An alley separates Kajal’s house from the Remedial Education Centre (REC), run by World Vision India. Kajal, 11, and the other children take turns reciting the timetable. Their sound echoes in the alley outside.
When Kajal first attended the REC in October 2021, she had no friends. During the COVID-19 lockdown, she dropped out of school. She was in the fifth standard then. The REC teacher Vrishti had a very vivid image of her. “When she first came to class, she didn’t know how to write her name though she was in the 5th standard. In school, they just get promoted at the end of the year,” Vrishti says.
Kajal was poor at her studies. She could not follow the lessons taught at school, and she could not read on her own at home. Her parents could not help either, as they were illiterate. Her father, Munish, works as a daily wage labourer, and her mother, Reetu, is a homemaker. The family moved into a 10×10 ft. one-room apartment from a neighbouring state, Uttar Pradesh. Kajal’s older brother Raja, 14, is in the 9th standard. Her younger sister, Khushi, is nine months old.
For Kajal, her learning impairment was just half of the problems. Students in school made fun of Khushi’s appearance. That left a scar on her mind, and she was afraid of going to school. “Children in school and the community called me Kali (She who is black). I had no friends anywhere. I didn’t like going to school,” Kajal says.
Attending REC classes transformed Khushi’s life. She had no friends in the community and expected the same hostile treatment even at REC. But the truth couldn’t be further away. She found a safe place in the REC. “She came in dressed shabbily. She is not from a well-to-do family. Children made fun of her appearance and skin colour. Her confidence and self-esteem were very low. I taught her how to take care of herself. She began to dress cleaner too. She has made a few friends here,” Vrishti says.
In 5 months, she learned to write her name and all her family members’ names too. She learned the alphabet, timetable, addition and subtractions, and basic reading skills. At the REC centre, children are taught Hindi and Maths.
For the first time, Kajal enjoys learning and she has been accepted by other children at the other students. She attends the REC with around 30 other children. “Nobody makes fun of me at the centre. Mam gives us assignments and we just work on it,” Kajal says.
Kajal stands in front of the class and recites the timetable. This was unimaginable a few months back. The love and encouragement she gets from her teacher and classmates have nursed and built back her confidence. She loves activity-based learning and storytelling too.
The Remedial Education Centre (REC) Model is an innovative approach and community-led process that seeks to ensure learning support to all children of age 6-11 years in the community to inculcate basic knowledge about reading, writing, & math, and life skills. This model emphasizes access to quality education and attains age-appropriate learning outcomes, and also develops essential life skills & values; so that they are mainstreamed into the public education system. At the moment, 14875 children are covered under REC across India.
In March 2022, as the new academic session in Delhi opened, she appeared for an oral entrance test and was admitted to the seventh standard at a government school. She returned to school completely a different person. “Mam Vrishti told me to go back to school and even talked to my mother,” Kajal says.
Kajal’s father works the night shift at the metro construction site. The family lives on a tight budget as he is the only earning member of the family. Munish and Reetu want their children to do better than them, but they don’t impose anything on them. “We just want them to get a good education and do whatever they want,” Neetu says.
They are happy that Kajal is back in school. Kajal has reset her goals and dreams. since she re-enrolled in school. She has made new friends at school too. “Other students don’t make fun of me anymore, and I enjoy learning more as I understand the lessons,” Kajal says.
Vrishti believes that Kajal’s transformation in her appearance and her newfound confidence is the reason for the change in the treatment Kajal receives. “She looks much cleaner and smarter,” Vrishti says.
Kajal has found her way back to school. And this time in a much happier setting. “I want to be a doctor,” she says.