All aboard the Mumbai school bus

27 AUGUST 2015

This new video from Plan International shows how a travelling bus which doubles as a school is ensuring children in Mumbai’s slums get the education they deserve.

“We don’t have a house to live in,” says 15 year old Bharti from Mumbai, India. In the monsoon season there’s little protection from the elements, but Bharti and her family have to make do.

“I want to help make ends meet,” says Bharti. “I work in the fish market. When the work slows down, I sell lemons and chillies. If there’s no paid work, I help with domestic chores while my mother begs.”

Rapid urbanisation has led to thousands of people moving to cities in search of a better life. Many end up living in crowded slums, earning insufficient money for their needs. According to latest statistics, 41.3% of Mumbai households are slum dwellings.

With children forced to work to support their families, it leaves little time for an education. According to UNESCO, there are over 1.7 million children of primary school age who do not go to school in India.

For Bharti, however, there is hope as she now attends a school bus that visits her slum. To ensure children have the opportunity to go to school, Plan International teamed up with Door Step School in 2008 for the School on Wheels project.

School bus with a difference

“If children cannot go to school, then the school should go to them,” says Bina Lashkari, Director of Door Step School. Around 3,000 children benefit from the project every year.

Everyday a school bus pulls up at 4 locations outside the slums. Volunteer teachers hold informal education classes and encourage parents to send their children to the school bus for a couple of hours per day. 

Bharti works before and after class, but School on Wheels remains the highlight of her day. “I like coming to school. I like studying. The teacher looks after us,” she says.

During lessons, learning materials such as alphabet cards are used to teach children, while teachers use various techniques such as singing to ensure learning is enjoyable.

Lalita Raman has worked on the bus for 19 years. “About 20-25 children come to class regularly,” she says. “They feel comfortable telling me about challenges they face. I am happy I am able to do this job.”

Education matters

Education is one of the most powerful tools in breaking the cycle of poverty and forms the basis of Sustainable Development Goal Four. 

“Education is every child’s right,” says Plan International’s Global Advisor for Education, Vernor Muñoz. “At Plan International we want to ensure every child can access their right to a quality, inclusive education in a safe environment. School on Wheels demonstrates this beautifully.”

At the end of the school year, every effort is made to enrol children into further education, such as Pinky** who lives in a hut in Mumbai. Her mother encouraged her to attend School on Wheels and she is now in formal education and studying for her exams.

A brighter future

Bina is determined to ensure School on Wheels continues to flourish. Nothing gives her more hope than students who have gone on to a bright future, such as Fatima. 

“When Fatima arrived, she didn’t have a family. We gave her an education, enrolled her into formal schooling and supported her as she went to college. Now, she works for the Government and I couldn’t be prouder,” says Bina. 

“There are so many kids doing well and these stories give me strength. They remind me that education is something you can never go back on. That’s why we must continue to spread the importance of education amongst children and society.” 

**Name changed for child protection.