BEENA SHETH LASHKARI

India,

Beena Lashkari is exposing slum children of ages three to eighteen to formal education and helping them stay in school. From doorstep schools to schools-on-wheels to evening schools, Beena finds creative ways to make these students' first encounter with education successful.

This profile below was prepared when Beena Sheth Lashkari was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2001.

Fellow Sketch

Bina Lashkari is educating poor children in urban areas through a first-of-its-kind, functional, non-formal curriculum that is sensitive to the children’s unique needs, backgrounds and lifestyles. Keeping in mind, the difficulties these working children face in attending school or integrating into the school system, Bina has developed new ways of providing an initial educational experience to help them with mainstream education.

Since 1989, Bina has established the Doorstep school and other educational programs in multiple areas across Mumbai to create access to basic education. Bina’s curriculum helps children learn basic reading and writing skills in context with their everyday work and activities instead of mugging blindly. It helps them identify bus numbers for commute or when somebody is cheating them. Through a non-formal and motivational teaching methodology that uses school-on-wheels, games and songs, Doorstep school facilitators and teachers create an experiential learning space where children vent their frustrations and share their thoughts. The education methodology also acts as a medium to introduce and impart awareness on subjects such as rights, health and sanitation.

Though, Bina started working with kids of 10 years of age and above, she eventually included 3 year olds in 1991, in a pre-primary education program called “Balwadi” to work on foundation education. This helped children enter school, instead, of starting work at the right age. In 1995, Bina added a formal education component while maintaining the teaching methodology and started a need assessment project with municipal schools to ease the shift to mainstream schools for working children. This helped address the high drop rate of first generation learners who couldn’t adjust. Post this, Doorstep School started a school partnership programme where they provided certain key resources like teachers. She continues to develop the curriculum and make it more comprehensive. 

Bina works both with children and their parents to ensure higher adoption and continuity of the program. She motivates and educates the children and promotes their success with the parents to make them feel proud and involved. Doorstep takes fee for every service provided for the child’s development, even if it is 50 Paise instilling ownership and responsibility in both children and parents. Till date, Doorstep has successfully enrolled more than 15,000 children into the formal education system including public and private schools. A large number of NGOs have adopted the Doorstep curriculum and the school-on-wheels concept in the last 10 years.  

Bina has been advocating for the implementation of the Early Child Education (ECE) component under the ICDS program of the Central Government Scheme. One of the program focus areas is elementary education for underprivileged children in Maharashtra through Anganwadis. Bina is currently part of the committee to develop and implement the curriculum and training programs under the ECE program in all the Anganwadis in Maharashtra. She also, worked with the Bombay municipal corporation to pass a resolution that allowed children to enroll into schools if they are accompanied by parents without having any docs. This helped the illiterate parents of the underprivileged children who had no legal documents necessary for admissions. This resolutions has been formalised across the country under the Right To Education.

Bina recently started a program, Saksham, focussing on preparing children studying in 8th- 10th Std and living in slums for competitive exams. She plans to continue improving the curriculum and the quality of existing programs while reaching out to more  municipal schools to improve the reading skill of the kids.  

Note: This was updated in February, 2014. Read on for the ELECTION profile

INTRODUCTION

Beena Lashkari is exposing slum children of ages three to eighteen to formal education and helping them stay in school. From doorstep schools to schools-on-wheels to evening schools, Beena finds creative ways to make these students' first encounter with education successful.




THE NEW IDEA

Beena is educating poor children in urban areas by establishing schools and other educational programs that are sensitive to their unique needs, backgrounds, and lifestyles. Through her Doorstep School (DSS), Beena is finding new ways to provide an initial educational experience to these children. Her goal is to have every child stay in school long enough to become literate and to earn a "Grade 5+level" certificate, essential to securing a job in the future. Beena continuously adds to her list of solutions for easy-access to education. Her most recent idea, schools-on-wheels, are classrooms in buses that reach entire communities of children outside the formal education system: street kids, children of poor construction workers, seasonal migrants, and others with no permanent address. Schools-on-wheels has already spread from Mumbai to Pune. The idea is also being considered in remote rural areas in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Rajasthan in western India.




THE PROBLEM

Ensuring that all children receive primary education continues to be challenging for India. Official studies estimate that 21 percent of all school-age children living in poorer sections of big cities are not attending school. In cities like Mumbai, with large migrant populations, children help their families by selling flowers, newspapers, and other odds and ends at traffic lights. For many children school is not an option, as the more pressing need to simply survive takes precedence. Poor children, especially those who live in slums and on the streets, face great difficulties in gaining access to basic education. Many don't have birth certificates and other official documents required to enroll in school. Social and cultural issues often keep young girls away. They are required and expected to help their families with housework and to earn a living. Simply enrolling children in school, however, does not ensure they will receive even primary education–nearly half drop out before completing the first five years. Educators' long-term solution is to build infrastructure tailored to the needs of slum children, including more state-run schools and relevant curricula. While this approach looks promising, there remains a huge need to educate poor children right now, using the best tools currently available.




THE STRATEGY

In the late 1980s, Beena began developing alternative "doorstep schools" for children in Mumbai's slum communities. Soon she expanded her program to include preschool classes for 3-year-olds. Her staff of social workers then began connecting the slum communities with the government, health departments, school authorities, and local sanitation offices to improve their living conditions. To increase access to education and to meet a broad range of needs, Beena started a school-on-wheels, or a classroom in a bus. Twice a day, the bus parks in the same spot to attract children to the school. This routine also enables DSS staff to better address the schooling needs of children in a particular area. If there is a municipal school nearby, staff members help children enroll. As many children don't have official documents like birth certificates, Beena persuaded Mumbai's municipal school officials to allow parents to accompany their children and vouch for their date of birth. This option is now available to students other than in Beena's programs, and is a major breakthrough in improving access to education. As many children cannot attend government schools, Beena looks for a site to establish a local DSS school such as an existing balwadi (non-formal education center), or in a space donated by a resident. After setting up the school, the bus moves to a new area. It has so far taken Beena between six to eight months to establish four new doorsteps schools using this strategy. "The school-on-wheels will help me fulfill my main objective of making basic education accessible to a larger number of children," says Beena, "and in keeping with the overall strategy, it also brings the school to the child's doorstep." At "parallel" schools, Beena targets drop-outs like the teenage girls whose parents are reluctant to let them travel on their own or those who work during the day. Beena recently designed a program for girls working in Mumbai's fish docks. DSS meets these girls' needs by holding evening classes and in each lane of the slums. Once a DSS "graduate" enrolls in a public school, the organization follows up and conducts study classes to guide the children through the formal school system. Beena and her staff also run a library program, for which corporations and individuals donate books to government schools' sparse libraries. Her staff reads with the children in the schools and also brings books to slum children as a door-to-door library. The Mumbai Municipal Corporation has introduced similar programs in its schools.In a major policy change, Beena has secured permission from the government for children in DSS programs to take the official mid-level certificate examinations. This breakthrough has several benefits including enabling the children to obtain government certificates valued by future employers, demonstrating the usefulness of the program to parents, and opening up several new opportunities and incentives for similar alternative education programs in Mumbai.In the long-term, Beena believes the impact and effectiveness of her programs will inspire many others working with poor children in urban areas to start similar ventures. Eventually, she envisions the government incorporating schools-on-wheels into the formal education system as an extension service. Doorstep School now runs seventeen centers in South Mumbai. Beena plans to work at the state and inter-city level to help other organizations adopt her "first encounter" approach.




THE PERSON

Though raised in a traditional business family, Beena chose to focus instead on children's rights, education, and health. She studied child psychology in college and learned about children's health at Mumbai's Nair Hospital while pursuing her Master's degree in social work. This experience showed her the "invisible" children who are overlooked by the system. Beena's interdisciplinary background also enabled her to gain support for strengthening efforts to bring children into school as early as possible, irrespective of their social and financial circumstances. In 1998, Beena set up her first Doorstep School for the children of nomadic construction workers in one slum of South Mumbai. She continues to devise new ways to fill the gaps in education for poor children, especially ensuring that every child's first school experience helps and motivates her to pursue an education.