Bringing the fruits of education to the 'nowhere child'

Bringing the fruits of education to the 'nowhere child'

Bringing the fruits of education to the 'nowhere child'

 She would then bring out her hoops and do a set of acrobatics, contorting her slim small frame. As the signal turned green she would skip back into the footpath. Cars and buses zipped past, frightfully close to the frail little child.

 I stopped to chat with her. Lakshmi is eight; she is from Bilaspur in Madhya Pradesh and speaks only Hindi. Her parents are migrant construction labourers and have been in Bangalore for a couple of months. They leave for work early morning and return to their tin shack home late in the evening. Lakshmi walks 6 miles everyday to pass time at the Mayo Hall Crossing. She has not been to school since coming to Bangalore. She did not go to school in the previous city either.
I passed by Mayo Hall again, recently, twice on two days - I looked out for Lakshmi, but she was not there. Has she moved with her parents to Pune or Chennai? But wherever she has gone, she will not go to school; it will be another traffic junction...
The Lakshmis of India are the nowhere children. As their families migrate from one alien city to another, as they meet one alien language after another, their plight is lost in the anonymity of their existence. Their below poverty line and ration cards are not valid across state borders. The absence of schooling for their children implies a continuation of the cycle of poverty.

 India is completely unprepared to provide such children with basic education. Take a typical scenario: The medium of instruction in a Bangalore school would be Kannada. The migrant labourer's child from Orissa, Rajasthan, Bihar or Madhya Pradesh in such a school will just be a bemused onlooker in this school. The curriculum - cast in iron as it is for grade by grade progression - will not cater to the special needs of this child who may move every few months.
 Governments have created ‘tent schools’ to cater to such children but these schools are like any other government school and hence neither the curriculum nor the teachers can address these children’s needs. The nowhere child is thus the most vulnerable and most marginalised.

In 2006, the Azim Premji Foundation decided to develop a curriculum and demonstrate processes that provided meaningful education for the children of migrant labour. Two well-known builders, Total Environment and Epsilon, agreed to partner in this initiative. Schools were established for the children of construction labour at their respective sites. The builders constructed the school building and necessary infrastructure such as toilets etc.

The foundation put together the academic package consisting of the curriculum, teaching learning material, teachers and training of the teachers. The schools also have health, nutrition and crèche components which are critical for children of this profile. Two years on, the results are encouraging.

A fair chance
Given a fair chance, a happy environment, a learning atmosphere, the children - ages varying between 3 and 15 and who stay for periods of time ranging from a month to many months - have started to appreciate the benefits of schooling. There is evidence that the children are developing into confident lifelong learners.
The curriculum is non-hierarchical and does not prescribe any text books for classroom use. It is based on the philosophy that every child can learn and that different children learn in different ways. It aims at honing the linguistic, observation and analytical skills of children.

Migratory background
Keeping the migratory background of the child in mind, the curriculum is transacted through modules each of which runs for about eight to ten weeks. There is emphasis on 'do and learn'/ 'see and learn'. Teaching-learning in these schools is through specially designed activities that attempt to address each concept in multiple ways.
Reshma Banu is the oldest among four siblings of a family that hails from Raichur. Successive years of poor rains meant that they had no land to till and her parents were forced to leave their village to find an alternative source of livelihood. They moved to Bangalore as unskilled construction workers. Reshma aged 8, stayed home to take care of her siblings and household work. When Reshma was ten, her father came to work at a construction project.

 Reshma's mother agreed to send her to the school at the construction site because the school offered care for all her younger siblings as well. Initially reluctant, Reshma soon began to enjoy her time at the school. Today, Reshma is a confident teenager who has joined a mainstream government school in grade six.
But it is not just about two schools. The next step in the journey is to see that such processes are implemented within the government school system. Government of Karnataka is considering the possibility of this model in a cluster of eight government tent schools. Other builders could adopt this model at their sites. Everything possible must be done to secure ineluctably and irreversibly the constitutional right of these children to good quality free education.
(The author is head, programmes and advocacy at Azim Premji Foundation)