Evening schools rekindle hope

By Olivia Lyngdoh Mawlong

Phermon Khonglam is from Pynursla and works as a domestic help in the city. She wakes up at five every morning and finishes household chores so that she gets some time to study before leaving for the evening school where she studies in Class X.
Her friend Junea Syiem also has a day job to fund her education. She is planning to pursue science after matriculation.
Pretty Marsing is from Ri Bhoi and lives with her relative in Shillong. The day’s hard work is as much part of her time table as her studies. Nothing can deter her from finishing her education, she says with conviction.
Phermon, Junea and Pretty are among the numerous under-age workers in the city who are striving for a better future. In their struggle to salvage what is left of their childhood, they have the support of several evening schools run by individuals or reputed organisations.
The city has over 10 evening schools which are giving dropouts and children from poor families a second chance to join the mainstream. The schools start between 3-5 pm so that working children can attend classes at ease.
Sunday Shillong visited a few schools where principals shared inspiring stories of their students who succeeded in reaching the end of the dark tunnel following the light of education. The teachers spoke of hope and trust.

St John’s Catholic Women’s Evening School

The Seng Kynthei of the St John’s Parish in Laban started the school in 2003 with around 120 students. In the first year, 16 students appeared for the SSLC examination, out of which 13 passed. At present, there are 151 students, of whom 46 will appear for matriculation in 2020.
Principal Jane Mawkhiew joined the evening school as teacher during its inception. The 46-year-old teacher says she has a “special feeling” for the students here.
“Most students are underprivileged who cannot afford to get a chance to go to school. I feel privileged to teach them,” says Mawkhiew, who took over as principal in 2017.
Alisa Hyacinth Myrthong is an inspiration for many students in the school. Myrthong, now 34, was in the first batch of the evening school. After matriculation, she joined the school as a teacher and also helped with clerical work in the office. She continued her studies and completed B.Ed and is currently teaching in Step by Step School.
Myrthong’s association with the evening school continues. “My grandmother told me to work in the evening school but I realised that I need a proper job to help the poor. So I took up the day job. My evenings are for the underprivileged children,” she says.
Beronica Lila Rai, a former student, has completed her MA in Khasi and is a trainer at Don Bosco Technical School. She is another inspiring figure for young students like 11-year-old Pdianghun Wanniang who works as a baby-sitter to support her family in Mawkyrwat. She comes to the school in the evening.
“Sometimes I understand the lessons and at times I find them difficult. But there are subjects which I can pick up fast. I do not want to give up studying,” says the Class VI student.
Her friends, Deibormi Suchiang, David Nongrum, Edward Sangma and Rishalang Shylla want to complete at least secondary education. They like how the teachers take care of them and explain every chapter with patience.
Sixteen-year-old Deibormi’s parents, who live in Moolum village in Jaintia Hills, encourage her to go to school despite the abject poverty they live in. The young domestic help wants a better life for them and herself and “I have realised that education can help me do that”.
And the 18 teachers in the school are on a mission to change the children’s lives.
“My brother was a student of this school. I feel happy that I can help them. I will continue (to teach them) as long as I can,” says Patrick Nongkynrih, who is a mainstream teacher and is attending the evening school for the last 13 years.
David is an outspoken 17-year-old. For him, morning school hours are “impossible and tiring”. He prefers the late hours and wants to be financially independent after matriculation.
The school fee was Rs 50 in the beginning and has increased to Rs 150 over the years.

Seng Kynthei Catholic Evening School

Started in 2007, the school in Mawprem is supporting working children in the vicinity. Principal Maya Rani Kyndiah says the evening school accepts both children and adults who are keen to pursue studies.


Initially, the school was open to both boys and girls but the number of seats for male students has been restricted. Also, it does not accept students below the age of 14. “It is a matter of safety because the school hours are in the evening. The students are our responsibility and we have to ensure that they return home safely. At times, we have to counsel the guardians to convince them to send the children to school,” says 74-year-old Kyndiah.
There are around 80 students most of whom work as domestic help.
According to Kyndiah, the school encourages extra-curricular activities and sports and special days, like Christmas, are celebrated every year. The management is also contemplating introduction of vocational education. The students also go on picnic once a year.
Though most of the teachers here are volunteers, 3-4 members are given honorarium under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan’s grant-in-aid. The school supports those children who cannot pay their fees. In return, the students work harder for better results.
Juliana Wahlang (55), a teacher, says many former students of the school are doing their masters and “this is what gives us fulfilment as teachers”.

Thakurbari Evening Secondary School

Pramod Kumar Joshi, a retired teacher of Gorkha Pathshala, started the school in Mawprem in 2006 with 55 students. The despondency of the youths in the Mawprem area prompted Joshi to take up responsibility beyond his usual job.


“Poor children, both boys and girls, would get into drinking and drop out of school. Some did not even have the money for education. I would go around the locality, talk to their parents and counsel the wards. I still go from door to door and plead with parents to send their children to school,” says Joshi, who is the son of former MP DN Joshi.
Kushal Gurung is among Joshi’s students from the first batch. He says the evening school facility changed his life and now he teaches here so that he can help others like him.
The evening school runs from the building of Nepali Kanya Pathshala. There are four classrooms for 75 students. The students appear for board examinations as private candidates under category Regular 2 of MBoSE.
Joshi teaches Nepali, Hindi and Bengali and has recruited 16 teachers for other subjects like Khasi, Urdu and additional English. The teachers who come from faraway localities get Rs 1,000 a month and others get Rs 500.
The proud principal has a bagful of stories to share. He recollects how Pema Lama, a former student, became the university topper in Commerce through his perseverance. Joshi has students as old as 65, like Gyanu Lama.

She joined the school as a beginner in 2012 and is preparing for her Class VII final examination. Another student passed the matriculation when she was 50.
“I accept students from all age groups. There are women who could not continue their studies after marriage or never went to school due to financial problems. They should have the zeal to learn and that is all I need in a potential student,” said Joshi.

Catholic Women’s Evening School

The school in Laitumkhrah has been functioning for over four decades now and Principal Naomie Roy Lyngdoh has many success stories to tell.

“It was during the time when HNLC was powerful. A boy (name withheld) joined the school in Class VIII. He wanted to join HNLC but I counselled him for days. Later, he completed matriculation and he is working now. His mother came to meet us and expressed her gratitude,” recollects 75-year-old Lyngdoh, who retired as joint director of evaluation in the state board.
She talks about another former student who completed his MCom and a girl who is a nurse in Bengaluru. “These achievements keep us going despite the challenges of an evening school. I work voluntarily and my teachers get only an honorarium. But for us, to build someone’s future from the scratch is more satisfying than pecuniary benefits,” she adds.
More than 2,000 students have passed out from the school since its inception. The school collaborates with St Anthony’s College for training in computer during puja vacation.
Wailad Iakai joined the school in Class VI in 2014. She has eight siblings to support and has to work hard in the city. “Staying away from my family (in Shangpung) is hard but I have responsibilities. After I finish school, I want to go for training in tailoring so as to earn a better living,” says Wailad, who is in Class IX now.
The school is affiliated to Meghalaya Board of School Education (MBoSE) but the students appear for board examination as private candidates.

SPARK evening school

How difficult is it to put a book on those little hands which are already hardened by the daily ragpicking? “It is difficult than I thought but I am always prepared for hurdles,” says SPARK’s Shima Modak.
Modak and her small team of teachers run an evening school in Police Bazar where at least 20 children, who earn as rag-pickers, are trained for the mainstream. Many children from this school have already taken admission in mainstream schools.
Counselling the children and their parents is an important part of SPARK’s work as dropouts are aplenty. “This child is bright but she dropped out of school because her mother has given birth and she has been asked to help with household chores,” Modak points at a Class VI student. The school provides meal at least twice a week. SPARK runs two more schools on the outskirts of Shillong.

St Anthony’ HS School, Evening Section

Bishop George Rajendran Kuttinadar started the evening section of the

mainstream school in 2011 when he was the principal. There were 100 students then and the number has increased to 600 now. Classes are from Class III, a change this year from the earlier Class I as the lowest grade.
The school is housed in the same building as the morning section and has better infrastructure than other evening schools in the city. Filbert Sitkhain, supervisor, says there is no discrimination among students in these two sections. “The evening students have their extra-curricular events and they also participate in inter-school events,” he says.
Sushmita Kshir is teaching in the evening section for the last five years and has already rejected a lucrative job offer. “My job is challenging in many ways but it is satisfying too when I think about helping the less privileged children,” she said.

Challenges

The principals and the teachers of these evening schools laugh when they are asked about challenges. All admit that an evening school is “quite different from and more challenging than” a mainstream one. “Most of the students do not know English and we have to translate everything in Khasi. The student population is multilingual so we have to explain the chapters multiple times. We have to finish the curriculum in a short period of time so the pressure on both teachers and students is high,” says Kshir.
Annette J Swer of St John’s agrees that language is always a barrier. Also, with little or no primary education, students grapple with the syllabus.
“Students joining in classes VII and VIII sometimes don’t even know how to read. Sometimes we have to start from ABC. We have to translate each and every word. We have to come down to their level to make them understand. The work is so tough that sometimes we feel like giving up,” says M Kharkrang, who teaches English at Seng Kynthei Catholic school.
For individuals like Joshi and Modak, the main challenge is fund. Providing stationeries, food and snacks and paying the teachers often become difficult to manage when there are no sponsors.
“We have asked for help from almost every source but nothing has changed. It is getting difficult every day,” says Modak, adding that a Good Samaritan wanting to help the organisation can go to the SPARK Light to Lives Facebook page and get her phone number.
Joshi says no financial help has come from any quarter. “I never took money from anyone. Neither has anyone come forward to help. I had once approached the DSEO (district school education office) but I was informed that there is no scheme for evening schools. I had approached the SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) for help. Instead, it asked me to send my students to Cantonment Board school,” Joshi shakes his head in despair.
For Lyngdoh, the principal of Catholic Women’s, one of the toughest challenges is to make the children aware of their rights.
“That they are working at a minor age is itself a violation of the law. These children do not know about their rights. Some work in city households for free because the owners have promised their parents to pay for education. But evening schools do not charge more money and employers often get a good deal. I keep telling my students not to accept such conditions and demand proper salary,” informs the veteran teacher.
Lowerless Myrthong, alias Mickyjoy, is a student of Class VIII at Catholic Women’s. The 14-year-old boy from South West Khasi Hills works as a cleaner in a city hospital and is not paid for the work because the employer pays his school fee, which is Rs 200 a month. He is the eldest of five siblings and has responsibilities.
Mawkhiew, the principal of St John’s, asserts that teachers of evening schools have to be skilled and patient.
The teachers often play the role of counsellors to solve minor problems. “But when things turn worse, we seek help from the counsellor in the morning section,” says Sitkhain of St Anthony’s.
However, the long list of problems and challenges does not scare these teachers who believe it is their duty to spread the light of education. It is strenuous to attend more classes after a regular day job but “it is a social service”, they say.
“The happiness that a teacher feels when a student performs well is inexplicable. I already feel that when my students perform well in studies or other activities. Imagine how fulfilling a teacher feels when a student comes out victorious in the battle of life,” says Ferriecia R Shylla, a 23-year-old teacher at Lumparing Presbyterian Evening School.

(With inputs from Nabamita Mitra)

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