New Delhi: With a book in hand and an eye on the clock, Sumit, 13, knows he isn't prepared for his test. But at exactly 3pm, he runs out to the street along with other slum kids and waits for the yellow bus — his school for the next two hours.
Known as Chalta Firta School, the yellow bus is a whole school rolled into one bus.
There's a world map staring from the front window, bright alphabet charts hanging around, an LCD screen fitted at the back, the best drawings stamped A+ blinking from under the billowing curtains, chess and ludo sets preserved under the seats, water colours and sketch pens kept in flower-printed bags, a patient teacher sitting in front and 40 students giggling to themselves.
A Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and NGO Butterflies initiative, Chalta Firta School or mobile learning centre aims to persuade and prepare slum kids in the capital to join formal schools.
"The idea is if children can't go to school, let the schools come to them," Zaved Nafis Rahman, project coordinator at Butterflies, said.
On a regular day, the yellow bus gets round three colonies and stays for around two hours each. At each place, around 40 children hop on to the bus and are taken to a nearby parking place. On most days, kids sit on a mattress spread outside the bus, but on particularly hot days, they prefer the confines of the vehicle.
For one hour 45 minutes, they study a particular subject — English, Hindi, maths, social science or science. The next 15 minutes are dedicated to sports, health check-ups or art, depending on what day it is. Fridays are divided into weekly revision tests and sports. Saturday and Sunday are days off.
The children, ranging from six to 14 years, are divided into different levels depending on an assessment.
"We first identify a slum area and carry out a survey as to how many kids are not going to schools. Then we organise a meeting for parents. For kids, we usually start by showing a documentary or cartoon in our bus," said Maushmi Baruah, a teacher at Butterflies.
"Parents are initially very apprehensive. There are people who spread rumours that we'll kidnap their kids or take them somewhere," the 29-year-old said.
"There was a girl whose father forced her out of school in Class 2. We somehow persuaded him to send her to the bus. She was very sincere and intelligent and got admission in Class 5 when she joined a formal school."
Zaved says ever since the launch in 2008, they have helped 100 to 150 children each year back into school. "Some need six months, some more than a year. But most of them end up in schools," he said.
Amit Sahi is one such child. The 13-year-old son of a labourer, living near the Kalkaji temple in south Delhi, had dropped out of school in Class 3 due to negligence and ill-health.
One year back, he heard about the yellow bus from a friend and went along with him to get a free ride. It took him ten months to be ready and today he's studying in Class 5 at a government school.
Ask him what he wants to become when he grows up and, without flinching, he says "a soldier". He loves skipping, badminton and cricket, and reading English poems. His younger brother and sister are also now at school.
"These kids were very focused, a little naughty, but never missed even a single class," Maushmi said.
Amit's father Ram Vishal Sahi said: "I never tell them what to become in life. I just want them to study and decide for themselves."