Now Reading
Play School

Play School

Manzil, an alternative school in Delhi, has transformed the lives of thousands of children, reports NEHA DIXIT
EVERY AFTERNOON, an unlikely group of visitors makes its way through the crowds of shoppers that throng Delhi’s Khan Market dotted with flamboyant art studios, designer boutiques, salons and eating joints. Their destination is equally unlikely, but aptly named — Manzil, an alternative school for children of domestic workers, cooks, barbers, electricians and drivers, located in the heart of the capital’s most fashionable hangout area.
It all started when two young boys, Hemant and Pramod, approached a young man seeking his help with their school Math. The man they approached, Ravi Gulati, was an IIM-Ahmedabad graduate who was then contemplating a life as an organic farmer in a remote hill village. “Ten minutes with the children unraveled their sketchy understanding of numbers. They had been dumbed down by how they were taught at school,” recalls Gulati.
He started taking tuitions for the two kids, and slowly more students started pouring in. In an attempt to “carry everyone along,” a separate class was started where Hemant started teaching others what he had been taught. It was this early experience that eventually led to the formation of Manzil in 1996.
Till now, over 3,000 children have discovered here that real education must have tangible, practical benefits, and has little to do with learning by rote, examinations and securing pass marks. Anyone is free to walk in, and not surprisingly, today the school has more than 100 regular students, ranging from ages six to 18.
At Manzil, traditional subjects have been blissfully ignored in favour of subjects with concrete utilitarian benefits, such as maths, computers, web design and most importantly, English — the most potent tool for anyone aspiring for a job in today’s competitive marketplace. At the same time, subjects that traditionally relegated to the second place by conventional schools as ‘soft’ — music, filmmaking, theater — are given equal importance in the curriculum.
The case of 19-year-old Aneesh, who came to Manzil seven years back with an ardent desire to learn spoken English, is typical of the transformation the school effects on its students. “Earlier, even though I scored ninety percent marks in English, I did not really understand it because all I used to do was mug up answers before exams,” he says, speaking in fluent English. With the liberty to throw away textbooks and chit-chat about anything in the language that caught his attention, classes at Manzil held his interest long enough to rapidly improve his grip on the language.
It is this unique instructional model, which also encourages students to be learners and teachers at the same time, that really distinguishes Manzil from most schools. While the elder ones teach the younger ones conventional subjects, the younger ones are free to reverse the tide by teaching them how to act or sing.
WITH NEW students joining almost everyday, a versatile pool of bubbling talents came together to form the Manzil rock band and a theatre group. These children, who take offence on being called ‘underprivileged’, are now regular performers at the elite environs of the India Habitat Centre, bringing attention to child labour, poverty and unequal opportunities — issues that have perennially distressed their own lives. So painfully honest and realistic were their efforts that it attracted the attention of a theatre veteran like Barry John, who volunteered his time to help them sharpen their skills.
Their artistic concerns are not merely cathartic or instructional in nature. The children have made various trips to remote areas of the country like Kutch in Gujarat to do their bit for the 2001 Earthquake victims, to an Adivasi area in Madhya Pradesh, where they stayed with farmers facing displacement due to the Sardar Sarovar dam, and to Ladakh to learn the benefits of using solar energy.
When asked about how he manages to meet the expenses for running the school, Gulati says, “For six years in a row, we were able to claim, perhaps not entirely accurately, that it takes no money to run Manzil. Renting out the shop that my father used to run when he was alive, coupled with an old habit of keeping our personal expenses low, allows us this luxury.”
The school’s reins have now been handed over to its students – both former and present ones. Says Gulati, “I am completely out of it. Aneesh, along with other students run the place. It’s their call, to the extent that even I follow what they etch out for everyone.” •
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 26, Dated July 05, 2008
View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© 2019 Issue Magazine Wordpress Theme. All Rights Reserved.

Scroll To Top