Indian couple run street-side classes for poor students

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A child takes a pencil during a class conducted by Veena Gupta on a sidewalk in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. Veena Gupta and her husband are conducting free classes for underprivileged children on a sidewalk in New Delhi. As most schools in India remain shut since late March when the country imposed a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19, many switched to digital learning and taking classes online. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

NEW DELHI – On a quiet road in India's capital, tucked away on a wide, red-bricked sidewalk, kids set adrift by the country's COVID-19 lockdown are being tutored.

The children, ages 4 to 14, carry book bags more than 2 kilometers (a mile) from their thatched-roof huts on the banks of the Yamuna River to this impromptu, roadside classroom. There, they receive free lessons in math, science, English and physical education, taught by a former Indian diplomat and his wife.

It all began when Veena Gupta’s maid, who lives on bank of the river, complained that with schools shut, children in her impoverished community were running amok and wasting time.

“If they stayed at home doing nothing, they’d become drifters,” said Dolly Sharma, who works at Veena’s high-rise apartment, which overlooks the lush riverbank.

Veena, a singer and grandmother of three, and her husband, Virendra Gupta, decided to go out to the street and teach the kids so they are not left behind when school reopens.

“They don’t have access to internet, their schools are shut and they don’t have any means to learn,” said Veena, who bought books, pencils, notebooks and other teaching materials, and set up the small, open-air classroom under the shade of a leafy banyan tree.

India’s stringent lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 shut schools across the country in late March. Most remain closed as the number of cases has surged past 5 million, making India second worst-hit in the world after the United States.

While many private schools switched to digital learning and online classes, children in most government-run schools either don’t have that option or don’t have the means to purchase digital learning tools like laptops and smartphones.