More than 90% of children of marginalized communities do not finish school. Of those, who start their school journeys and may continue even for 4 to 5 years, many do not attain even basic literacy skills.

At Muskaan, we try to bring to children meaningful experiences of formal education.. an education that would empower them as individuals, that would enable them to determine the course of their lives and contribute to a better and equitable world, for themselves, their communities and other deprived and exploited population groups.

In our journey, we initially worked with out-of-school children preparing them for mainstream education and understood what is the experience of schooling for a Pardhi child or a Gondi child. Caste and religion based discrimination blared out of school spaces, the spaces that were meant to change social realities. We began to see for clear that it does not matter to the system that there is not a single child in certain communities who has really attain anything from the formal education system. We also realized that we were sending other people’s children to a school life which was usually not a positive experience.

For about 10 years, we then tried to work with the system: strengthening government school libraries, trainings with teachers and the cluster coordinators, engaging in the classrooms for a wholesome learning experience. While embarking on this journey, we also started an alternative school by the name of ‘Jeevan Shiksha Pahal’.

With these varied experiences, our interventions take the form of –

Alternative School

The Jeevan Shiksha Pahal is an experimental school, an attempt to redefine education. Functioning from the Mitti Ka Ghar, it has become a nurturing space for children of the Gond, Pardhi, Kanjar, Dalit and Muslim communities.

They walk, play, work, talk, examine, care, question, act, sing, create, analyze, sew, express and feel as they live through this space. Children are distributed in groups as per their learning levels, so you may see a 14 year old studying with a 9 year old, or any such combination. But this is a fluid group and they may move from one group to the other during the year or sometimes, by choice of their activities.

The school is registered from Class 1 to Class 8, with the State Education Board. Currently, 160 children are enrolled here but the space is open for other children of their communities also even if they are not formally enrolled here.

Community Learning Centres

In several bastis, many children continue to be out of schools and for them, coming to Muskaan school is not an option due to the distance and timing which may not suit them. In order to ensure that the children in these areas do get an opportunity for academic school learning, we run centres for 4 hours in the bastis.

Currently, we have 8 learning centres spread across specific bastis and denotified tribal settlements.

Community Libraries

Libraries are being run in rural villages and in bastis with out-of-school youth as well as school-going children.  These are run by community fellows, youth volunteers and Muskaan facilitators. These are visited by children of all age groups as well as some adults. This platform is a space for enhancing literacy skills and also for discussions on issues that impact young people and create the world around us. More on this can be read here. (Books link)

During the covid lockdowns, library activities were expanded intensively so that there was an access to interesting written materials amidst children. Currently, we have 16 libraries reaching out to 500 people.

Residential Educational Endeavours

We strongly believe that children need to be anchored within their community roots, and recognize that residential arrangement has a risk of dislocating children. But as communities, parents and individual children struggle to make formal education a real option for themselves, we have found that residential spaces can prove to be a support.

In Muskaan, the boundaries between the community and the school are not at all rigid. Parents come here at any time they want to meet the children or may be just passing by, and similarly, children are encouraged to go back home on weekends or when their parents need them. The curriculum also has a strong connection with the community, as it is drawn from there in terms of content and language. Thus, there is a natural flow between the community and the residential space.

Our education endeavors which have a component of children staying on premises have taken different forms over the years, as per need.

  • Hostel for High School Girls
  • Hostel focusing on Pardhi youth
  • Residential Bridge Courses for out-of-school children
  • Residential Interventions in Covid Times
  • Hostel focusing on Young Girls from various denotified tribal communities

Within the hostel space, there is a community life where agricultural interventions, sports and theatre are part of the daily routine.

Early Childhood Education

The age group of 3 to 6 years is most eager for all activities and most playful. It is a necessary part of every community education intervention to engage them meaningfully, as they would either way be part of the learning space of their elder siblings. In the bastis of Bagh Mughaliya, Gandhi Nagar and Banjari Basti, local community teachers work diligently with the children, handling them with love and care.

Through various activities that include storytelling, play acting, sorting materials, puzzles, drawing, games and physical exercises, there is an effort towards development of language and expression, logic building, hand control, independence and physical development among the children.

Supporting Further Education

All the children in Muskaan are the first in their communities and families who have become part of a formal school space. We see it as our role to support them in this journey beyond our formal school.

The youth are facilitated in their academic journeys through senior classes 10th and 12th, which may be pursued through mainstream schools or would appear for the Open School Examinations.

Further college education is encouraged through counseling, supporting admissions and financial support.

We are happy that amongst the Muskaan students, there are youngsters who were the first in their localities to do Class 5 and have been persisted to acquire professional degrees to become lawyers, artists, counselors, social workers.

To realize these values and processes, we approach through the following modalities: