BENGALURU: A slum in the posh Koramangala locality is home to many children who are denied basic schooling. Despite all attempts made by successive governments to enrol them in schools, the dropout rate is exponential.
The only hope of these children is their ‘Teacher’. This woman goes door-to-door, making her way through puddles, open pits and broken roads, to convince parents to keep their wards in school.
Suriya Bano is a woman with a cause. She wants every child to be literate. She won the National Award to in 2013, but she does not court publicity.
The award was given to her for her contribution in bringing Muslim children back to school, fighting many odds. In Koramangala, as she does her rounds, she scolds a parent for not sending her child to school.
Chiding and coaxing both parents and students, she has steadily increased the enrolment number at the local school.
Suriya says, “I joined the Government Urdu School, in 2006, when there were only 18 students. Most of them had come to have a good lunch under the mid-day meal scheme,” says Suriya.
“The day I joined as the principal of the school, everyone encouraged me to leave. They said that my career is over because no student comes to study here.” Suriya took that as a challenge.
She, along with her husband, went on to conduct summer camps, workshops and other activities, to attract children to school.
The very first year as the school’s principal, she started making visits to the slums to convince parents to send their children to school.
By the end of the calendar year, the results were beginning to show -- the number of students went up to 35.
Nine-year-old Saina is happy that her ‘teacher’ talked to her parents.
“I was forced to do house work and I didn’t like doing it,” she says.
By the time the academic year 2006-07 came to a close, the number of students had gone up to 65. By 2008-09, the number touched 165 and the teachers were thrilled.
In 2010, her efforts suffered a big setback when the government quarters opposite to the National Games Village in Koramangala was demolished. The children had to move from the neighbourhood and so they dropped out of school.
“The number of students at our school fell to 65,” says Suriya. “The state government is not compassionate about the needs of children.”
Hers is not an easy task. It is a tightrope between the devil and the deep sea. If the students do well, their parents move them to private schools and that is not always economically sustainable, and if they do poorly, the students are sent to madrassas.
She says, “The moment a child excels in studies parents choose private schools. The first few years in a private school is smooth, but at soon as the tuition fee goes up in the higher grades, the child is forced to quit.”
If the child performs badly, the next destination is madrassas. “Here the education does not equip them with the skills needed to survive in today’s world,” she says.
Many in the locality are also constantly looking to hire child labour for petty jobs.
“I will retire next year and will try to enrol as many students as I can till then. It is time something concrete is done about the education of these poor Muslim children,” the teacher says.