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India's first signal school opens up in Mumbai
India's first signal school or signal shala has opened up in Mumbai. The school housed inside a shipping container is located under the Teen Haath Naka signal flyover in Thane. The school was formally inaugurated on June 15 this year.

Currently, 22 students are enrolled in the school. These children earlier used to beg or were engaged in selling odd merchandise at the traffic signal.

Batu Sawant, the CEO of Samarth Bharat Vyaspith (SBV) – an NGO that started India's first registered signal school meant for such children in Mumbai said, "We believe that unless we serve and uplift the last person standing in the last queue in this country, we will not be able to move towards development at any level….if you consider children who work and beg at various traffic signals in India, there aren't many people working for them. That was how the idea of this school took shape."

Batu further says, "For these kids and their parents, the signal is a place for business. They sell small items during peak traffic hours, and in the 4-5 hours in between, their parents send them to beg as well."

SBV, and NGO registered in Pune, had started eight years ago with a goal of working towards the upliftment of the underprivileged. After several months of in-depth research the NGO came up with the idea of starting this unique school. Four detailed surveys were conducted by them in different time slots at four different traffic signals in Mumbai. These surveys helped the team in determining as to how many children remained present at signals on a regular basis. After the surveys, the team members spoke to the parents of these children to find out more about their backgrounds.

Batu says, "We found that many of these people used to be farmers in rural Maharashtra and migrated to the city due to droughts. They had come here looking for a better life but ended up living and working at the signals for the past 20-25 years."

The most difficult task was that of convincing the parents and making them understand the importance of education for these kids.

Batu says with a smile, "We started more like a play school. The kids would be in class for 15 minutes or half an hour. We had to run after them, search for them at the signals, and bring them to school daily. But now they are more than willing to attend and are super enthusiastic about meeting their teachers every day."


The school created inside a remodelled goods container has an audio visual system, a library with around 200 books and provision of daily meals. The school staff includes four full-time teachers, one attendant and around 30 volunteers. Other facilities at the school also include uniforms, a playground with sea-saws and swings etc. The age group of most of the children studying at the school is between 3-8 years and they attend classes for about four hours every day.

Some of the kids who had dropped out after primary school or class 7 are given special classes so that they can prepare for their board exams in a few years. The focus of the teachers over here is not on turning every child into a doctor or engineer. Their only goal is to prepare the children so that they can earn a decent living.

The teachers at this school use software developed by Tata Technology that uses audio-visual method to impart education based on the entire SEC curriculum from classes 1 to 10.

Batu says, "It is easier to gain the attention of kids with the help of pictures and music. While initially the kids would not sit for more than 15 minutes during class, we are now able to conduct four hours of regular lessons."

The shipping container-turned classroom having a teacher's room and a toilet can accommodate up to 40 children. Modern amenities like fans and a pantry area have also been provided. The container has been made airtight as it can really get noisy under the flyover. This school and the entire initiative might be a great start but many such schools are required for making a difference.

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