Alternative learning is bridging the educational gaps among underprivileged children

September 8th is International Literacy Day – outside Government schools, alternative learning is helping underprivileged kids join the mainstream. Angarika Gogoi has more.

Padmaja Ramaswamy still remembers the day when a young man visited the Dream School, where she is a teacher. She recalled the well-dressed youth who got down from his car and walked towards her.

“He told me that he was a former student at the school,” said Ramaswamy, adding, “He was into event management and wanted to know if there were any students who would be interested to pursue a career in the field. I cannot recall his name now but seeing him come back as a successful person and offering to help other students made me extremely happy.”

Ramaswamy is a coordinator of educational programmes at the Bengaluru-based Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA), a child-rights organisation that works for the empowerment of the urban poor, especially children. Prior to becoming a coordinator, Ramaswamy taught English at APSA’s Dream School – an institute that offers alternative education to underprivileged kids to get them back into the mainstream education system.

Burden of supporting families financially

“APSA initially started out as a shelter for rag pickers and orphaned children in the city. But we slowly expanded. Some of our students wanted to have an institute for themselves and that is how the Dream School was built in 2003,” said Lakshapathi Pendyala, a social worker and founder of APSA, who has been working with slum children for over 25 years.

Empowering marginalised children, he added, is often steeped with challenges. “The environments where they live are unpleasant. For many of their parents, education is not a priority. Children are forced to take up the burden of playing economic roles to supplement the family income,” Pendyala said.

In order to provide improved learning for underprivileged kids, Ramaswamy added, there is a need for a curriculum that would aid their all-round development. As a child, she had grown up living in various parts of the country. “I had to be home-schooled sometime around the 1960s while my father was posted in a remote corner of Assam. This made me realise the importance of having schooling systems,” she said.

She further added how alternative methods of education work best to prime children living in slums for a mainstream education. “Kids of all ages and backgrounds come to the Dream School. There are several gaps in their educational history and our aim is to bridge it so they can join regular government schools,” Ramaswamy said.

The Dream School has various learning activities in addition to having a regular curriculum. To improve communication skills, the children are engaged in debates and what are called ‘just a minute’ speeches where they speak on any topic for one minute. The older children are also given vocational training.

“Our focus is on thematic learning where children are taught several concepts using one theme. To give an example, we pick a festival and teach children about its history, customs and traditions. Such learning methods facilitate community-building among children. We also teach them life skills and value education. There is a self-reflection class too where they are encouraged to speak about themselves,” said Ramaswamy.

Need for skill-based education

Pendyala also said how many of these children are extremely intelligent, in spite of their distressed socio-cultural and economic backgrounds. “If a child is naughty, we ask her or him to ‘handle’ the class. These children have great leadership skills and we simply need to nurture it. A case in point is this boy named Ravi, the child of a migrant worker, who had joined our school some years ago. Once he shifted to a government school from here, he was made the leader of its ‘Swachh Bharat’ programme. The school was later declared as the cleanest in the city. Ravi had accompanied his principal to collect the award in Delhi. When we met later, I asked Ravi how his first experience in an airplane was and he told me that it was like being in a lift,” said Pendyala, with a smile on his face.

Issac Arul Selva, editor of Slum Jagatthu, a magazine by and for slum dwellers in Karnataka, said, “The slum communities are mostly skill-based but the Indian education system fails to understand this. Children are often forced to prove themselves by performing well in exams.”

He emphasised on the importance of ‘learning from doing’. “While some kids have better memorising skills, others will learn better via practical methods. They understand by putting things into practice. It is crucial to devise a learning system by taking into consideration their cognitive abilities,” he added.

Ramaswamy also mentioned how there are several components to alternative education. “You must have heard the saying that necessity is the mother of all inventions. When the child realises that whatever is being taught to her or him is going to be of use, they become eager to learn it. We have taught child rag pickers both math and hygiene at the same time. They have shown willingness to understand both,” she said.

“Education should not be made a nightmare for children. They should not be running away from it,” Padmaja added.

(Angarika Gogoi is a Guwahati-based freelance writer and a member of, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Related Issues

  1. KPL 2018-19: Mysuru Warriors firmly on the warpath with the help of Venkatesh Prasad
  2. Murudeshwar: unspoiled spiritual beauty to reconnect with self
  3. Sandalwood’s high film release rate this year – a bane or a boon?
  4. World Rabies Day: A day for rational, not rabid thought
  5. Challenges that nurture pride in the challenged
  6. At this school every girl learns Karate; for self defence
  7. Indian Teachers: Learning life’s lessons’ the hard way
  8. Alternative learning is bridging the educational gaps among underprivileged children
  9. The new teacher – the Internet
  10. Youth Suicide: What’s pushing them over the edge?
  11. Why is it so easy to get angry and so hard to say ‘Thank You’?
  12. World Heart Day: Take heart for a healthy heart
  13. What reduced the serene Kodagu to a pile of debris and slosh?
  14. Temple Treks for adventure and spiritualism
  15. Is there spirituality in today’s relationships?
  16. Hot Air Ballooning comes to Karnataka
  17. To Sir with love
  18. GST: Good and Simple Tax?
  19. Prabhakar Kulal wins “Life on Streets” Photo Contest; Joe Gonsalves, Charmadi Hasanabba feted
  20. My 100th film will be Mahabharatha: Om Prakash
  21. Kannadiga Dr Shashikala Gurupur finds a place among 100 legal luminaries of India
  22. Coping up is thing of past, separation is in vogue!
  23. His swim to success was not without whirlpools!
  24. Fast, Fat and Foul: Karnataka’s new health scare
  25. On The Wings of a Butterfly
  26. Is it time for Kannada Multiplexes?
  27. BBMP: Record number of women corporators, but nothing has changed
  28. Tracking the death of the world’s oldest railway bridge:Kabini Bridge
  29. Ulsoor Lake: The journey from Polluted to Placid!
  30. The Big Fake Degree Bazaar: Certificates of prestigious universities are on sale in Bengaluru