Anubhav Shiksha Kendra (ask) is her dream project aimed at bringing quality education to disadvantaged children through afternoon school. Based on community participation, it is a slum children's school with a difference. Housed in the dps school building itself, ask is facilitated by the existing strengths of the school, with a network of resources involving the community members, students and families of dps and ask. "The school is really a prototype which, if successful, can be replicated as a model for elementary education through community participation in schools all over India," says Chona.
The guiding philosophy behind the Kendra is that a person cannot remain immune to his surroundings. And by uplifting the neighbourhood through access to quality education, you are in fact making it a safer place for yourself. "Denial of opportunity is the worst crime of all," points out Chona. The school strongly stresses on recognition of social responsibility and endeavours to fulfil the same. From 1.30 pm to 4.30 pm, five days a week, ask puts into practice a curriculum which has a special focus on developing life skills, is designed by Chona herself and is contextual, flexible and teaches at a pace based on the readiness of the learner. "This was a issue very close to her heart and we began the school on 5th April '99 with a set of 500 students from the nearby slums, with classes from entry level to the fifth standard," says Renu Mittal, director, Education Management Centre.
The education is not free, every family has to pay a token fee of Rs 100 per month for the first child enrolled. The school provides the books and is planning to provide the uniform and a meal during the day. "We wanted the families to know that nothing comes free and that every birth is a responsibility," adds Chona. At present the area covered by the school is limited to its neighbourhood, but a bus is being organised in the near future. The kids will be helped to join other mainstream schools or to continue studying as National Open School students after class VIII. Some gifted and talented ones will be chosen to study at the dps, R.K.Puram. It is difficult to figure out who is more excited about this new school-the students or their parents. Some parents expressed their willingness to come and study alongside their children! And five year-old Kavita is quite upset that schools closed earlier this year: "I like school better than home," she says.
Interestingly, many teachers of the school themselves are residents of the slums. "We did not want to break the connection, and this was another way of providing them employment," says Renu Mittal. The concept of parents as partners has really been applied in this school, and is its biggest strength. The parents, whether it is the ceo of a big organisation, or a grandmother living close by, all have participated with their time, funds and expertise to help ask take off. "We have actually been successful in bringing together socially conscious people who want to give something back to society," explains Chona.
The project is well on its way and has also attracted foreign and corporate funding. A Japanese delegation which recently visited the school has pledged some funds, as has the Coca Cola Foundation. ask is expecting some additional funds from France too. Whether ask will be used as a model in other schools is a matter of will and vision-"I'm just a principal of a school, let others decide if they want to replicate the project," says Chona.