Business, Economics and Jobs

School Bus Classrooms In India

On a small dirt road next to the runway of New Delhi's gleaming airport, a yellow school bus sputters to a stop. Dozens of children streak out, as teachers unroll large straw mats next to makeshift tent-like homes made of canvas. A moveable classroom appears.

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Across India, education is seen as the key to continuing the country's economic rise, and including more people in the newfound boom. India is known for turning out doctors and engineers, and opportunities abound for educated job-seekers. But for many in India, getting a quality education – or any education at all – remains a challenge. In fact, nearly half of India's children don't get past primary school.

There are many reasons for the high-dropout rate, according to Sujata Khanna of Butterflies, an educational NGO.

"Many of these children are working, whether it's working within their household, taking care of a sibling while their parents are out, or working outside and earning money for their family," Khanna said. "Or it could be that the school is too far away for them to walk."

To get kids back in school, Butterflies decided to bring the classroom directly to areas with the highest dropout rates.

The group gutted a bright yellow school bus and remade it into a mobile classroom, called the Chalta Firta School. It's equipped with a small library of books, and shelves of crayons and toys, everything a teacher might need to run a classroom.

On hot days, and when attendance overcrowds the school bus classroom, class is held outside. In one class, two teachers circle a group of 30 children, ranging in age from 6 to 14. The teachers go through a condensed lesson plan aimed at getting children ready to enroll in a formal school. They cover everything from math and science to English and yoga.

Anchan, who's 10 years old, has never been to school before. She said she likes to study in the bus. "I want my dreams to come true," she said. "I want to go to school."

Many of the families of these students have migrated from other parts of India. They work as day laborers or run small roadside tea stalls. To scratch out a living, the entire family often has to help.

Sundri and her husband came to New Delhi with their three children several years ago because there were no jobs at in their village, 50 miles from Delhi. Despite the meager living conditions, their new home is an improvement, especially for her three children, and she's looking to the mobile classroom to make sure her children won't have to do the same thing.

"My husband and I couldn't become anything," Sundri said, "but I really want my children to become something, anything. Make them anything you wish, but make sure they become something" — and that, she said, starts with going to school.