SEATTLE — “If children cannot come to school, then let’s take the school to them”. This is the motto of the Door Step School, an organization started in 1988 by Rajani Paranjpe and her former student Bina Lashkari in Mumbai, India.
In developing nations like India, making education accessible to the poor and marginalized is still a challenge. Despite the many efforts undertaken by the government, about 1.7 million children remain out of school in India. As a solution to this issue, the Door Step School group started going from door to door offering education to the poor and the marginalized.
Rajani Paranjpe: The Brain Behind This Innovative Model of Education
Rajani Paranjpe has always desired to be a change maker. She has a master’s degree in social work and more than 20 years of teaching experience. She is a retired professor who has taught at the College of Social Work in Mumbai and the Shikoku Christian University in Japan. During her teaching career, she also got involved in many social projects and felt the need to devise practical solutions to problems faced by the government in the educational sector.
The Idea of the Door Step School
During her first years as a social worker, Paranjpe started assisting the Social Service Centre at Colaba Municipal School in Mumbai with the problem of school dropouts. There, she realized that the greatest challenge was convincing families to send their children back to school so that they could complete their education. She also discovered that many children remained deprived of an education due to the needs and limitations of their families. The obstacles ranged from having to assist their parents with daily labor, taking care of younger siblings while their parents are at work, a lack of access to resources and the inability to pay for schooling.
These issues became the genesis of the Door Step School. Paranjpe’s belief was that if children could not come to school, schooling should be provided wherever they are. Paranjpe, along with a few of her colleagues and students, began by offering non-formal education to the underprivileged, conducting classes in slums, constructions sites, footpaths and railway stations.
While the organization started its work in Mumbai with just 50 out-of-school children, slowly this easy-to-access alternative schooling method garnered the attention of many who could not otherwise learn. This led to the growth of the organization and it started spreading its benefits to children in other locations as well. The organization started operating in Mumbai in 1988, and in 1993 it was able to open another branch in Pune to cater to the needs of the underprivileged there.
The initial focus was on improving literacy rates among the underprivileged. The idea was to enable children to read newspapers and books at a basic level and gradually get them interested in learning the various subjects that would contribute to their overall development. The Door Step School defined several main objectives:
• To make 100 percent literacy a reality
• To provide primary and secondary education to all children between the ages of 3 and 18
• To bridge the gap between the government and the underprivileged by improving enrollment rates in schools
• To help children get a proper birth certificate, which is a primary requirement for admission to school
• To prevent students from dropping out of schools
• To ensure the overall development of children through training and coaching
The School on Wheels
Reaching out to children and starting a class anywhere was not without challenges. In order to overcome the environmental problems of heat, rain, wind and dust and to reach as many children as possible, the organization came up with the idea of the School on Wheels.
School on Wheels is a bus that goes from place to place to conduct classes. It has a blackboard, fitted cabinets for stationery, books and toys; fans and curtained windows with students’ artwork hung on them. The bus is headed by one driver, one teacher and a roving supervisor. It can accommodate about 50 students at a time. It is one of the most convenient ways to offer education to many children in a short span of time.
Currently, it offers classes four times a day, with each class being 2.5 hours long. This pioneering initiative has helped reduce school dropout rates significantly.
The Impact of the Door Step School
The Door Step School has had a huge impact in Mumbai and Pune by changing the lives of more than 50,000 children since its inception. Currently, the projects undertaken by the organization cover a population of 235,000 impoverished children. The organization now has a team of 1,000 volunteers and teachers, and every year it transforms the lives of more than 70,000 children.
According to Paranjpe, the first generation of students who benefited from the school now ensure that the second and third generations are enrolled in school and obtain a complete education in order to achieve a brighter and secure future. The impact, therefore, is a long-lasting one. Thus, the vision of one woman is slowly bringing about a transformation in the lives of the poor in Mumbai and Pune by spreading the light of education to the darkest corners of society.
– Shruthi Nair