Every weekday, four buses head into the New Delhi slums in order to give the children of migrants, labourers, ragpickers and scavengers a chance at an education they might receive otherwise.
Each bus goes to two locations a day, installing on-board a classroom to receive about 50 children at a time basic lesson in math, body parts, English and Hindi, along with daily meals. The children are aged between 3- to 13-year-old. Some activity-based lessons are held outside.
These ‘Hope Buses’ form part of a non-profit group called TejasAsia. It is one of several grassroots initiatives in India helping to fill the education gap caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Another such initiatives delivers lessons through loudspeakers to children in rural areas. TejasAsia have been operating the mobile schools for a few years but they have become more critical since the pandemic struck, according to a project co-ordinator for the group, Ebna Edwin.
According to UNICEF, nearly 247 million Indian children from 1.5 million schools as classes have been moved online amid the repeated lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 over past year. Even children in the slums who went to regular school’s pre-pandemic, their families are often too poor to afford the phones or other devices needed to study online. For others, two hours on the bus means two hours of manual labour or scavenging the landfills with their families wasted. The national dropout rates have risen to 5.5% from 4% over the last year.