An article was inserted in 2002 in the Constitution of India to provide free and compulsory education of all children aged 6 to 14 as a Fundamental Right. Poverty, however, is an undeniable reality. Many families in India choose not to send their children to school due to the cost of transport, ease of access, concerns about what will be taught, and because their children could be earning money instead. According to UNESCO Out-of-School children report (published in 2015), 17.7 million children in India are estimated to be out of school.
During our tour of India we visited Gurudwara School which was established in 2006 to provide free education to children of nearby slums. They started with 12 students and were met with reluctance from families to send their children. Today they have approximately 750 students with 3000+ on the waiting list. They are a private school, funded completely by donations. They provide transport for the children, a warm meal at lunch, uniforms, and stationery. Donations also pay the teachers’ salaries.
The curriculum at Gurudwara is more aligned with ours than I would have expected, with the same amount of learning hours per day. They have reading, writing, mathematics, science (complete with a science lab), environmental or social studies, physical education, and music specialist classes. All religions are welcome here, as is the case in so many places we have visited across India. The children here are lucky to be led by a principal who truly cares, and it is heartbreaking to know that there are 3000 more who are waiting for this same opportunity just at this one school.
Another initiative having a huge impact on education in India is Akshaya Patra. This foundation is the world’s largest non-profit organisation which provides more than 1.8 million midday meals to children at 16,856 schools across India, to try and help combat classroom hunger. This kitchen is amazing to watch in action, with hot nutritious meals being made so efficiently each day.
The idea for Akshaya Patra came about after the founder saw children fighting a dog on the street for food. Through providing meals, children are encouraged to come to school, and once there, they have the energy to be able to focus on their studies. Akshaya Patra are also trying to combat attendance issues by providing sweets once a week on a random day. The children look forward to the sweets but never know what day it will be!
Everything at Akshaya Patra is highly transparent and it really is an NGO which is impacting so many children across the country. You can donate to Akshaya Patra using this link: https://www.akshayapatra.org/onlinedonations. 3 children can be fed for a whole year for just under $70NZD.
Whilst no one can argue that there are huge problems with education and nutrition in India which need to be solved, organisations such as these are constantly working on solutions and adapting to have large scale impacts. The rate of change here is phenomenal.