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May 14, 2013
For India's poor, a school under a railway bridge

NEW DELHI (AP) -- Their classroom is a flattened patch of dirt and rocks under the elevated rail tracks. Their blackboards are rectangles painted on a chipped concrete wall. Their teacher is a shop owner with no formal training, but a conviction that education is their only hope.

For some of these dozens of children of poor migrant workers in India's capital, this makeshift, open-air school under the rumble of mass transit is the only school they have. Others who attend overcrowded and dismal government schools come here as well -- to actually learn.

India's Right To Education Act promising free, compulsory schooling to all children ages 6 to 14 was supposed to take full effect March 31, but millions of children still don't go to school and many who do are getting only the barest of educations.

So every morning, more than 50 children gather under the bridge for two hours of lessons at Rajesh Kumar's informal school. They sweep the dirt flat and roll out foam mats to sit on, just meters (yards) from the bushes were several men had been squatting and defecating minutes earlier.

(18 images)




Rajesh Kumar Sharma, the founder of a free school for slum children, second right, and Laxmi Chandra, right, teach at a free school for impoverished children run under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on April 4, 2013. Sharma, a shop owner with no formal training, says that education is their only hope. AP / Altaf Qadri
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Before the start of class, a girl sweeps a portion of a free school run under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on April 4, 2013. AP / Altaf Qadri
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Rajesh Kumar, the founder of a free school for slum children, second from left, erects an awning for a makeshift toilet at a free school for impoverished children run under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on April 5, 2013. AP / Altaf Qadri
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Underprivileged children attend a free school run under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on Nov. 6, 2012. The students, ages 4 to 14, study everything from basic reading and writing to the Pythagorean Theorem. AP / Altaf Qadri
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Rajesh Kumar, the founder of a free school for slum children, teaches a class at a free school for impoverished children under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on March 13, 2013. Kumar fears his project is precarious. He needs more volunteer teachers because of the mass of students, but doesn't know where to find them. And his unregistered school is squatting on railroad property. AP / Altaf Qadri
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Before the start of classes, an impoverished boy drinks water donated by a non-resident Indian, as others wait at a free school run under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on March 19, 2013. AP / Altaf Qadri
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Underprivileged boys take down notes from a blackboard painted on a concrete wall at a free school run under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on Dec. 11, 2012. AP / Altaf Qadri
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Before the start of class, an impoverished girl takes notes from a blackboard painted on a building wall at a free school run under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on April 4, 2013. AP / Altaf Qadri
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Rajesh Kumar Sharma, the founder of a free school for slum children, checks the writings of a child at a free school for impoverished children run under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on March 13, 2013. Kumar said, one day in 2008 he spotted children playing in the dirt as he walked to the train station and asked their parents why they weren't in school. They complained the school was too far and their children would have to cross a dangerous highway to get there. If he was concerned about their education, he should teach them, they said. AP / Altaf Qadri
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An underprivileged girl stands barefoot with her anklet adorned with jewelry as her teacher checks her copy at a free school run under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on Dec. 11, 2012. AP / Altaf Qadri
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Before the start of class, impoverished boys look at their new school bags, donated by a non-resident Indian, at a free school run under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on March 19, 2013. AP / Altaf Qadri
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Before the start of class, an impoverished boy receives a new pair of socks and shoes, donated by a non-resident Indian, as others wait at a free school run under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on March 19, 2013. AP / Altaf Qadri
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Before the start of class, an impoverished girl tries on her new pair of shoes, donated by a non-resident Indian, at a free school run under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on March 19, 2013. AP / Altaf Qadri
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Before the start of class, an impoverished girl helps her little brother put on a pair of donated shoes at a free school run under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on April 4, 2013. AP / Altaf Qadri
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A boy carries rolled-up flooring for storage until the next morning as class ends at a free school run under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on March 13, 2013. AP / Altaf Qadri
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Impoverished children walk back home after attending a free school run under a mass transit bridge in New Delhi, India on April 4, 2013. AP / Altaf Qadri
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Mamta, center, and Sachin, left, watch as Deepak does his homework inside their family's shack in New Delhi, India on April 4, 2013. t AP / Altaf Qadri
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Impoverished siblings, from left, Deepak, Suraj, Mamta, and, Sachin, do their homework inside their family's shack in New Delhi, India on April 4, 2013. AP / Altaf Qadri

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