Working as part of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan instills in one a sense of responsibility towards every child’s education. Whatever the economic background, if a child is of school-going age, she must receive an education. It is the right of the child, which this programme for universal elementary education does its best to uphold.
In the Akot taluka of Akola district, brick-making is one of the main occupations. We found that in many instances children stayed back to help the adults at the brick kilns, instead of going to school. It was very disturbing to see young children toiling away in the heat of the furnaces. We decided to do something about the situation – and to get these children to attend school.
The Block Resource Centre at Akot carried out a survey to identify out-of-school children. In December 2017, centre heads, Balrakshaks, and teachers, together visited brick kilns in the Chauhattabajar, Kinkhed, Karodi and Patsul areas. They did a detailed mapping of the number of children in every family and the number of school-going children. Some parents and guardians were candid and open, others tried to conceal their children and offered incorrect information. It was quite a task to win their trust, and to persuade them to provide accurate data.
It was observed that there were 206 out-of-school children in Akot taluka. More than half of them were originally from Amravati district, where they had been studying in different Zilla Parishad schools. With the assistance of DIECPD Amravati and DIECPD Akola, we began efforts to re-enrol these children in school.
The Principal of Amravati DIECPD, Dr Ravindra Ambekar, toured the district. Help was sought from teachers in Amravati who had taught the children who, having migrated with their families, were now working at the kilns in Akola.
Soon, the campaign to re-enrol these children was well under way. The team visited each brick kiln again, and talked to parents and guardians. The teachers from Amravati knew some of the guardians, and talked to them about the importance of sending their children to school. “Bringing the children along to work in the kiln may help you, but it is harming your children. Send them back to Amravati where they can once again join a school,” we said.
We also spoke to the kiln owners, as we knew that the workers would listen to them. We impressed upon the owners that it was their responsibility to make sure the children of their workers all went to school. Through these joint efforts, we managed to re-enroll 103 children, who returned to Amravati, and re-joined school while living with relatives. About 100 children from other districts, as well as from the neighboring state of Madhya Pradesh, were working in the brick kilns. It was decided to have them enrolled in schools near Akola. Some had never been to school before. To get them used to the idea of going to school, and to help them enjoy the process of learning, we came up with a unique concept – a school for every brick kiln.
This programme was launched on 1 January, 2018. Under a big, leafy tree in a farm close to a brick kiln, we started a temporary open-air school. The space was provided by the farmers, and the about-to-be-learners’ guardians helped clear the ground. After paying respect to educationist and reformer Savitribai Phule, and lighting a ceremonial lamp, Sudhir Arbat, Block Education Officer, formally declared the school open. Students and their guardians were welcomed with roses.
We started teaching in our open-air school, making sure that the learning process was joyful. Most of the students were from other states, so we teachers spoke in Hindi, and also used a smattering of English. The students learned numbers and picked up basic mathematical functions easily. We used a lot of games and songs to make the learning fun. We teachers sat with the students on the ground, in a circle. Each student was provided with notebooks, text books, and other educational materials. We would place the Maths kit in the centre. Straws, blocks, duplicate currency, geometric figures and so on were used as aids in teaching Maths.
Students were given a nutritious khichdi meal during school hours – sometimes, sweets or chocolates as well. The brick kiln owner took on the responsibility of ferrying the children from home to school and back. Sometimes one of the teachers, Jaikishan Dande, would bring the children in his car.
Once we were satisfied with their attendance, 31 students were shifted on 26 January to the nearby ZP Primary School in Kinkhed Purna. The other students were also accommodated in nearby ZP schools, to ensure their continuing education. Jaybhavani Vidyalaya, a private school in Jaulkhed Budruk, was impressed enough by our work to take in two of our students. Some of the Balrakshaks, centre heads and teachers, who had worked selflessly towards bringing these out-of-school children into the educational mainstream, were duly felicitated.
At an Empowerment Rally of the School Management Committee (SMC), Mr Dande and resource person Trupti Bijwe set up a stall showcasing the survey of out-of-school students. The migration of children because of families working at brick kilns, how the children’s education was adversely affected by this, how they were subsequently re-enrolled in mainstream schools, and how education was expected to brighten their future – these were the issues addressed at the Rally. SMC members, along with parents and guardians, listened enthusiastically to all the information, which underlined the importance of schooling.
With the enrolment in schools of out-of-school children going full steam ahead in Akot, a survey of out-of-school children was conducted by the Akola DIECPD, in collaboration with the Amravati DIECPD, for the entire Akola district. According to this survey, in the academic year 2017-18, there were 726 out-of-school children in the district. Most of them worked at the district’s 316 brick kilns. 369 of these children were subsequently enrolled in schools, thanks to the efforts of 40 Balrakshaks from across the district. The Balrakshaks were felicitated, along with others who helped in the endeavour.
Kalpataru Primary School, the Nagar Parishad or City Council school in Akot, set an excellent example by enrolling 53 out-of-school children whose guardians, originally from Madhya Pradesh, were constantly travelling for work. It was found that 20 of these students had never been to school before, and 33 had periods of absenteeism lasting a month or more – largely because their guardians’ livelihood entailed so much travel.
Sudhakar Pinjarkar, the school’s Headmaster, and Ritesh Nillewar, a Balrakshak, were constantly in touch with the parents and guardians, and had to keep reassuring them – these people were so poor that they could not even feed their children properly. Kalpataru School took on the task of feeding all these children, along with the responsibility of their education, and also provided them with boarding. They also opened bank accounts and Aadhar accounts for the students. They opened up the school washrooms and toilets for students’ families as well, doing their bit to contribute towards the cleanliness drive in Akot.
It is our aim to make Akola free of out-of-school children by 2018-19. We are going to focus on E-2 level students (those who remained absent for more than 30 days). The schools in this region of Vidarbha re-open on26 June, 2018. Ten days before school begins, we propose to hold a meeting with all Balrakshaks in the district, as well as center heads, Principals and teachers, to formulate a work plan.
We plan to track each child’s attendance and progress and, when attendance is poor, discover the reasons why. We intend to make sure that every child attends school regularly.
Writer: Shyam Raut, Balrakshak and Assistant Program Officer, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Akola District
Editing & translation: samata.shiksha team