Shivam’s Story: The First Priority

“I want to be a scientist, the one who studies stars,” says 10-year-old Shivam, his eyes sparkling with the hope of pursuing his dreams. But the moment I ask him about school, his smile diminishes. “Acha nahi hai school.” He doesn’t like school. The teachers never have time for him, he explains. No one checks homework or gives feedback. He has no incentive to go.

I ask if he likes Pratham’s classes. “Toh Pratham acha hai?” His face lights up. “Pratham toh maza hai! The teachers are amazing. We learn how to speak and write in English! We play a lot of games, and sometimes I don’t feel like going back home.”

I am captivated by this boy and want to see where he comes from, so I ask if I can meet his parents. With permission from his teacher, he asks me to follow him home. At the end of a narrow lane is Shivam’s house. His mother, Rita, sits working at her sewing machine. She greets me and asks Shivam to get me some water. I ask her if she is happy that Shivam is going to Pratham, and she stops working.

“I am a mother, and for me the first priority is my child’s education. I can’t read or write. I can’t help Shivam in his studies. ” Tears roll down her cheeks. “Every day I only wish for one thing: that Shivam should get opportunities I missed out on. I don’t expect him to be a billionaire, but I want him to do well enough to be able to take care of himself and, someday, his own family.”

As Shivam returns with my water, she wipes tears from her eyes. I drink and do the same.

— Excerpted from field interviews by Pratham Intern Kavya