This is no swanky school with labs, sports fields, assembly halls, auditoriums or even AC fitted classrooms. This is a school run by Rajesh Kumar Sharma who has rechristened it as The Free School: Under the Bridge. A school where the less fortunate turn up to take lessons about life and beyond. Gaining pearls of wisdom the youngsters here either graduate to better schools or continue with their government school experience where they are usually coming from.
Many have escaped an impoverished childhood or poor living conditions to come and work on a better future. The school is quite unusual for them as it is underneath a metro bridge in east Delhi’s Shakarpur area.
Now painted with beautiful murals, the bridge was once just a wall and pillars where a board was setup for teachers to take classes.
Educating about subjects like Science, Maths, English, Hindi and Social Studies go on, while students continue to turn up in batches in this uniquely special setup.
Rajesh Kumar Sharma and his team teach hundreds of poor children who live in shacks and hutments dotting the banks of the Yamuna. Every three minutes the bridge witnesses a Metro pass over it. While the earth beneath the students rumbles for minutes, students and teachers continue classes in rapt attention.
Rajesh is a grocery store owner in Delhi’s Shakarpur area, who teaches poor children in his open-air free school for the past decade.
Not just India now the entire global community now knows of his unique initative courtesy the media. His school has got coverage in Indian and foreign media outlets.
Children have painted behind the elevated platform used by teachers in lively colours. The place is cleaned and well-wishers contributed chairs and a toilet. From 50 in 2010 the number of students has gone upto around 200 now.
Most students are born to migrant workers, labourers, rickshaw-pullers and farmers who live in shacks and hutments in the villages.
Many students in the school are registered in the nearby government-run schools, but they attend Free School’s classes for better teaching standards.
Going back in time, Sharma told the media unfulfilled dream of becoming an engineer led him to start the school. It is learnt he dropped out for poor financial condition.
Sharma teaches basic Hindi and English.
The school runs two sessions a day – two hours for boys in the morning and two hours for the 120 girls who attend in the afternoon.
Though the school does not follow a fixed syllabus and has no government approval, it achieves purpose of imparting education and building the confidence level in the children.
Sharma has 2 sons and a daughter. His elder son often volunteers at his school as a teacher. His wife, who takes care of the home used to object to his work but has become supportive now.
While education is important it is the steely resolve of men like Rajesh Kumar Sharma who inspire us to make a mark by enlightening people in the lower rung by knowledge.