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NGO-supported informal schools help fight dropout of children from poorest communities

By Bharat Dogra* 

Children in remote villages, and within these villages in the hamlets of the poorest communities, face several difficulties in going regularly to school. In the case of migrant labour households these difficulties are compounded further by the parents of children leaving for several weeks along with children, in the process also disrupting the continuity of the education of children. 
These problems can be reduced considerably if there is a well-functioning informal school within the hamlet of the poorest communities which can help children to maintain continuity of education. 
In addition such a school can also help dropped-out children, or those who could not start school at a proper age, to link up with the mainstream school by providing some initial education. When migrant household children return, they can get revision lessons in the community school which understands their needs and they can then start going to the mainstream school with more confidence.
This kind of highly relevant role is being fulfilled by several schools started in poorest communities of Jhansi district (Uttar Pradesh) by Parmarth voluntary organization. 
According to Pankaj Gautam, an activist associated closely with this program, nearly 200 children who had not enrolled in schools properly at the right age, or else had dropped out, were able to continue their education in mainstream government schools due to the efforts of these informal community schools.
Gautam adds that initially there were several problems in getting the children of these hamlets inhabited by poorest communities interested in schools, but by following some literature of Eklavya organization aimed at making educating interesting and participative, as well as introducing several games, children became more keen on joining these schools and now these schools are running successfully.
In the hamlet inhabited by Mathurapur village (located in Babina block), we found about 25 children in such a community school. The room where the class is being held may be a very modest place,  but is brightened up considerably by the drawing and art work of children and various educational materials. Children, including those from migrant labor households, are keen to display their skills in reciting poems and math tables. 
Their teacher Rinki Bhartare is evidently very devoted to her work and has the affection of children. She says that the main problem comes from the break in studies due to migration for work opportunities for anything between a week or so to about one a half months. However, she adds, we manage somehow by devoting enough time for revision work.
I spoke separately to those children who had accompanied their parents going for migrant labor. A girl said that she also contributed to work but other children said that they did not have to work with their parents. 
Two of these children said that they had taken their copies and books with them and continued to study even there. Did you miss your friends in the new place? Two children replied confidently that we made new friends there.
These children have maintained their enthusiasm for studies and games in the middle of several problems of their daily existence. Yes, when inter-acting with strangers or visitors there is some reluctance to converse initially but once a conversation builds up they have many things to tell. When told to smile while posing for a photo some of them started laughing so much that next they had to be told not to laugh so much.
After this we went to another school in a hamlet of Sahariya adivasis in Semariya village. This particular school was being held in the open under the shade of a tree. As the teacher Manisha Prajapati explained, there is a room available for the school but if weather conditions permit then they prefer open surroundings. As she lives very close by, they adjust the timings keeping in view various factors. 
When the main school functions the informal school is organized in evening hours but during the vacation in the main government school the informal school is generally organized in morning hours. Normally the informal school is open for two and a half hours but when children are playing carom or ludo, or kho-kho or kabaddi, they prevail upon the teacher to stay on for a longer time.
Sanam is a student here who cannot speak or hear, but despite this he has been doing well in studies. The teacher explains that while students like him need extra care to promote their talents, provision must also be made for children of different age groups, but somehow they manage.
Despite such problems, the main asset of these schools is that children have a chance to learn and make up for any inadequacies and problems in a setting where they feel more confidant, as this school is located right within their community.
Generally girls from the Sahariya tribal community have difficulty here in continuing education after class 8, but thanks to this effort, six of them were selected recently for Kasturba Gandhi model school. 
Building on the enthusiasm of students and commitment of teachers, this small but promising educational effort marches ahead in the middle of all the problems and constraints.
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. Books: "Protecting Earth for Children", "Man over Machine" and "Navjeevan"



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