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The Journey

THE MUSEUM SCHOOL – A Journey......

It all started on a bright sunny day in January 2005, when we accidentally met a group of ragpicker children standing at a regular bus stop for school buses in a posh residential colony in Bhopal. In tattered clothes and bare feet, the bunch of five stood watching gleeful children getting down from their school bus, and running to their waiting mothers. The only similarity between those children and them were the bags on their backs. The difference however was in the content of the bags. While one had books and tiffin in it, the other one had dirty garbage collected from the backyards of houses.

What we saw was a sparkle in their eyes as they saw their fortunate counterparts come back from school. But the innocent minds did not question the difference. They only wished... a similar life. Gathering ourselves from the situation, we followed the children to their colony to witness the contrast lives of these children. Instead of waiting mothers, there were abusing fathers to greet them and snatch away the rag bags. With the rags sold, the alcoholic fathers went to buy stuff for their happy hours, leaving the children to fend for themselves. The sparkle that we had seen in their eyes egged us to probe into the hidden wishes of the children and they screamed in unison that they wished to be policemen. When we asked them if they would like to study for that, the response was a much louder NO.

What followed thereafter was a series of questioning trying to find the real reasons behind it and what we found was the fallacies of our education system that kept these children away from education. Today’s education system has become a rote-learning manufactory designed for grinding out uniform results without any understanding and popping out degrees and certificates like popcorn. A mouthful does not get you anything, a handful is not sufficient. To top it all, it is the exorbitant costs that make higher education unaffordable for the vulnerable poor. It is not freebies but the assurance of a job or work that can attract children to education. Theoretical education is considered a waste of time that leads you to nowhere, by many in rural areas and urban slums. The faith on the education system to be able to provide jobs is dwindling.

Education is considered the foundation of the country and every individual has a fundamental right to quality education. Yet there is a huge disparity in the quality of education of a rich child and a poor child in the same city. If there is a disparity in the foundation itself, how can we dare to dream of equality in our country?

Having realised this, Organization for Awareness of Integrated Social Security (OASiS) embarked upon a mission to remove this disparity in quality of education in urban areas, identify and collaborate with different learning centres, and educate the school runaways, dropouts and the never-been-to-school ones, from the economically and academically deprived society to groom them as independent and responsible citizens.

We travelled the length and breadth of the country in search of a wholistic education model. Picking up the principles of Guru Rabindranath Tagore's 'Shantiniketan', Aurobindo Ashram's 'International Centre of Education', the Rishi Valleys, the Japanese education system and many others, we tried to design a wholistic curriculum that could groom an impoverished child into an independent and responsible citizen.

The next challenge was to bring this curriculum into practice in the best environs of learning, but without any extra infrastructure or investment, and at the same time making it the most economical for replication later. Our search finally took us to the Museums, where the treasures of knowledge lay practically unused, mostly serving as tourist attractions. Looking from the perspective of imparting knowledge, we found the exhibits and working models as powerful tools of learning, yet never used as teaching aids, and it dawned upon us 'Why can't this be the school?'.

Thus The Museum School concept was conceived. The process of bringing the concept into reality was almost similar to nurturing an embryo into a baby. Collaborating with 3 Museums in Bhopal, The Museum School (named Parvarish) was launched on 5th September 2005 with 40 ragpicker and working children from 2 slums.

The Museum School model uses the Museums as Schools,the exhibits and working models as teaching aids and collaborating with B.Ed colleges for practice teaching by B.Ed students .The model follows a curriculum designed to provide holistic education starting from behavioral changes to literacy,to academics ,physical and adolescence, and finally ending with vocational skills and entrepreneurship development .While the children are mainstreamed through the National Open School for examination and certification,The objective is to make them self-employable, confident, responsible and independent in society. The Museum School has been running successfully in Bhopal since 2005 in collaboration with five Museums :Regional Science Centre, National Museum of Mankind, State Archaeology Museum, Regional Museum of Natural History, and State Tribal Museum.

The journey that started with 40 children from two slums in Bhopal, now has reached to 200 children from Eight slums. The School runs daily in different Museums from 3pm to 5pm and classes are scheduled with different subjects right from craft, to museum based teaching, and taught by the teachers, BEd students and volunteers from different colleges. The kids enter this School when they are between 5-10 years old, and leave when they will be ready to face the outer world with confidence at 16 years of age. During their stay they move through four stages –‘Nanha’ , ‘Bachpan’ , ‘Khilen’ , and ‘Yauwan’.

What makes this school tick is its relevance to the realities faced by slum children and other street kids. It is an inescapable fact that these kids are earning members for their families, and tend to stay away from regular schools. By operating 3 pm onwards, the Museum School ensures that it does not impinge on their working hours. By taking the kids away from the slum environment, the school avoids unwanted interruptions by parents.

The Museum School challenges the child to create their own world- a world where knowledge is imparted through life skills, hand skills, social skills, environment, nature and the working models of the museums.

Education at The Museum school aims at the progress of the individual. But the basic question is what is progress? For the word progress can and does have many meanings and implications, widely differing in their content and scope. For The Museum School, a healthy and open relationship between the volunteers, staff and children is crucial, the child benefits most when this relationship is strong. Throughout the year, the children learn the joy of hand skills such as art, craft, sewing, stitching and also body movement related skills such as dance, drama and music. We lay a great emphasis on physical fitness and yoga.

Museum School concept is very different and only one in the country. Nature plays a large role in our concept, as we follow Guru Rabindranath Tagore's principle “Nature is the best Teacher”. Our children learn by asking questions. Our curriculum focuses on language, mathematics, values, life skills, academics, physical education, adolescent education and vocational education. From their entry level at the age of 5 years we work on multidisciplinary areas through which they learn first about the basic values and behavior. Subjects like science, social studies, environment studies are taught from the working models and exhibits in the museums. Looking at the world and the many challenges facing humanity today, it seems that education should respond imaginatively, creatively, radically. We feel that a truly different education lies not in structures and designing syllabus but in a radical process of questioning one’s ability in the world.

In the words of a parent Rukhsana Begum, resident of Sai Baba Nagar slum and mother of 10 children. “bache school jate hain to unka bhavishya ban jayega…”. According to her the children find it much more convenient and comfortable to go to The Museum School than their regular municipal school. At Parvarish - The Museum School the environment is much more friendly and motherly and the children find it easier to express themselves. A commendable thing about Rukhsana Begum and her family, is that in spite of having ten children they send all of them to Parvarish.

Another parent Rakesh Kumar, living in the Shyam Nagar slum says, “naam ke sath sath kam bhi Parvarish ka hi hai”. He was also overwhelmed by the personality development of his 10 year old child and said, “mere baccha jo kabhi stage par bol nahin pata tha, ab har saal function mein bolta hai”.

The road has begun, but the goal is far. Just like any innovation, The Museum School concept at the initial level was struck down by pessimists, who were convinced that it would do no good to the children. So were the illiterate parents, who related education only to school bags, books and homework. But we were determined to prove both of them wrong. We followed two radical approaches. One was to start literacy (through playful means) and education (through Museum exhibits without books) together, and the other was to make it so attractive for the child that he longs to come to school.

Today after 8 years, as we see the confident children walk the aisle onto the stage, we feel we have reached halfway to our goal. 2 children out of 200 have joined undergraduate course in Engineering, some appear every year for Std Xth and Std XIIth National Open School examinations, while some become independent with the hand skills learn at the school. As we tread the road we carved, we find other roads meeting us too. These are our partners in Bangalore, Mysore, Mumbai and Delhi who are adopting The Museum School model for educating slum children in their cities.

But all this would not happened without the relentless efforts of The Museum School teachers, the unconditional support of our sponsors and funders and the enthusiastic group of volunteers (SWANS) who have put their heart and soul into the project and have become the favorite companions of the children.

Today as we see the future, we can see the positive impact it is making on the lives of these unfortunate children, who would be the changemakers of their community. A list of 250 children waiting to be admitted to The Museum School is a true testimony of this impact. Also as our partners take the concept forward, we see a movement brewing up that would prove to the Government that quality education need not necessarily come at a price, if the resources are optimally utilized, and even the poorest slum children can have their right to quality education.


Written by: Pradeep Ghosh (President, OASiS) and Shibani Ghosh (Coordinator, The Museum School, Bhopal)