Bheem Pathshala: a school of hope
A resident of Pandari village in Banda district is trying to change the fate of its people through education.
Raju Rahi managed to get educated and rise above the circumstances around him. But he knew he got lucky. In Pandari village of Banda district, there is still little to nothing by way of education, even after all these years. After waiting and watching, and knowing first-hand how education can change one’s life, Raju decided to take matters in his own hand. And so, he brought together other inspired teachers to open Pandari’s first education center that teaches kids from nursery to class eight, absolutely free. It’s called Bheem Pathshala.
Bheem Pathshala is as inspiring in its mission as the personality from whom it borrows its name. In a village where generations have never really considered education an option, it has brought free education to their doorstep. Raju Rahi got the idea for the school once he completed his education and realized what it did for him. As an educator himself, he has dedicated his life to ensuring that no one would go without basic education, if he can help it.
The modest sized classroom of Bheem Pathshala has little by way of a typical classroom. The walls are mostly bare, there is no furniture and kids of all ages sit together to study. But in every other way Bheem Pathshala is like every other class room. Hushed discussions, ardent efforts and fleeting lapse of concentration fill the air. Rows upon rows of children sit comfortably on the floor, smartly arranging themselves so that they are seated close to their learning levels. Raju bends down to explain something to one group and then moves to another, a younger group. The classroom is full and more children keep joining them daily. Manoj, a parent, credits the high level of teaching of Bheem Pathshala for its success. His children have now been going for a month. “They have been going to the government school. They are in class 1 but Bheem Pathshala is just different. It’s better.”
Pandari is a dot in a region that is already far behind. Bundelkhand’s literacy rates is one of the worst in the country at a 69%. In some areas more than half the population would be without any literacy skills. Its urbanization rate is also one of the poorest at a 22.4%. Between 2000 and 2011, the urbanization rate grew from 22% to 22.4%. The people of Bundelkhand have never really considered education an option because development, or any tangible change has been close to nil for decades. In Pandari, the families sent their children to the nearby government school, where they were given their mid-day meal and sent back home. Raju knew it would not be easy to get guardians and parents to send their children to another school. So he got together a group of like-minded educators from Bahujan and SC/ST community to go door to door. They explained the concept to almost every family with a school-going child in Pandari.
“We asked them to send their kids after school, the time when the kids were doing nothing. After 7 to 9 AM and 3 to 6 PM. And we told them that we will take lesser time and we will teach your kids better. And all for free.”
Shivkali, a guardian from the village, finds the scheme to have worked very well. “The children used to just roam around during school hours. Now after school all of them go to Bheem Pathshala, and they are actually learning something there. And the fact that it is free, means parents can avail of this opportunity easily.”
Raju’s enthusiasm is catching. “All of us involved in this, from the Bahujan and SC/ST community, we are doing this to kindle a passion for education in their hearts. Since I became a teacher, and read the works of great thinkers like Baba saheb and Phule ji, I have been inspired to do my bit for my community. And I want to do it through education.”
From nursery to class 8, children of all ages come together to sit and learn math, English, hindi and their history. “A large part of why I started this school was because I realized Bahujan history was never included in the main course books. Nobody was taught the constitution and about the great Bahujan leaders and thinkers. I want to impart that knowledge to the children so that they know what they can be capable of.” Raju says.
Shivam, a student of Bheem Pathshala, agrees that what he learns in Bheem Pathshala is more than just what is taught in his school. “We are taught every subject, and everything is explained properly.” Neeraj, another student, rattles off all that he has learnt here. ‘Multiplication tables, good handwriting, ABCD, Hindi.” When asked if he likes studying here, he nods shyly and answers in the affirmative.
“Because for thousands of years, the poor have been kept far away from education. We are here to educate poor, underprivileged children for free. That is the only way forward for everyone.” Raju sums up. The steps are small but the impact can be life-changing for the children of Pandari. Thanks to Raju Rahi and his band of teachers and educators, Bheem Pathshala has become the beacon of hope for children and a way to dream of a better future.