Many NGOs provide education for disadvantaged children, but Asha goes further. It motivates and encourages parents to send their children to school, and makes whole communities aware of the value of education. Asha provides textbooks, sample papers, career advice and help with university applications that make a college education an option – something that was unthinkable before.
Countless practical limitations
Most slum children go to schools where teaching standards are low and classrooms are seriously under-equipped. Often, they tell us that their classrooms may have a computer in them, but they are never allowed to touch it. Children are taught in Hindi, with English lessons perhaps once or twice a week – never often enough to gain the standard of English that could lead to good job opportunities. For older children, vital textbooks are absent, and their parents can’t afford to buy them.
For most slum families, educating their children is the last thing on their minds. Every child up to the age of 14 is entitled to free schooling, but the government schools they attend are poorly resourced and have low teaching standards. English and computing skills are barely taught, and the option of higher education remains an expensive dream. As slum children grow up, parental pressure to leave school and start work increases, and the vast majority of young people leave school by the age of 16. Among slum residents, the most common belief about higher education – or even completing school -is that it’s a waste of time and money.
The fear of not fitting in
It’s easy to understand how a child who has grown up in a slum may not even consider the prospect of university. It is not just the limitations of their government schooling, or lack of money for textbooks and admission fees. Their feelings of inadequacy, fear of mixing with their privileged middle-class counterparts, and lack of encouragement from parents and community all contribute to keeping them away.
Protecting child rights & Filling in the gaps
Children in Asha slums grow up aware of their right to an education. We help them get admitted to schools, and we explain to their parents why education is worthwhile. Older children from each slum area help the younger ones to understand their rights, and set examples that they are keen to follow.
Asha provides resource centres where slum children have much-needed opportunities to play, read and learn. All centres have computers and broadband internet, and children are encouraged to take a course in basic computer literacy. English classes – taught by permanent local teachers and sometimes enthusiastic visiting volunteers – help children grow in confidence and develop skills that narrow the gulf between them and better-off youngsters.
Encouraging dreams and calming doubts
Successfully completing schools is often a long and difficult journey for children growing up in slums. Public meetings, training sessions and visits by staff and community volunteers create community-wide awareness of the benefits of education. We hold workshops for young people in their final years of school and help them to understand their options. Family pressure to leave school is a significant obstacle for many children, so Asha staff and volunteers are skilled at explaining the advantages of further education to parents and other family members.
Removing financial barriers
No amount of excellent exam results or enthusiasm can help children whose parents are unable to pay for their college education. Asha focuses on providing individual support and counselling to students during their final years of high school, persuading parents of the value of this opportunity, and guiding students through the entire college admission process. We then award them financial aid towards college tuition and other expenses, and facilitate access to bank loans where needed. Tuition fees, clothing, travel expenses and other costs are no longer a worry for such students, and we make sure that low-interest educational loans are available to others.