Shaheen Mistry is providing engaging supplemental education for poor children living in slums. By exposing them to schools, teachers, and educational resources generally available only to middle class Indian children, Shaheen is improving the children’s job prospects and involving middle-class schools in combating high levels of illiteracy among the urban poor.
Few would argue about the merits of education. But providing high-quality education to children living in slums, where funds and good teachers may be scarce is a difficult challenge. Even when schools thrive amid a slum, children may emerge from their classes into an environment that barely supports their dreams for a better future. To expose children from slums to different environments and improve their education and job prospects, Shaheen is creatively using the resources of schools for the middle class and other institutions. The opportunities she provides are designed to supplement what they receive in government-run schools. Shaheen’s schools, called Akanksha Centers (Akanksha means aspiration in Hindi), operate before and after regular hours in donated spaces such as private schools, colleges, corporate offices, and science centers. For a few hours each day, the children have a chance to thrive in hands-on learning environments with outstanding teaching materials and personalized instruction from trained volunteer teachers. With twenty-five centers up and running in Mumbai and Pune, Shaheen plans to spread her idea to other cities and states by sharing her experiences in tapping underused resources, organizing and training volunteers, and developing inspiring educational materials.