Mrs. Rajani Paranjape, popularly known as Rajani Tai is the founder of the Door Step School, a non-profit organization that focuses on providing primary education for children of migrant workers.
Rajani Tai has always liked to work for and with people. So after nearly 15 years of graduation, which was also 15 years of her married life, she went back to school to get a Masters degree in Social Work. After the completion of the course and after a few years of working in the field, she joined College of Social Work Nirmala Niketan, University of Bombay, as a member of faculty. While there, she headed the Research Department and was coordinator of Angawadi supervisors’ training cell of College of Social work from 82-84. During this period she conducted and completed various studies. She has also taught at the Shikoku Christian University, Japan as a visiting professor as well as a full-time faculty member. In 1989 she conducted a study in personal capacity of 55 PMC schools. The study was commissioned by UNICEF to assess the quality of learning in PMC primary schools. She officially opened a branch of Door Step School (DSS) in Pune in 1993 and is currently managing it as a full-time volunteer.
Her amazing work is a source of inspiration to all the Vibha volunteers and supporters, who would benefit greatly her from her insight. I spoke with Rajani Tai recently about DSS and her role in its inception and growth. Following is an excerpt of the interview:
1. How did the idea of DSS come about?
I am a Social Worker by profession (MSW). I took this course because I always liked to work for and with people. So after nearly 15 years of my graduation I joined the course. This was also after 15 years of married life. After the completion of the course and a few years of working in the field I joined College of Social Work Nirmala Niketan, Mumbai, University of Bombay, as a member of faculty. I used to teach Research Methodology and Indian Social problems.
The College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan initiated ‘School Social Work’ in some of the Municipal Corporation schools in Mumbai. The program was aimed at reducing drop-outs and improving quality of education. We used to place our students for field work in these schools. As a member of faculty I used to guide some field work students placed in BMC schools.
The idea of Door Step School was a result of different exposures and experiences I had as a teacher and a researcher. It is a long process of experience of working with educationally marginalized children, getting to know the children‘s problems in attending regular school which takes more than 8 hours per day. The child is away from the family during this period which creates practical difficulties for parents whose living conditions are uncertain and poor. For example: in a given slum water supply is only from 3 to 5 in the afternoon. If there is nobody at home at that time the family will not get water. Parents go for work, so who else but a child can do this job regularly? Or a laborer working on road construction has his hut on a pavement. There is no safety as there are no doors. Who can guard the house if not a child because both the parents are working? Such experiences led to the conclusion that we must go to children provide our services as close to their house as possible.
After having the clear idea of what I wanted to do, I shared it with like-minded people one of whom was Ms. Bina Seth Lashkari who was my student for two years. She and a few others from the college joined hands with me and we founded the organization in 1988-89 in Mumbai.
We named our organization ‘Door Step School; because we go wherever the children are and start the classes right there. For example, we held classes on pavements or on road construction sites, building construction sites, outside big markets, railway stations etc.
I had conceptualized the program based on my experience and inclination. I had planned the program in such a way that all the three major problems of our public education system i.e. non-enrolment, wastage and stagnation can be addressed through them. Hence the plan was made to start four programs through Door Step School. They are Non-formal Education or literacy classes (literacy is defined as being able to read a newspaper.), Study Support Classes, Pre Primary Education, and Community Libraries.
2. Tell us about the different programs that DSS runs.
As mentioned above, we started with four programs originally i.e. Non-formal Education or literacy classes (literacy is defined as being able to read a newspaper.), Study Support Classes, Pre Primary Education, and Community Libraries. The target age group is 3-14 (although we cater to children up to 18). After working 20 years in the field the above four remain our major programs. We have added some more programs. These are:
- Reading Classes
- Project Grow with Books
- School on Wheels ( a mobile class room for children who are at such locations where there is no place for children to sit and learn e.g. a market place such as Crawford Market in Mumbai where working children are found)
- School Transport Facility
- School enrolment and getting age certificates done and helping children appear for external exams conducted by local municipal Corporations
- Training of the teachers and other functionaries
- Production of teaching aids including publication of graded books to help children learn and improve reading skills
3. What are the biggest challenges DSS faces with educating children of migrant workers? How does DSS address these challenges?
Initially, we did not face many major challenges as such. I think the following factors helped us in our smooth functioning
- All of us who started the program were professional social workers and were in the field of social work for some time before we started an organization.
- The field we have selected is relatively simple, the work is primarily developmental,
- The time was ripe for such activities and
- We had a very focused approach with clear plan in front of us.
However, after we started working with construction laborers’ children as our major target group we faced the challenge of tracking them when they moved from one site to another. Over the years, we put in several measures (stated below) to track these children and we continue to work on finding more effective ways each year.
- Self Addressed Post Cards
Keeping track of these children is always a problem. We have been trying out different ways of doing so. For example, few years back we had given all our students self-addressed post cards and requested the parents to post those back to us stating their new location when they moved. This experiment was a failure as almost nobody sent the post card back. Disheartened, we discontinued the distribution of post cards.
- Seeking Help of Labor Contract
We then concentrated on developing relationship with the concerned labor contractors, who we were informed were the only ones who could tell us about the movement of the labor teams. The relationship worked fine so long as we were in direct contact with them. But once the teams moved out of the site that we were working on, the contractors would just refuse to take our calls, thanks to the facilities like the display of caller ID. So, that channel was also closed and we were left guessing where our children could have gone. The builders or site supervisors etc. are of no help in this matter.
- Teaching Children to Call us from the new location
We then thought of actively training the children to call us from the new location and give us the address of the place they have shifted to. The training is mainly about how to tell the address and the landmarks of the location they are in or tell us the number of the telephone booth they are calling us from. We receive quite a few calls from the children. This year, 68 children called us and we could help 58 children to get admitted to the school in their new locality. The most important point to note is that in most of the cases we only guided the parents on phone and they did the rest and gave us the feedback.
- Distribution of “My Book”
“My Book”, is a specially designed book for children to take home and take with them wherever they go. The purpose of distributing the book is to make children, and mainly their parents, more independent regarding school admissions. The book contains the child’s name and photograph and other personal details such as age and height. There are pages where the child can draw and paint and do other fun activities. The most significant pages are the ones on which we stick a copy of the child’s age certificate, his progress report and most importantly the area wise list of phone numbers of all the “Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan” (Education for All) centers all over the city of Pune. We obtained this list from the Pune Municipal Corporation and we are thankful to them for making it available to us. The book is distributed during the parent’s meeting explaining them its use and purpose. We explain to them that even if they could not read the phone numbers, they can show the book to somebody on the site and get the required information and do the follow-up. Parents seem very pleased to receive the book and some of them even offered to get the photos of their children.
- Tracking of children by teachers
In addition to encouraging children to call us, this year, our teachers were also asked to contact the children based on the contact numbers provided by the children / parents at the time of enrolment. This year, of a total of 1782 children who migrated, the contact numbers of 298 were available and 110 children could be reached. Out of these children 98 were re-enrolled in DSS or a nearby school. This is a positive development in our efforts to track down children. The challenges we face are the change of mobile numbers on relocation and incorrect numbers provided by the parents. We are working on addressing these issues to be able to reach out to as many children as possible.
- Parents Meeting
As mentioned earlier, we conduct regular meetings with parents to keep them informed of their child’s progress. We want to extend this interaction with parents to be able to monitor movement of migrated children to ensure continuity of education, by issuing them school-leaving certificates and assisting their enrolment at the new sites.
4. How many children attend DSS programs?
Today our Pune branch alone covers nearly 50,000 children. Mumbai also covers about 12,000 children. So, together we are directly in touch with more than 62,000 children.
5. Are these children prepared enough to shift to mainstream schools if they opt to?
Our main goal is to main stream as many children as possible. Last 3 years we have been the winners of the award for NGO dong the highest school enrolment in Pune.
6. How do you measure the effectiveness of your programs?
There are two main indicators i.e. attendance and performance of children as against the number of days of attendance. We maintain regular record of both these aspects and assess our performance. More importantly, there is the impact that we have made in the lives of children that we have touched, though it is not always perceptible or measurable. It is like sowing seeds. We may or may not get the fruit immediately but the effort is not wasted. Some of our children have completed education and doing well in life. Some have left the education in between and continued with their life as it was. It is their children who will benefit from the exposure we have given to their parents. We experience this and we have ample examples to show that a child who was with us even for a short time has nurtured a dream of sending his children to school and acts upon it when the time comes. We see this change in the attitude of ‘parents’ as our major gain. It shows that the root of education has struck in the family and now we do not have to worry. It will snowball.
7. How does DSS sustain itself?
We receive donations from individual donors, we write grants and get support from different funding organizations like Vibha foundations of different corporate companies, government support as well
8. Do you have any message for our supporters?
Thank you for supporting us. We know that it is your hard-earned money which you have trusted us with and we assure you that we will do our best to use it judiciously for the purpose for which it is given to us.