Kids Out of School Need Help, Not an Official Survey that Won’t Count Them

The Maharashtra government could find out only 54,724 out of school children across the state in its recent survey

Girls at a school in Dingrajwadi, Maharashtra. Credit: Harini Calamur, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Girls at a school in Dingrajwadi, Maharashtra. Credit: Harini Calamur, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Pune: Amid the buzz of traffic, Soniya Kale, 13, tends her four siblings on the platform, which also happens to be her home, below Z Bridge at Deccan, an area in the centre of Pune. Soniya’s parents are away selling toys at some traffic signal, but her sister is unwell today, so she could not go with them. Soniya has been selling balloons since she was five, earning Rs 100-200 a day. She has never been to school and probably never will, much like the thousands of ‘Out of School Children’ (OoSC) across the state who work to make ends meet.

The Right to Education Act made education a fundamental right of every child, and placed the responsibility for ensuring the enrolment, attendance and completion of elementary school on the state and local bodies. The Act also requires surveys that monitor all neighbourhoods, identify children requiring education, and set up facilities for providing it.

For the Maharashtra government, however, it is easy to evade this responsibility because most of these children do not exist.

Although the RTE Act has been in force since April 2010, the state government has neither a plan nor a budget to bring OoSC into the educational system. Persistent efforts by educationists and activists did, however, move the government to form a task-force to develop a plan on May 20, 2015. Maharashtra’s Education and Sports Department issued a government resolution to identify OoSC across the state, through a day-long survey on July 4.

Ten lakh government servants, most of them teachers, were asked to visit every house in every village and town, as well as railway stations, bus stands and farms, the hamlets of nomadic communities, tribal groups and tamasha (folk dance) artists, and construction sites, sugar mills and mines. They were supposed to enquire at every household if there was any child in the family or around who does not attend school and to register his/her name, along with Aadhaar card details if available. The government planned to issue Aadhaar cards to those without them, and to monitor attendance of these children based on their Aadhaar number.

Activists and educationists hoped for concrete results from a survey conducted on such a massive scale. It was expected that sustainable solutions would be framed to solve one of the fundamental issues of child education.

But the results of the survey left them shocked. It found there were only 54,724 Out of School Children across the state.

Numbers these and those

The findings of the survey are nowhere close to those of any other surveys conducted by state agencies or private organisations. Just last year, a survey done under the  Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan had counted 1,45,000 OoSC in the 6-14 age group in Maharashtra.

The Vijay Kelkar committee, constituted by the state government in 2013, says seven lakh students from Class I-VII drop out within 10 years. That means 70,000 kids leave school each year.

Child labourers across the country number 43 lakh, while in Maharashtra the number is 4,96,000, according to information given in the winter session of Parliament last November. Assuming half of them are either above 14, or do attend school, that still leaves 2.5 lakh children who are out of school.

“The number of workers who migrate each year to western Maharashtra to cut and crush cane is 9-10 lakh,” said Dipak Nagargoje, a Right to Education activist and member of the government-appointed task force.“There must be 1-2 lakh kids between the ages 6-14 who migrate along with them, and miss school for months.”

Bastu Rege, who has been working on behalf of child labour in mines for 20 years, estimates that some 32,000  children in 32 districts toil in Maharashtra’s mines alone.

The recent survey put the number of OoSC in Mumbai at 10,306. Activists point out that a survey last year by the Tata Institute of Social Scienc eand Action Aid found 37,059 OoSC between in the state capital.

Some of the figures are too good to be true. There is only one OoSC in Zari taluka, and none in Ghatji taluka of Yavatmal district – part of the state’s tribal belt. Surveyors could find only 1600 OoSC in the six districts of Nagpur division. Latur, another drought-affected backward district had only 926.

So what went wrong

NOBODY COUNTED THEM: Out of School Children in Pune. Credit: Varsha Torgalkar

NOBODY COUNTED THEM: Out of School Children in Pune. Credit: Varsha Torgalkar

Each surveyor was expected to visit at least 100 households. By this calculation, the 10 lakh surveyors would have covered 10 crore families; the population of Maharashtra is about 11 crore. However, according to Heramb Kulkarni, another task-force member,“Surveyors filled out forms on their own and did not reach many mines, construction sites and so on.”

Under the RTE, an OoSC is defined as a child absent from school for more than 30 days. “For this survey, the state government adopted the definition of a child who was never enrolled in school” says Purushottam Bhapkar, commissioner of Maharashtra Prathmik Shikshan Parishad (MPSP), an arm of state education department that looks after primary education.

In fact, the survey has two columns: ‘Never Enrolled’ and ‘Absent More than 30 Days’. Children who were never enrolled numbered 30,045, while those absent were 25,358. Ironically, the survey was carried out before the completion of 30 days since schools were opened on June 16 this academic year.

“October-November is an appropriate time to carry the survey out. During this season, labourers migrate to horticultural land to harvest fruits and grain; or to crush cane at sugar mills, or work at construction sites,” said Nagargoje.“Children travel with them, either to work as labour or to guard the homes.” Though members of the task force asked that the survey be carried out in October-November, the government went ahead with it on July 4.

Migration is a major reason for school drop outs and activists wanted to have a column of migrating children in the survey but the government did away with it.

Activists point out that most of the children are enrolled with local schools but never attend. “It is mandatory for principals to identify Out of School kids in the neighbourhood and enrol them under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan,” says Kulkarni. “Besides, in the name of these students, school fill vacancies for teachers, and claim funding under government schemes, like the mid-day meal.”

“If you ask school teachers or principals whether a particular child attends a school, they will say yes and a child will confirm the same,” Nagargoje adds. “But he may not attend, while the schools consume the funds.” Organisations and departments like MPSP are experimenting with utilising Aadhaar cards to monitor actual attendance in schools.

Following a public hue and cry, the government on July 21 issued another GR asking surveyors to reach children who were uncounted under the previous survey. The task was to be finished before July 31. “How can government reach lakhs of kids within 4-5 days?” Nagargoje asks. He alleges that the government does not want to accept that lakhs of children are out of school – that way it can wash its hands of responsibility for their education.

Vinod Tawade, education minister, on September 4, announced that a fresh survey will be conducted in November with the help of NGOs to identify every single child who is out of school. The move will ensure the inclusion of children of workers in various sectors and temporary migrants who were left out of the July 4 survey.

“As of now, we got information of 219 OoSC but the work of collection of information is on,” said Mahavir Mane, Director, MPSP. He also said that government would continue this survey throughout the year.

“The survey that was carried again from 26 July to 31 July was not conducted loosely. We will go on a strike if government does not take the issue seriously,” Rege warned.

  • Peeyush Sekhsaria

    The Maharashtra Government’s approach to the whole issue smacks of ‘washing their hands off’, a shame for a state that otherwise likes to claim leadership in everything progressive under the sun!