School arrives in container below flyover for Indian street children

INDIA: Under a busy flyover near a traffic signal in the western Indian city of Thane, children wash the dirt off their feet and don uniforms as they start their school day with prayers, inside a brightly painted shipping container.

The school in the 30 feet by 10 feet (about 9m by 3m) container, accommodates around 35 children, and was set up by civic officials to provide education for children living on the streets.

Following a landmark Right to Education Act in 2009, which guarantees free education till the age of 14, officials in Thane tried to get street children to attend regular state schools. The kids showed up late or not at all, and dropped out quickly.

Instead, officials decided to build a small school directly on the street where the community lived. The school opened in June last year, with four full-time teachers, and a handful of volunteers.

Staff say they spent the initial months teaching the children about the importance of cleanliness and grooming, and not to fight or abuse each other.

"Childhood was missing from these children, so we started with that," said Aarti Sushant Param, who trains the teachers.

"They used to behave like grown-ups...So, we tried to teach them how to behave, we didn't start with education."

Bhatu Sawant, head of the non-profit organisation Samarth Bharat Vyaspith, has asked civic officials for two more remodelled containers for a preschool and a high school.

India's literacy rate rose to 73 percent in 2011 from 65 percent a decade earlier, and enrolment rates in schools have climbed, but at least 6 million children aged six to 13 are still out of the school system, according to a 2014 survey.

There is no official data for the number of street children in India, with some charities estimating it to be about 1 million.