10/07/2021, 16.58
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School for poor people in Mumbai stands against the pandemic

by Nirmala Carvalho

The St Catherine of Siena School and Orphanage in Bandra provided smartphones and meals to students from families most in need. Almost a fifth of teaching positions are not filled in India while many teachers are underqualified, says UNESCO report.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Indian education hard, this according to UNESCO’s 2021 State of Education Report for India: No Teachers, No Class, which shows that Indian schools lack more than a million teachers, 19 per cent of the total, 69 per cent in rural areas.

The picture for India’s education system is far from worse when considering government data about learning outcome.

In fact, “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the role played by teachers and quality teaching in ensuring meaningful education and resilient education systems,” reads the report’s executive summary.

Despite this situation, Brother Joseph, the director of the St. Catherine of Siena School and Orphanage in Bandra, Mumbai (Maharashtra), said that his institution provides good and consistent education to poor children from the slums.

“Our school, where children from economically and socially poor families study, has suffered enormously from the pandemic,” he told AsiaNews.

“Most of the city's schools have had every opportunity to conduct classes online, while our students have struggled a lot to connect. Many of our children cannot afford even the cheapest of phones. Most of the families we work with have only one smartphone for many children.”

In a slum family, the ratio is one smartphone for four students. Usually, the eldest child has priority over the others, thus leaving the youngest ones unable to follow lessons online.

The St Catherine of Siena school was founded in 1957 by Fr Anthony Elenjimittam (this year marks the tenth anniversary of his death) in order to provide education to poor children regardless of caste, creed or social origin.

Faithful to this commitment, over the past year, the school purchased 72 new mobile phones with apps to access online education, and delivered them to parents to make it easier to access online learning.

Thanks to this initiative, most of the students can participate in the lessons.

“We visited many families in our neighbourhood during the pandemic and we realised that too many parents were struggling to feed their children,” Brother Joseph explained.

“We understood that, at that moment, the priority was not so much providing mobile phones, but guaranteeing a meal for those children.”

The school responded by offering hot meals and breakfasts to the families most in difficulty.

“I have to thank our teachers who have gone above and beyond their duty to ensure that the poorest students received their food ration every day.”

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