Where mind is without fear

Child-Friendly Schools

For Kareena Kapoor Khan going to school was never fun. It won’t be surprising if we view the statement from the perspective of her being an actor. But she has a story to tell. 

“My mother used to wake me up for school at 6 am. I used to tell her 'one hour more please'. At the age of 10, I used to feel the pressure that I had the heaviest school bag ever. I used to sleep in the class and was not given much attention in the class as I was an average student. Front benchers got all the attention. I used to feel left out and tell my mother that I will study at home or watch a movie,” says Kareena.

Revealing these titbits from her growing years, the 33-year-old actor who is also Unicef’s celebrity advocate for Education, on Thursday, released the ‘Child Friendly Schools and Systems’ package prepared by Unicef and Ministry of Human Resource and Development.  

Focusing on improving the quality of education, the package aims to demystify what child-friendly education means, especially after the implementation of the Right to Education Act in 2010. But despite various initiatives and significant achievements, the ultimate challenge is improving the quality, child-friendly, inclusive education for all children in the country. 

“There has been improvement in the school enrolment, but still a huge percentage of out-of-school students exists,” says Kushal Singh, chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).

She mentions those eight million children in the age group of 6-14 who have dropped out for one reason or the other. And even among the young children who are enrolled in school, 42 per cent drop out of school before they complete class 8. Besides, enrolment and retention of girls and, especially those coming from socially marginalised groups, continue to be a matter of concern.

Citing the reasons behind the drop out phenomena, Singh says, “In our surveys we have found three main reasons behind students preferring to dropout – mindset of the society, corporal punishment and teachers’ inclination for only good students in the class.” 

It is undeniable that teachers play a crucial role in child-friendly school. As the NCPCR chairperson talks about the prevalence of corporal punishment in schools, she opines, “Despite issuance of several guidelines, NCPCR is facing problems to deal with corporal punishment in schools. I believe corporal punishment lays the foundation for violence in the society.”

According to the survey conducted by NCPCR, incidence of physical punishment and harassment of students still remains high. A survey conducted on more than 6,000 students in seven states revealed that more than 80 per cent of children reported being subjected to verbal abuse and 75 per cent being beaten with a cane. 

Even several independently-conducted studies have reported very low levels of learning among schoolchildren. Findings suggest over half the children in class 5 are unable to read even class 2 level text books. 

But field studies from across the country show that slight changes are visible. Like in Assam, storytelling is used to support tribal children’s transition from mother tongue to Assamese and in Jharkhand Apna Swasthya Apne Haath (ASAH) is promoted through Bal Sansad (Child Cabinet), a community that strengthens hygiene curriculum both in school and community. 

Urmila Sarkar, chief education officer, Unicef India, highlighting the dimension of the child-friendly school, says, “It includes an overall learning environment, safety of kids where they should get good healthy midday meals and access to clean toilets, participation of community and civil society, and above all, integr­ation of these guidelines in plans like Sarva Shiksha Abhi­yan, training programmes, development of curriculum and monitoring process.”

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