The Balrakshak movement in Maharashtra is rapidly gaining ground. A “Balrakshak” is a teacher who has volunteered to ensure that no children in their area remain out of school. Volunteers are trained to identify such children, make home visits, and follow up to ensure school attendance. Jagdish Kude, Headmaster of Shriramtanda Zilla Parishad School, Mantha Taluka, Jalna district, was honored as the first Balrakshak in the state by Nand Kumar, Principal Secretary, Department of Education and Sports.
The movement, which has gone on to spread through the district, had its beginnings in the Government Resolution called‘Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra’, issued in January 2017.
Many families from Jalna district migrate to other parts of Maharashtra for their livelihood. This migration displaces entire families, as everybody has to leave along with the earning members. Old persons who cannot travel are often the only ones who stay back in the villages during the migration season.
Under the ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’ programme, seasonal hostels used to cater to school children from migrant households. These hostels would be started in schools at the time the families migrated. The hostels provided breakfast, lunch, dinner, and stationery to the students. After the night meal, the students would go to their grandparents’ homes, or to the homes of other relatives, to sleep.
Fora 2017 workshop at Balbharati, Pune, the SamataDept of the Maharashtra Academic Authority (MAA)brought together Balrakshaks from Jalna district for a consultation. These Balrakshaks resolved to work to end the seasonal migration of students, and also to close down the seasonal hostels. Present at the meeting were Nand Kumar, and Sunil Magar, Director, MAA. A further meeting was held a few weeks later at the Jalna Collectorate, with the Collector and the CEO of the Jalna Zilla Parishad.
At this meeting, a District Balrakshak Task Force was formed under the Collector, along with taluka-level, or division-level, task force units to be headed by the tehsildars, administrative heads. Representatives of all departments concerned with school children were present – persons from Women and Child Development;the District Labour Office;the Legal Officer, Social Welfare Department; Primary and Secondary Education Officers from the District Institute of Educational Continuous Professional Development (DIECPD);the Educational Extension Officer; Cluster Heads; the Police; and all the Balrakshaks.
The Collector asked that the gram panchayats, village committees, discuss the issue of migration at the gram sabha, the assemblies, due to be held on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. The objective was to appeal to migrating guardians to let their school going children remain in the villages for the sake of uninterrupted schooling. Participants listed 240 villages where more than five students were affected by seasonal migration. These villages were then divided into 10 pockets. Representatives of villages with the highest rates of migration were asked to work towards enabling students to remain in the villages for continuous education.
Under the guidance of officers in the SamataDept of the MAA, Pune, Susamvad Sabhas or public meetings for positive dialogue, were held in villages with the highest migration figures. There were detailed discussions about the problems faced by parents and guardians with regard to their children’s education. Programme Officer Nutan Maghade played an active role, with the support of Dr. Shobha Khandare-Pawar, Dy Director, MAA, and Dr. Prabhakar Kshirsagar, Head of the Samata Dept.
Guardians spoke of how their workplace posed risks for their children, and of their lacking the time to pay adequate attention to their children. The focus of the discussions was, of course, the educational losses faced by students as a result of migration. The entire group of interested persons – Balrakshaks, Headmasters, School Management Committee members, the Block Education Officer, the Principal and staff of DIECPD, the District Education Officer and others – made multiple visits to households with migrating members, to convince them to let their school going children keep attending the village schools.
These efforts bore fruit. In the academic year 2017-18, 5310 students from migrating households in Jalna district stayed back in their villages without having to rely on seasonal hostel facilities. They lived with relatives or neighbors while continuing their schooling. At some places, siblings stayed home on their own, without older family members. This meant a saving of Rupees 3,00,00,000of government funding for seasonal hostels.
Far more important than the amounts of money saved was the consideration that parents and guardians become aware of the importance of education, and of their own responsibilities in this regard. Students who stay back, are in school all day. They have their lunch in school and the dinner at their place of stay. The Balrakshaksare in constant contact with the migrant guardians as well as the local guardians. Sometimes, students who miss their parents or other guardians terribly are able to speak to them using the teachers’ cell phones.
|No||year||No. of hostels||Expenditure (in lac)||No. of students from migrant households retained in school|
(Table showing an increase in enrollment of students from migrant households despite the closing of seasonal hostels)
If we compare the two academic years, 2016-17 and 2017-18, we find that the number of students whose potential migration was halted increased dramatically in 2017-18. Taluka-wise migration was also noted during this research. The highest migration was in Ghansavangi taluka and the lowest in Jafrabad taluka.
The agenda for the remaining months of 2018
- June: assignment of geographical areas village-wise and block-wise to Balrakshaks. They are to make lists of probable migrating students and households. They will also focus on finding local livelihood opportunities as options for migrant guardians.
- July: designing of schedule for conversations and meetings with students and families that are likely to migrate.
- August: appealing to parents in the gram sabha, village assembly, on 15th August(Independence Day), to let school going children stay back. Concentrate on monitoring outgoing and incoming migration.
- September: classification of students who can live with relatives or neighbors, and those who do not have such shelter.
- October: continuing to appeal to parents and community in the 2 October (Gandhi Jayanti)village assembly, to let their school going children remain in school. Continuing to making special arrangements for those students who cannot find accommodation with relatives or neighbors.
- November onwards: Balrakshaks to take care of students until their guardians return to the village.
Author: Dr. Prakash Mante, Professor,
District Institute of Educational Continuous Professional Development,
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team