A campaign to bring all children to school

A campaign to bring all children to school

Seven years after education became a fundamental right and despite landmark orders in 2013 by the Karnataka High Court to bring every child to school, the latest education department surveys reveal that there are again 9,000 out-of-school children (OOSC) officially.

NGOs, naturally, say there are thousands more. If the Education Coordinators designated as Attendance Authorities (AAs) had been following the preventive protocol issued through court orders to bring back, within a time-frame, every child that had unexcused absence of more than 7 days, how could 9,000 children again be out of school?

RTI applications to Deputy Directors of Public Instruction (DDPIs) in Bengaluru Urban district have revealed that registers that were to be maintained to keep track of OOSC were either prepared after the RTI application was received or were maintained sketchily, if at all.

These included the ‘Watch Registers on OOSC’ to be maintained by Attendance Authorities, the ‘Monitoring Charts of the Performance of Attendance Authorities’ to be maintained by their superiors, and the Ward and Village Education Registers (WERs/VERs).

Computerised WERs/VERS are to be placed in every gram panchayat/ward office 1 month before school begins, as required under the rules, and updated every 3 months, showing whether every 6-14 year-old in the area is attending school, and if not, what action was taken to bring her/him back to school.

If these registers do not even exist or are not complete, one wonders what the official review committees constituted at block, district and state levels, headed by the Executive Officers of the taluk panchayats, the CEO and the Commissioner respectively, are reviewing.

One reason why this whole system appears to be only on paper is because the education department has several skeletons in its cupboard and cannot afford to come out with the true numbers of OOSC. Field investigations reveal that most HMs are maintaining false attendance registers, showing bloated figures of attendees, as that leads to several benefits which cannot be spoken about. 

Further, most of the Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) at district level, before whom AAs are to produce all parents of OOSC, are hardly aware of this new role assigned to them. Nor are municipal and Panchayat Raj Standing Committees for Education and Social Justice aware that they are now responsible for ensuring that all children are in school in their areas, that infrastructure in all schools is as per RTE norms, and that they are now the grievance redressal authorities also for any violation of the RTE Act.

This indicates that court orders, rules and protocols alone cannot bring about changes if there is no simultaneous social mobilisation to create awareness among all the stakeholders involved, develop community ownership of these issues and enable monitoring by external civil society-led committees.

Filling the gap

It is heartening that the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR) is attempting to fill this gap, having launched a 2-month campaign on April 1, 2016 (celebrated as RTE Day) to ensure that every child in Karnataka is in school by June 12 (observed as International Anti-Child Labour Day). It is mobilising teams of volunteers to go door-to-door from May 29, identify all OOSC, conduct bridge courses for them and bring them all back to school.

While this is a laudable initiative, the campaign should not lose sight of the fact that the education department is already mandated to do these tasks under court directives. If civil society takes these tasks upon itself for 2 months, the question arises: what will happen thereafter?

Rather, the campaign should concentrate in these 2 months on training the AAs, CWCs, the municipal and Panchayat Raj Standing Committees on their responsibilities. It should get the concerned officials to prepare the VERs/WERs, the watch registers and monitoring charts, follow the protocols, conduct the bridge courses and the periodic review meetings.
 
Knowing that the education department alone will not bring out the truth, the campaign committees should get the department to conduct surveys in a transparent manner through special grama sabhas, where the GP/municipality and SDMC members, NGOs, community youth, women’s groups and the children themselves, are made aware of the rules and protocols.

The community should then cross-verify the data on OOSC in the VER/WER for its accuracy, take ownership of the process of making the education department accountable and continuously monitor its functioning to prevent future drop-outs. This must be done beyond the campaign period and ensure that their ward or village becomes permanently OOSC-free.

It is important that the community groups are not bogged down in running bridge schools which should be left to the municipalities/GPs and education department. All concerned departments, employers’ organisations, trade unions, religious leaders too need to be involved.

Karnataka has created a model for the entire country in its rules for making the state accountable for ensuring that every child is in school. It is now shaping a model of social mobilisation to complement it.

(The writer is Executive Trustee of CIVIC, Bengaluru)

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