Lights off at Mumbai's night schools

19 night schools shut in two years; authorities blame lack of demand on popularity of English medium schools and RTE

It’s 6.30 pm and, while the work day has ended for most Mumbaikars, at the St Xavier’s High School campus, the action has just begun. In a classroom on the second floor in the 146-year-old school, 10 students take notes from their English teacher. Among them is 36-year-old Ravindra Pawar, seated on the second bench.

St Xavier’s High School at Dhobi Talao has had a night school on its campus for 58 years, and now houses 132 students. Pics/Atul Kamble
St Xavier’s High School at Dhobi Talao has had a night school on its campus for 58 years, and now houses 132 students. Pics/Atul Kamble

“I know I am much older than my classmates,” he smiles. “But, no one is judging anyone here.” Pawar, who works at a garment shop, enrolled here four years ago, when he decided he wished to change the course of his life. A drug addict at 14, Pawar turned to burglary to fend for himself, which resulted in a stint in jail.

36-year-old Ravindra Pawar says education has proved therapeutic
36-year-old Ravindra Pawar says education has proved therapeutic

“That was my lowest point. Coming back to school has proven therapeutic,” says the Std VIII student in broken English. For many like Pawar his classmates are a motley group; one among them is a tea vendor, another a runaway who wants to support his family night schools are where they find redemption from poor decisions or difficult circumstances.

Lasya Rathore, 22, quit an old job to find one that would allow her to reach school by 6.30 pm
Lasya Rathore, 22, quit an old job to find one that would allow her to reach school by 6.30 pm

At present, over 18,000 students are studying across 132 night schools in Mumbai. Yet, in the last two years alone, 19 night schools across Mumbai have shut down. L P Mishra, managing trustee of Malad’s Shri Shanti Niketan Night High School, puts it down to an increase in demand for English-medium schools.

“Until five years ago, we used to cater to about 300 students in six classes. Today, the number is less than 170. With a dropout rate of 29.4 per cent, by the time these students reach Std X, barely 120 appear for SSC,” adds Mishra, whose school teaches in Hindi and Marathi.

B B Chavan, south zone education inspector, adds that the Right To Education Act has also eaten into the night school audience. “Parents now have the option of offering their kids free education in a nearby English medium school, so why wait for a night school?”

Schools with a cause
Often, night schools cater to a section of society that can’t access a regular school. “We get applications from students who don’t even have an address. Some give names of stores or streets as their address,” says Ajit Dave, principal of St Xavier’s Night High School.

One such student is 22-year-old Dashrat Sonawane, who stays at ‘NCPA, Nariman Point’, Sonawane, who works at his father’s tea-stall along the promenade, says, “I wanted to complete my education, which is why I am here.”

While the monthly fee structure is fairly simple Std V fee is Rs 5, Std VI is Rs 6, and so on the teachers often find themselves shelling out money for street children who have no money to pay up.

Lasya Rathore, 22, who left her hometown in Karnataka two years ago, quit her previous job to accommodate her schools hours. “My class begins at 6.30 pm, and my former boss wouldn’t let me leave until 7.30 pm,” adds the Std V student.

The schools are facing a staff crunch. “We have 10 teachers although we need 12. A High Court stay on hiring new teachers is on across government schools, so we can’t hope to get more staff,” says a senior staff member at a Byculla night school.

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