scholarship? I don’t want him to commit small robberies in order to satisfy me so I had much rather have a boyfriend who is rich."
Most of the girls interviewed for the study maintained that having a sugar daddy (referred to as a "grotto") was a necessity since he could look after their financial needs. And these enterprising young girls are willing to try every trick in the book to find a rich boyfriend.
At the same time, the study also showed that 79 per cent of the girls who were interviewed believed that their present relationships would have a negative impact on their married life. Eightyfive per cent of the boys interviewed also believed this but the girls were clear that they did not have a choice but to find rich boyfriends and live for the moment rather than worrying about the implications of such relationships on their later married life.
These girls are also clear about the fact that they are not looking for any permanent relationships with the sugar daddies. At times these girls are also unfaithful and go out with more than one rich man to be able to make more money. "I can never get married to my boyfriend. I am fond of him but not in love with him. I am seeing him and going out with him because I need the financial support that he provides. Moreover, through him I can meet important people who will be of help when I want to find a job. So it is important that I keep my boyfriend happy," says Nina A., a student of sociology.
The old, married men too have their own point of view about having relationships with young girls. Most of them maintain that such relationships make them feel young and energetic and since they have the money to spend on these young girls, why not?
Says one such sugar daddy, "I love my wife a lot. She is good wife and mother and looks after my children and me very well. But I need to ‘renew my blood’ so I don’t mind going out with a young girl."
The young girls consider themselves ‘occasional wives’ and do not mind spending a night with their boyfriends .
The number of young girls with older boyfriends is growing. And in
some cases it is their mothers who are encouraging their daughters to
look out for rich boyfriends. Says Pape G., a student in the data
processing department at the university, "I have a boyfriend who
is my age but my mother does not approve of him. Instead, she wants me
to go steady with my brother’s friend who is much older and also a
lot richer and keeps giving me gifts. My mother likes him more because
he also gets her some gifts." (WFS)
Men doing more house work, but homes are dirtier!
study released at a social policy research conference at the University of New South Wales shows that men are doing more house work, but houses are dirtier. It is not that men clean in a slipshod way, but both men and women have cut down the number of hours they spend on
cleaning. The use of cleaners was not widespread. Between 1986-1997, women’s time on house work fell by five hours a week and that of men by two hours. This still leaves women spending about three times longer on house work than men. Men did only 31 per cent of the cooking in 1997, but this was an improvement over 1986 (20 per cent) and 1993 (28 per cent). They also did a bit more of the cleaning up after meals, cleaning the house, washing and ironing. Greater use of takeaway and pre-packaged food, and wrinkle-free clothing were of more importance in explaining the reduced hours. The study showed that while men still mow the lawns and do most of the home maintenance, the gender gap had widened in childcare. The hours women spent helping children with homework, bathing, dressing and getting them to bed had increased.
The study showed that while men still mow the lawns and do most of the home maintenance, the gender gap had widened in childcare. The hours women spent helping children with homework, bathing, dressing and getting them to bed had increased.
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