Virendra and Veena Gupta didn't want the poor children of their city to be left behind when their schools reopen after India's lockdown.
As the pandemic coursed throughout the world, countries went into total lockdowns. In late March, India too followed suit. This meant that the nation's schools shut down in the middle of the academic year. Now, many poorer students who relied on government-funded education have nowhere to go. Without access to digital devices like laptops or smartphones as well as the internet, their education has come to a complete halt. However, for a few dozen children in the nation's capital New Delhi, their learning continues thanks to a kind couple: Virendra and Veena Gupta. The former Indian diplomat and his wife have taken to the streets with blackboards and chalk to teach these students at a time when no one else will, the Associated Press reports.
Indian Couple Run Street-Side Classes for Poor Students https://t.co/Qt64NtR6Gg— Courthouse News (@CourthouseNews) September 21, 2020
Veena, who bought books, pencils, notebooks, and other teaching materials to set up the couple's open-air classroom under a tree in the streets of the city, said, "They don’t have access to the internet, their schools are shut and they don’t have any means to learn."
India is currently the second worst-hit country in the world, with the number of cases surging past five million. Therefore, it is unlikely that schools in Delhi, one of the epicenters for the disease, will reopen anytime soon. The kind couple's initiative is therefore a godsend for the city's street children.
From the story... Veena and her husband, Virendra Gupta, decided to go out to the street and teach the kids so they are not left behind when school reopens.https://t.co/et7uUZUMZq— TAUP (@TAUP) September 21, 2020
The students in Veena and Virendra's classes range from the ages of four to 14. They carry their book bags and walk for more than two kilometers (about a mile) from their thatched-roof huts on the banks of the Yamuna River to the couple's streetside classroom. They are taught a variety of subjects, including math, science, English, and even physical education. Of course, all the lessons are free. For Nitin Mishra, a ninth-grader in Virendra’s math class, this open-air classroom is an opportunity to keep learning even though he does not have access to a smartphone. He explained, "There is only one mobile phone in my family and it is usually with my father. I can’t study online."
The idea came to the couple when their domestic worker Dolly Sharma, who also lives on the banks of the river, complained about how children in her impoverished community were "running amok and wasting time" as their schools had closed. She said, "If they stayed at home doing nothing, they’d become drifters."
Now, the once-small classroom has grown. The Guptas teach three different groups thrice a week, both morning and evening, with the help of their driver Heera. Once the class is over, all the children get to drink lemonade and eat cookies, homemade by Veena. The couple said that teaching the children helped them feel closer to their own grandkids, who live abroad.
Veena, a singer and grandmother of three, and her husband, Virendra Gupta, decided to go out to the street of Delhi and teach the kids so they are not left behind when school reopens. #coronavirus @htTweets https://t.co/V2tx4EYA2P— HT Life&Style (@htlifeandstyle) September 21, 2020
"My father would make me spend my summer vacation learning the next year’s curriculum in advance," Virendra said of why he was inspired to start the roadside classroom. "That really boosted my confidence and made me interested in schoolwork. And that is what I am trying to do with these children, so when their school reopens, they are slightly ahead of their class."
Meanwhile, Veena hopes to recruit more volunteers who will help her run her little school. "It is not about the money that people can contribute and give, it is about their time," she stated. "They should take out a little bit of their time, an hour or so, if not every day, every alternate day, and come and help these children."