Night school and college students juggle work and studies to earn a secure and good living. Sanchayan Bhattacharjee spots the pros and cons of this alternate education system.
Like most working people, Amit Meharkar`s day ends at around 6 pm. However, unlike most of them, the 22-year old has to rush from Santacruz to Parel so as to not be late for his 6.30 pm lecture at the DK Tope College of Arts and Commerce. "Although my degree is not related to my job, it will help me gain credibility when I start my own hardware business," says Meharkar, who is a computer hardware service trainee in the day and a final year Bachelor of Arts (BA) student by the night.
Twenty-one-year old Kiran Yadav from Satara in Western Maharashtra dropped out of his regular school because his teacher would beat him up almost every day. Yadav, moved to Mumbai and took up a job as a housekeeper at the Worli Police Camp. He took admission to a college affiliated to the Gokhale Education Society College, Parel to complete his studies. “I decided to continue with my studies because I realised that high paying jobs need certain qualifications,” says the Class XI (Arts) student. He will soon start preparing for the state and central civil service examinations.
Age is definitely not a barrier when it comes to studying in a night college. Pravin Dalvi, 37, for instance, passed his Class X exams in 2013 from Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Night School in Worli. Due to peer pressure, Dalvi, dropped out of the school in 1991 and set up a wedding decoration business. Soon he realised that he could not communicate well with non-Marathi speaking customers. “I realised that I could not expand my business without education. So instead of depending on others, I decided to complete my college education and then do a professional business course," says Dalvi who subsequently signed up at a city college.
A number of girls also attend night colleges. However, late hours are still an issue where girls are concerned. "I help my mother who is often ill with all the daily chores. She wants me to become a teacher,” says Rupali Pendhari, who is doing her first year commerce. According to her, language is not a barrier in night colleges. Though most lectures are in English, teachers always switch to Hindi or Marathi whenever the need arises.
Ankush Jagdale, who has been associated with night schools for 34 years, first as a teacher and then as headmaster says, "Since their education is need based, these students are self-motivated to learn. They do not have coaching classes and also do not expect their parents to take interest in their studies after working for 12-13 hours a day. They realise the importance of education very quickly”.
While dropout and underprivileged youth are making most of this education system, it has its own share of problems. "Most of them have worked since childhood and don`t have a solid language base. So it becomes difficult to evoke interest about a subject. Out of 100 students, only 30-40 can write or read English,” says Pramod Dengle, who teaches communication skills at DK Tope College of Arts and Commerce.
Teachers try to schedule as many extra lectures as possible to get around this problem. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) like Masoom try to address the issue through various initiatives like bridge courses wherein Class VIII and IX students are taught basic concepts almost a month before the school begins so that they can cope with the school work. “For English, we often start with basic alphabets, vowels, consonants etc. We also teach them simple two digit mathematical operations so that it becomes easier to deal with more advanced chapters in school,” says Nikita Ketkar, founder and CEO, Masoom which works with 30 night schools in the city. She also mentions the need for training programmes for night schools teachers.
According to Jagdale, night schools and colleges have been neglected by the government and the society for many years. “When I started teaching, I used to be paid Rs 80 per month. At least now the government gives decent salaries to teachers so that it is possible for some of them to not have supplementary jobs”, he says. According to him, out of 190 night schools in Maharashtra, more than 100 are in Mumbai which means that there is lot of work to be done in other parts of the state. Ketkar agrees that all stakeholders must take more responsibility. She says, “Human development is possible only with a formal education system. We must realise that these institutions cater to students who would otherwise remain uneducated and may even be involved in anti-social activities”.
Despite hurdles, night schools and colleges continue to deliver service to those in need for education and better living. Suyash Nahadik`s BCom degree from a night college in the city got him a promotion and a salary raise of almost Rs 2000 at his job in an import/ export company. He started working in 2008 as his father`s salary was not enough to sustain the family and educate his siblings. "I never expected to be a graduate. Today, I often visit my college after work and talk to the teachers and my juniors," signs off Nahadik.