Bridging the gap for mainstreaming underprivileged children

By Aditi Hastak

According to the UNESCO EFA report, 1.4 million children between the ages of six to 11 are out of school in India, which is the fourth largest number in the world. As of November 2013, Bangalore had 26,000 out of school urban poor children living in dire conditions, not getting an education. Many of these underprivileged children are children of migrant parents who are involved in unorganized work, such as construction labor or rag pickers. This forces many children to take on household responsibilities like sibling care at a very early or labor work, which fundamentally impacts their education. Considering that migration to Bangalore is from parts of India where the mother tongue is different than Kannada, this internal migration impacts children the most.

UNESCO Education for All report, 1.4 million children between the ages of six to 11 are out of school in India, which is the fourth largest number in the world. As of November 2013, Bangalore had 26,000 out of school urban poor children living in dire conditions, not getting an education. Many of these underprivileged children are children of migrant parents who are involved in unorganized work, such as construction labor or rag pickers. This forces many children to take on household responsibilities like sibling care at a very early or labor work, which fundamentally impacts their education. Considering that migration to Bangalore is from parts of India where the mother tongue is different than Kannada, this internal migration impacts children the most.

Bangalore Effective Education Task Force (BEETF), a consortium of corporates, non-profit organizations (NPOs), and individuals, who, after understanding this very problem of out of school children, commenced work in the space of education for the underprivileged through their project "Bridging Gaps in Education: Addressing the gaps in the opportunities for education of underprivileged children." This project includes different components like a bridge program (a year-long program), an after school program, an in school/beyond school program, and a finishing school program targeting varied challenges faced by the children.

The project piloted its operations in the last academic year (2014-2015) with four government schools in Bangalore South region of Bangalore. The program facilitation lead is Let’s Do Some Good Foundation (LDSG), the implementation lead is Samridhdhi Trust, and the anchor partner is Manipal Foundation.

Given the issues of out of school children, the bridge program, therefore, focuses on combining literacy, knowledge, and skills education for out-of-school children in the age group of six to 14. The bridge program is conducted inside the government school premises for which BEETF has signed a memorandum of understanding with the office of the Department of Public Instruction, Government of Karnataka. "A critical step of identifying the out of school children is conducted by our implementation partners working in the slums through door to door survey," says Shoma Bakre, founder of LDSG and lead facilitating organization for this project. Taking into consideration the sibling care issue, younger children of age group of zero to five years are also accommodated in the same campus for a sibling care program.

After one year of accommodating and understanding their level of knowledge and skills and comfort, the children are mainstreamed appropriately into either government schools or private schools.

For the children who are mainstreamed, in-school/beyond school and after-school programs are also run. This is also critical, because many of the mainstreamed children may find it difficult to adjust immediately to the new environment. The in-school program focuses on improving learning outcomes for English, computers, life skills, etc. The after-school program provides additional support to the mainstreamed children in their studies. In addition, the children who finish the schooling are extended support through grooming, personality development, skills training, computer training, and English and communications training. And lastly, this "cradle to employability" approach aspires to facilitate higher education or job placement for these children.

In the last academic year (pilot phase for the project), 800 children were enrolled in four government schools in Bangalore and out of them 350+ were mainstreamed in this academic year after completion of the one-year bridge program. Two after-school programs are also on-going. In the academic year of 2015-16, nine new bridge schools have started with 800 students.

As mentioned above, many of these are children of migrant labors. The families do not stay at one place for long and may move to other places. The real challenge while working in this space is to track the children who have migrated to other states or even to other locations in the city. And, it's important to track questions like, Do they go back to child labor? Do they enroll in schools again? Or do they take up jobs based on the education they received?

"Support is necessary to ensure that hundreds of migrant children do not grow up as illiterate, mal-adjusted, undesirable elements in society, who can easily be lured into anti-social activities and lead economically and socially deprived lives," echoes the team BEETF.

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