Child labour, migration, transport and access are responsible for keeping a whopping 1,70,525 kids, that’s 63% of children between the ages of 11 and 13 out of school. The government appears to be playing its cards right, at least on paper, with BEOs, Deputy Directors of Public Instruction and the Department of Women and Child Welfare all responsible for ensuring that children enroll in school. Very little happens on ground however. The lack of detailed surveys by enumerators has left experts in the dark about what causes school dropouts and how to prevent them, reports Ralph Alex Arakal.
In a disturbing trend, children are continuing to drop out of school in the state. Going by a recent survey by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) a whopping 63 per cent of children between 11 and 13 years old are out of school in Karnataka, with many failing to make it to high school post the seventh grade.
“Child labour and migration are among the major reasons for dropouts in the state and we need to address these issues to bring back children to schools,” says activist, Kathyayini Chamaraj, executive trustee of CIVIC Bengaluru.
While the government claims to be doing its bit to retain children in schools, in Uttara Kannada a private trust is coming to the aid of people finding it hard to give their children an education owing to the distances involved. A hostel has been built near a school in Karwar to help young girls pursue their education with funding from NRIs in the USA, UK and Germany thanks to a non-profit organisation, Prem Ashram Charitable Trust. The idea is being so well received, that some are suggesting it should be emulated by other districts as well.
Seeing the villagers in Uttara Kannada finding it difficult to send their children, especially the girls, to far away high schools in the densely forested district, and many of them opting to send their daughters to the cities to work as housemaids instead, the trust came up the idea of building a hostel near a school in Karwar to save them the journey.
Explains Mr Anil Kumar Gaonkar, who is running the campaign on behalf of the organisation, “Not only is there not enough public transport in the area, but many of the tribal and other backward communities here don’t have the money to send their children all the way to high schools located far away from their villages. So we decided to set up a hostel near a school.”
Besides setting up the hostel, which has accommodation for 27 students, and provides them food and other facilities, including special academic training, the trust also meets the students’ expenses on books and uniforms and pays their tuition fee. Assisted by Impact Guru, a global crowd-funding platform, it was able to raise more money than it expected to.
“The NRI community in the USA, UK and Germany, especially from South India and Gujarat, helped the campaign grow stronger with several donors coming forward to support the initiative,” says Mr Piyush Jain, CEO and co-founder of Impact Guru.
The trust is also giving scholarships to children from the villages of Joida, Kumbarwada and Haliyal to help them pursue a higher education after their schooling. Its initiative is clearly paying off as one student from another hostel supported by it is now an engineer in Bengaluru.
“Encouraging these children to remain in school and pursue a higher education will help them get a better job and may also encourage their children to study later. This could help transform the entire area in years to come,” sums up Mr Gaonkar.
Govt guidelines lying in cold storage
While the departments of education, labour, women and child development and social welfare claim to be working to ensure that more children attend schools in the state, some of their officials themselves admit there is a lack of co-ordination among them which is proving a hurdle in achieving their goal. “Although tireless efforts are being made by some individuals, NGOs and officers of various departments to bring down the huge number of school dropouts, a sense of collective responsibility is lacking at the moment,” agrees Mr Y Muniswamy, a member of the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR).
Going by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) there are as many as 1,70,525 school dropouts in the 7 to 14 age group in the state. It gives migration (17.29 per cent) and household work (16.30 per cent) as major reasons. Reaching puberty and similar issues among girls accounts for 4 per cent. But 47 per cent of the children have reportedly dropped out for “other reasons” that are not defined, angering activists like Ms Kathyayini Chamaraj of CIVIC, Bengaluru.
“Enumerators fail to register the exact reason while collecting data on school dropouts and hence this vague reasoning, which stops the authorities from finding a solution to the problem, ” she laments, adding, “All our proposals for formation of attendance bodies and so on on are still lying somewhere on some official’s shelf pending approval.”
Official apathy does not end there. As an eight-point guideline issued by the SSA scheme director in 2014 to deal with the situation has been virtually put in cold storage, going by officials. “The guidelines, which want panchayat officers to maintain a watch register of migrant children and review each student’s attendance if absent for over a week and so on, has not been put into practice seriously,” admits an officer of the directorate of primary education.
On paper, Block Education Officers (BEOs) and Deputy Directors of Public Instruction (DDPIs) are expected to ensure enrolment of children in the age group 7 to 14 if they are not in school and the Women and Child Development Department is supposed to hold awareness programmes and mass campaigns to prevent child marriages and to educate parents on the importance of their wards going to school.