For that reason, we as a Loreto Institute took a policy decision way back in 1971 to cater to the very poorest children, even in our big schools. As a result, Loreto Sealdah began to open its doors in 1979 to the poorer children reaching a 50% population of mixed social classes. Now all these children have come in as equals. We don’t entertain the poor as second class citizens. They are all in school as equals and they are all equally involved in outreach programmes to the very poorest because apart from the ones who can be fitted into our schools, there are thousands of children out in the fringes of the city, in brickfields, in quarries, on the Eastern Bypass and all over without any schools to go to. So in order to cater to all of them, we have been running 460 centres all over the city for the most neglected children who have no schools at all to go to.
Now with the RTE Act, we have been asked to mainstream these into the Government Schools and we are still searching for Government Schools to do this mainstreaming. But slowly these will be phased out into Government Schools once the Government is able to provide us with schools. In the meantime, we will continue to run these small centres manned by teachers trained by us and giving a very good quality of education to the children. When they ultimately reach Class V level then we’ll mainstream them into the Government Schools and so far they have been very successful. So, our school is, therefore, a mixture of children from very well off families along with children from very poor families and then our outreach programmes cover about 25,000 children still. By next year we hope that all of these will be put into mainstream Government Schools as soon as the Government Schools have been being created.
Loreto Sealdah is one of 17 schools scattered all over India and run by the sisters of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, generally called Loreto and having schools all over the world. Loreto Sealdah has pioneered the concept of schools as resource centres for the poorest of the poor. So the children grow up already imbued with care for others and bring that attitude into society as adults. The school, therefore, seeks through its education system, to prepare agents of social change who will transform society from within. The pictures in this book portray what the school is doing on a daily basis not only educating children in the classrooms to become intellectually competent but outside the classrooms to become consciously compassionate.
In this way, while we run very big English medium schools, we take in 50% children coming from well off backgrounds and 50% from the very poorest. They all come in at the age of 4 and they all wear the same uniform, eat the same food, go to classes together and attend same classes and emerge at the end of their schooling with an egalitarian mindset which they carry out into society.
This mindset is the result of the exposure which they have received in school through teaching street children and rural deprived children, through handling Hidden Domestic Child Labour and children on Brickfields and on the Eastern Bypass, through interacting with girls from the Red Light areas and working with Childline on Sealdah Station.
Loreto Sealdah, having set out to be a Resource Centre for the poorest of the poor is known all over the city of Kolkata as a school where even the poorest child is welcome. Before the RTE Act came into being
the education system in India was bifurcated between the affluent who could pay fees to get into a good English medium school such as this and the poor who had to make do with a Government School where there could be as many as 150 kids to one teacher. Hence, the whole city knows that Loreto Sealdah is a school to which they can turn for help whether it is for food, uniform, books or even money (if we have it !) – we share whatever we have and our gates are always open.
So it works in two ways – as soon as Loreto Sealdah is mentioned everyone rallies round to help and no matter who we contact – Government, Police, Hospital, local people, we always get a positive response.