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In Jhansi, community schools in the poorest areas keep the lamp of learning burning in children

When basic education is delayed or disrupted by the pressures of eking out a livelihood, dedicated teachers strive to revive children’s interest in studies at informal study centres, and provide a bridge to mainstream schools. Bharat Dogra has the story of Parmarth, a voluntary organisation that has started several ‘informal’ schools in the poorest communities of Jhansi District in Uttar Pradesh

Education, including continuity of school education, is a problem for children in remote villages, particularly in those areas where the poorest migrant labourers live. The studies of children in these families are constantly disrupted because they are forced to accompany their parents when they go to distant places for temporary work. Often, parents in these poor hamlets are unable to enroll their wards in schools at the proper time; and also, children drop out of school due to various reasons and then find it difficult to continue their studies even when situations improve. Understanding these lacunae, Parmarth, a voluntary organisation, has started several schools in the poorest communities of Jhansi District in Uttar Pradesh. 

According to Pankaj Gautam, an activist associated closely with the programme, nearly 200 children who had not been enrolled in schools at the right age, or else had dropped out, have been able to continue their education in mainstream government schools due to the efforts of these ‘informal’ community schools. Acknowledging that initially there were problems in getting the children of these communities interested in school, he said the methods recommended by the Eklavya organisation to make education interesting and participative, and the tactic of introducing games in the schooling schedule, made the children more keen to join these schools, which are now running successfully.

Children pose for a picture with teachers at this informal community school in Mathurapura Sahariya Basti. 

In Mathurapur Village of Babina Block, we visited a community school catering to about 25 children. The modest classroom was brightened up considerably by the art work of the children and various educational materials. The students, including those from migrant labour households, were keen to display their prowess in reciting poems and math tables. Their teacher, Rinki Bhartare, is evidently devoted to her work and commands the affection of the children. She says the main problem is the break in studies due to the families having to migrate for work for anything between a week and one-and-a-half months. She crosses this hurdle by devoting enough time for revision work.

The children maintain their enthusiasm for studies and games despite the problems of daily life. On speaking to some of the children from migrant labour families, I found that while one girl had joined her parents in working, a couple of others had taken their books with them and continued to do some studies even when they couldn’t be at school. 

In a hamlet populated by Sahariya Adivasis in Semariya Village, we found that the community school was being held under the shade of a tree. The teacher, Manisha Prajapati, explained that there is a room available to hold classes, but when the weather permits they prefer to study outdoors. When the main government school is functioning, the informal school is held in the evening, but during normal school holidays, the community school works in the mornings for two-and-a-half hours. When the children are absorbed in playing carom or ludo, or kho-kho or kabaddi, they prevail upon the teacher to stay on for longer.

The studies of children who belong to families of migrant labourers are constantly disrupted because they are forced to accompany their parents
when they go to distant places for temporary work. A few such children are pictured here.

One student, Sanam, is unable to hear or speak, but despite this he has been doing well in studies. The teacher explained that students like him need extra care to promote their talents. Provision must also be made for the differing needs of children of diverse age groups but, somehow, they manage. Generally, girls from the Sahariya Tribe find it difficult to pursue their studies beyond Class 8, but thanks to the efforts of the community school teacher, six of them were accepted recently by the Kasturba Gandhi Model School.

Despite the problems, the main benefit from these informal community schools is the help they give children in learning and making up for any inadequacies in a setting where they feel more confidant, as they are located within their own community. Building on the enthusiasm of students and commitment of teachers, this small but promising educational effort stands out as a beacon of hope amidst the problems and constraints posed by a life dominated by the struggle for existence.

(The writer is a senior freelance journalist and author who has been associated with several social movements and initiatives. He lives in Delhi.)

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