40-year-old Rajesh Kumar Sharma, from New Delhi, started a makeshift school under a metro bridge, where he teaches children from the city’s slums too poor to attend regular schools. He believes education is the most important weapon for India’s youth, and if they don’t have it, they are doomed for life.
Mr. Sharma is not a real teacher. He runs a general store in the city, but for two hours a day he leaves his brother in charge of the business and rushes to his improvised outdoor school, under one of Delhi’s metro bridges. If it wasn’t for Rajesh and the dozens of children who go here daily, you would never guess this is a place for education. There are no walls or desks, just the bridge acting as a protecting roof in case of rain, and three squares painted black and used as blackboards. The teacher doesn’t only provide his knowledge for free, but also all the reading and writing materials, and the rugs his students sit on during classes. The kids, aged 4 to 12, learn math and basic reading and writing, in preparation for future admission into Government schools. In fact, out of the 140 children he started the school with a little over a year ago, 70 are already attending public schools. “They still come here everyday. I manage to keep them ahead of the school curriculum,” Sharma told India Express.
Photo: Altaf Qadri/AP
Rajesh Kumar Sharma, who came to New Delhi 20 years ago, was forced to quit Business School during his third year of study, due to financial constraints, and doesn’t want to see anyone meet the same fate. So when he passed by the site of his makeshift school and saw all these poor children playing in the mud and wasting their youth instead of getting proper education, he decided to do something about it. He started arguing with parents who wanted their children to work rather than go to school, so they could support their families, and managed to persuade them education was much more valuable. “Our teacher has told us that when poverty strikes, you should open your mind, and that can be done only through education,” one of his students says. He takes no attendance, and has no school-like boundaries, which is exactly what had kids coming back every day. Even kids too young for school are allowed to attend, as Rejesh believes the experience will inspire them.
“I understand that the Government can’t build a school here right now, I am not naive, I know that. But I dream we will get a small school where all the kids who live here can study,” Rajesh says. Until that day comes, his rudimentary school will have to do.