Indian Teachers Help Pandemic-Hit Girl Dropouts Return To School

According to Al Jazeera, two Indian teachers, Kunda Bachhav, 40, and Vaishali Bhamre, 45, helped pandemic-hit dropouts return to school.

Aarti Ambore, 17, says she saw her childhood slipping away when her father suddenly died of a heart attack in September 2021.

Gajanan, her father, was a labourer and the only earning member of their family of five. He was only 47.

Living in a slum in India’s western state of Maharashtra, Aarti’s mother, Vandana, 39, started working as a house help to make ends meet.

“Our financial situation got precarious after the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020,” Vandana told Al Jazeera. “It became difficult to keep our three kids in school. After my husband died, I was all by myself.”

Vandana earned somewhere between $75-80 a month – not enough to allow her to look after the family.

A few months after Gajanan’s death, she married her eldest daughter off. Ambore, who was 15 at the time and studying in ninth grade, was next. It didn’t matter that she was one of the brightest students in her class.

“I didn’t want to drop out of school,” said Ambore. “But my mother was helpless. We were struggling to even manage two meals a day. I had no hope.”

Aarti Ambore with her mother Vandana [Parth MN/Al Jazeera]

However, about two months before Gajanan’s death, Kunda Bachhav, 40, and Vaishali Bhamre, 45, teachers in a municipal school in Aarti’s city of Nashik, began to notice the effect of school closures during the coronavirus lockdown.

“Our school is up to eighth standard,” Bachhav told Al Jazeera. “We realised that several students that came from poor families dropped out of the education system after passing out of our school. Most of them were girls.”

The statewide data corroborates Bachhav’s anecdotal observations.

According to data given by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, less than 20% of American students choose STEM degrees, with India producing the most graduates in total.

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