Swami Vivekananda said that education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man. As a nation is built with her people, the more educated they are, the more perfect the nation. Conversely, lack of education is perhaps the starkest national imperfection. According to data put out by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), the national dropout rate at the primary level was 4.34 percent in 2014-15, and it was even higher at the secondary level, at 17.86 percent. As per a paper commissioned by UNESCO for the 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report, the dropout at the secondary level could be a whopping 36 million, close to Canada’s population. More than half of those have actually dropped out because they had to start working and earn a living. Child labour’s compulsion remains one of the main reasons for dropout when a child grows big enough for heavy work.
The compulsion is perhaps more for the migrant laborer’s children. The indication comes from the UNESCO paper. The 2011 Census data points out that the proportion of dropout among urban boys aged between 15 and 19 years among construction workers – the majority of them are migrant laborer’s – is 16% more than the national average in the same age group. Age-specific Attendance Ratio (AAR) has been found to be lower in the outmigration prone districts as compared to others. That the AAR for rural boys in West Bengal and Orissa aged between 15 and 19 years is among the lowest in India is perhaps not surprising when it’s recalled that the rural population from both states comprise a good chunk of the migrant workforce across India.
Despite the well-intended initiatives like RTE, many non-working kids of the migrant workers cannot go to regular schools because they are always moving. Even the government schools are not flexible enough to accommodate them. And for the older kids, who more often than not land up being child labourers, regular day schools are out of the question. It’s quite evident that all enforcement against child labour hasn’t eradicated the problem. So, it’s better to accept the reality and work out something that could tackle the issue in a different way.
That’s where the concept of free and informal Evening Schools, or rather coaching centres, seems apt. A regular school needs to follow a particular curriculum and operate under certain norms, which might not suit migrant kids. Moreover, it will be out of reach to the child labourers, who spend the whole day working and running errands. Tailor-made evening classes would solve all the problems. The parents would be encouraged to send their kids to the evening classes as that would neither hamper their day-work if they are working nor require the ordeal of seeking admission in the local school through RTE or otherwise.
Kalpataru has started the Abhyuday Evening Schools under its Sanjh Ki Kiran initiative precisely for this reason. The idea is to utilise the existing setup and resources as much as possible and fill in some gaps to create a self-sustaining system that is beneficial to the kid who need it the most. In many places, we seek permission from the concerned authorities to use the government primary schools for the evening classes. We employ local teachers, predominantly young women, often students themselves, studious and hardworking, for whom a steady monthly income would go a long way in making them self-reliant and confident. This is directly linked to Kalpataru’s mission to work towards women’s wellness and empowerment.
The evening classes could evolve into many different things in the future. They could become places for vocational training for women, awareness camps, or simply women health centres. Vivekananda interpreted abhyuday as uday, the awakening, of the abhi, the fearlessness. It symbolises the enkindling of the fire within, arousing the inner strength, and conquering the darkness of despair and hopelessness with the light of education.
Paraphrasing what Kofi Annan, a former Secretary-General of the United Nations, had once said, it could be asserted that education is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty and a building block of development. It is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity.
Abhyuday is a humble effort at empowering the challenged with the strength and ammunition of education.