Much before the Indian parliament promulgated the Right to Education Act (RTE) in 2009 that guaranteed education to all a committed local teacher had already pioneered the idea of making school access a reality for hundreds of underprivileged children, irrespective of their social status or economic background.
Meet Lakshmi Kaul, the unassuming woman, originally Lakshmi Krishnamurthy from Kerala, who is not only responsible for imparting good education to hundreds of children of housemaids, drivers, office boys and other low-income families but also ensuring that there is no discrimination against them at school.
In the heart of the city, in Indiranagar neighbourhood, Kaul runs a school named K K Academy where children of professionals like chartered accountants, doctors, lawyers and the rich mingle with the poorest. Kaul found this school in 1989 as a place where her daughter could take the formative steps in primary education.
“Schools at that time too were very expensive and out of reach for the poor sections. So it struck me and my husband (Arvind Kaul) one day that why shouldn’t we start a school of our own,” Kaul told IANS while reminiscing how that seed of an idea has now grown into a full grown tree.
An IIM-Bangalore graduate of early 1980s who worked in Indian Telephone Industries, Bangalore, Kaul narrates how she decided to take a break from the “maddening corporate world” and do “something more meaningful and fruitful”.
The school started with a skeletal staff and five children in a garage of their house. Soon, students were coming in droves, largely owing to its affordability and accessibility and the couple purchased a house a few hundred metres away from their own.
“As management professionals, we realized that while goals were good but they had their own pressures…something that our sorted out minds were not ready to be ambushed with,” she says with a chuckle while recalling how she and her husband decided to go full throttle, purging their own domestic expenses and giving “our best shot to the school”.
The school has grown manifold since then and has a 3,250-plus strength now and has classes from first to seventh standard.
“Our core belief is that quality education should be accessible to children from all backgrounds, irrespective of caste, creed, religion, special needs or economic background” Kaul says while adding how the school has very often had instances of the saheb’s (master’s) child studying in the same class as her family’s driver.
“These have been true case studies of seamless integration. We have not had any complaints from parents or children; those who don’t ascribe to this concept of equal opportunity probably choose to send their children to more cosmetically fancy schools,” a teacher adds.
“I have never seen children making comparisons based on family background. As a matter of fact, I have seen them being extremely supportive and mindful. A large part of the credit for this goes to the teachers, who do not differentiate and do not tolerate any kind of bias. Children very much follow this lead,” the founder says.
In the year 2011, the school instituted an annual award for the graduating class, in the memory of a dear professor from IIM, Dr G.K.Valecha. The selection was based on academic progress, leadership qualities, innate desire for learning and interaction with students and teachers. It has been five years now. The recipients of this award in four years have been children whose education the school is supporting.
Many of its former students of this school are now working for multinational companies and are successful in their own spheres, she informs.
“A large number of them have gone on to study science, and then engineering. Also commerce and law. They have gone on to become lawyers, chartered accountants, teachers, engineers, bankers, IT professionals and even a published author. They are supporting their families and are role models to many others in their communities,” she said.
In this year’s Class X CBSE Board, Hritik Verma, the school maid’s grandson scored 93 per cent marks and Harsh Kanaujiya, a driver’s son, scored 91 per cent.
“Both studied till Class VIII in our school.”
In the ICSC Board exam, Kabir Ali, whose father is a tailor, scored 92 per cent, she adds.
Through generous help off and on from her IIM batchmates who are now at powerful positions in the corporate world, the school has managed to operate with a modest fee and no re-admission fee.
Lakshmi happily informs that the school now has a computer lab, many tablet computers for the children and a library that has a decent collection.
An alumni, who long ago studied at the school and is now working for an IT-major recently visited the school along with his girlfriend.
“I was touched when the boy told me that he wanted his would-be-wife to first meet me and then his parents,” says a nostalgic and emotional Kaul.
Phoolmati, the aging ‘aayaa’ (maid) working at the school, had three of her grandchildren study here and they are now up with good schools for their higher education.
Chirpy as a child she informs, between motherly requests to allow her to make some coffee, that the school changed their lives forever.
Gulab Devi, mother of the first RTE student at the school, shares the sentiment and says how her son Durgesh would not even speak and now after two years in school he does not stop talking.
“Ab to bahut accha hai, pehle to bolta hi nahin tha, ab to din bhar padhta hai aur bak-bak karta hai (Now he is very good. He didn’t talk much earlier but now he studies the whole day and keeps talking about it),” she says breaking into a big smile.
Shreya Verma, daughter of a pharmacist, too says that her life has had so much of a value addition that words fall short.
Aavya, daughter of a woman police inspector posted in Hathras, is asked to sing a song. “She is our singing leader” informs a teacher who has been working at the school since its inception.
“Ekla chalo, ekla chalo re…” the girl belts out a soulful rendition of Rabindranath Tagore’s famous song. Its lyrics beautifully explain how one should not be afraid of venturing alone if no one else heeds your call. Lakshmi Kaul just did that and never felt the need to look back.