Teaching is a profession very few people choose and this is causing huge problems in our country,” says Ravi Gulati, co-founder of Manzil, a non-profit organisation that provides free after-school tuitions to children from underprivileged backgrounds.
Sitting cross-legged in his small two-room apartment in Khan Market, Gulati tells us his story. After leaving his corporate job in 1996, he joined his mother Indira and her friend Geeta Chopra to start Manzil.
“We wanted to work without having to worry about setting up an NGO. In 1997, two children, who were looking for help in mathematics, came to my mother. She could not help with Class VIII mathematics, so referred them to me,” he says. At that time Gulati was already in a stage of professional transition and had some time for himself. “Nothing was planned. Manzil grew from those two children into what it is today,” he recalls.
The organisation today teaches more than 150 students. “At Manzil, we do not believe in the evaluation of knowledge. Children are assessed and guided here and everybody is a student-teacher,” he says.
Ashish, a 20-something student who teaches math at Manzil, says, “I joined Manzil when I was in school. This association of 15 years has been nothing short of a blessing. I have learned more than I have taught.”
The unique concept of ‘student-teacher’ was introduced by Gulati as soon as he started Manzil. “We are breaking down the notion that you are either a teacher or a student. We are both. It’s a role and not a position because the roles themselves are not fixed. My favourite example is from the movie Paa where the father is a son and son is the father. All of this stems from a simple idea—if I know something that you are interested to learn, then you become my student and vice versa. Why should learning be correlated with age?” he says.
Manzil has 25 student-teachers and 150 students. Here, student-teachers are not only professionals but undergraduate students also.
They come to Manzil from as far away as Faridabad, Haryana. “I asked a child why he would want to use thrice the time to travel to study here and he said, ‘Bhaiyya you suggest another place which is like Manzil and I will stop.” Ravi adds, “I am not boasting and there might be places like Manzil. But education now is driven by the sense of being evaluated, and not the sense of growth, which is not right.”
Manzil shifted to a two-room flat in Sujan Singh Park two years ago. “I’ve been associated with it for seven years. I’ve seen a lot of transition and change of addresses, but the only constant has been the swelling numbers. I joined to learn mathematics. Today I teach it and also learn English,” says Jyoti, a student-teacher.
“Let me clarify, those who come here are not students or teachers, they are students and teachers, and that is the approach we need in our education system too,” interjects Gulati. While the youngest learner is seven-years-old, there is no upper limit. “We have a father-son duo studying in the same class,” says Abby, an American volunteer who teaches English. “There is a myth that learning has an age bar. Why should the doors be shut? It’s an outdated concept. Learning is continuous, so why should we stop?” asks Gulati. At Manzil, it doesn’t.