On the outskirts of Bengaluru, children of poor remain on the periphery

On the outskirts of Bengaluru, children of poor remain on the periphery

Submitted by alvin on Thu, 2016-05-19 20:10 Bengaluru Urban revenue district comprises of four Taluks – Bengaluru North, Bengaluru South, Bengaluru East and Anekal. Electronics city, located in Anekal, the pride of Silicon city Bengaluru, is an IT hub and one of India’s largest electronics industrial parks, houses major IT / ITES companies and a bio-tech park, employing more than a lakh employees.   Census 2011 provides some interesting insights pertaining to Bengaluru Urban district, which will have a bearing on accomplishing educational goals in general and inform our work in education in the coming years. Azim Premji Foundation, with which I am associated, intend to work closely with teachers who teach in schools spread across 562 villages across these four taluks. This is largely a peri-urban area with an admixture of rural and urban pockets, with clear signs of becoming mostly urban in the days ahead. With a population of nearly one crore (95.89 lacs), it is the 3rd highest populated district in India among all of 640 districts.A look at the social and economic conditions of the people indicates that a significant number of people belong mostly to middle class and lower middle class. In the economic sphere, 41�f the population constitutes the marginal and main workforce, signifying that they have moved away from agriculture and allied rural vocations such as animal husbandry. Nearly 79�f the workforce are men, who work in readymade garments and textile factories, chemical, engineering and other industries and services. In view of the number of job opportunities available here, a high percentage of people migrate from neighboring states and northern districts of the Karnataka for their livelihood.   The literacy levels of the population in the Foundation’s working area – parts of Anekal, Bengaluru South and East Taluks - indicate that a high 26�f them are illiterate. Bengaluru Urban district also recorded the highest number of out of school children (at 3996) in 2013-14. This, along with a high dropout number (18,393), could be explained by the fact that in many cases, both parents are employed, in which case girls have to manage their households, collect drinking water, clean utensils, wash clothes and take charge of their younger siblings. The challenges of enrolment, retention and provision of quality education to all children of marginalized communities in peri-urban areas came out starkly when we undertook an enrollment drive in just five villages under Kodati Grama Panchayath in Bengaluru East Taluk along with the education department in 2014-15. The joint effort succeeded in identifying 21 children of migrant labourers who were working in construction and other sectors and resulted in getting them enrolled into schools, apart from getting back 30 other children of similar backgrounds who had been abstaining, into schools.  The main reasons for their not attending schools were – a deep sense of insecurity, compounded by their fleeting stay at their tents due to seasonal migration, lack of adequate residential and other basic facilities, lack of care and support from teachers at schools especially for them to cope up with learning deficiencies since many of them came from multi-lingual backgrounds, etc. During our house-to-house campaign and informal interaction with parents and community, we gathered some vital information as to what kind of education they wanted to provide for their children.i.             Though they were forced to cough up exorbitant amounts towards payment of fees and other funds for admitting their children in the so called ‘good’ private schools, they still did it as they believed that those schools did a much better job in teaching apart from making other facilities available.  ii.            On the contrary, they complained against government schools for not offering English medium nor providing basic facilities. This, despite the fact that the government schools did a much better job in inculcating self-confidence and leadership qualities among children, along with an ability to cope with the trials and tribulations of life. iii.          With regard to the statistics pertaining to enrolment and retention of children, the record seems to have been good for children of parents who had originally been the residents of these villages. Whereas, the marginalized children of migrant laborers, who were out of school, faced an iniquitous situation.iv.          Much to our surprise, a significant proportion of villagers was not even aware of the provisions of the Right to Education Act.v.           In a related trend, the school development and monitoring committees (SDMC) in villages were mostly inactive, and had distanced themselves from the schools, due to their ignorance and lack of ownership. On their part, the schools failed to maintain a close relationship with the community, though they had been involved in enrolment drives in the past.vi.          The relationship of schools with parents of poor and disadvantaged backgrounds was significantly lower, deterring active participation from parents. vii.        Vitally, the parents were unwilling to place their children in the hands of teachers who travelled long distances, resulting in some of them reaching schools late, thus losing out effective classroom teaching time.           The above insights from the field highlight the need for a much closer collaboration between schools and stakeholders – education functionaries, SDMC, parents, community, Panchayats, local youth, anganwadis, other allied departments, self-help groups and non-governmental organizations.    Some of the above factors got further reinforced in March this year when we conducted a brief exercise to understand the teachers’ profile in some select clusters of Attibele and Bengaluru South 4 educational blocks. We found that more than 50�f the teachers lived in faraway locations in Bengaluru city and commuted long distances to schools. A massive 88�f the lower primary schools are single- or two-teacher schools, while more than 75�f the women teachers were compelled to leave schools on time to fulfill their domestic responsibilities. These factors not only pose a serious challenge for creating a vibrant learning environment in those schools but also for any meaningful engagement with teachers in terms of their professional development.Nevertheless, considering that deep social disadvantages persist even today in society, “equity of opportunity” in terms of access to quality education, particularly for children from the most disadvantaged sections in society, is vital. It cannot be dependent only upon the ability to pay. By their very nature, private schools are constrained by ‘what the customer wants’, and ‘who can pay the best price’. The next few years are very critical to save the government school system – in the light of the trend that nearly 80�f children have been enrolled in private schools in urban areas, rural pockets areas following suit with 40-50�nrolment. Chances are that greater purchasing power and misplaced consumerism will hasten this process of higher enrolment in private schools.As per the first ‘India Exclusion report’ brought out in 2013 by the Centre of Equity studies, “the educational accomplishments – including literacy, school enrolment and retention - of women and girls, Dalit, tribal and Muslim children, and children with disabilities, have all improved over the last decade, but still remain well behind the general population. Even among these who do enter schools, millions of children born into disadvantaged castes or stigmatized faiths, or with disabilities, suffer humiliation and neglect within the classrooms. Among our many failures as a people, the most unconscionable is the way we treat our children. Unequal India will also change only when our classrooms become more egalitarian and humane”.       It is, therefore, crucial to demonstrate positive change in different urban pockets to restore parents’ confidence in the government school system. As Harsh Mander has rightly observed in his chilling book ‘Looking Away’ (published by Speaking Tiger, 2015), “much of this would entail additional public money, and also far greater political prioritization, administrative will and the willingness to be accountable. But we must clamour to muster both the resources and the will required for this, because what can be a higher priority for public investment and attention than the health and futures of our children? All our children”.    Stark RealityFor the purpose of educational administration, 27 revenue districts have been reorganized into 34 educational districts, with Bengaluru urban district being divided into Bengaluru South and Bengaluru North. Two staggering data points as per Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE 2014-15) pertaining to Bengaluru South district show that out of a total of 2834 elementary schools in all (run under all types of managements), the government (including social welfare department and local bodies) directly runs 888 schools, constituting 31�f the total, while the private managements run 1735 unaided schools amounting to 61�If we add the private aided schools, this percentage increases by another 7�Further, the enrolment data clearly demonstrates the parental preference towards private schools. Out of a total 14.84 lakh students, a whopping 77�tudents were admitted in private unaided schools (this figure goes up to 85�f we add enrolment in aided schools); with only a mere 2 lakh students (14� mainly from the marginalized and deprived sections of society, studying in government schools. These figures would probably remain the same, more or less, with slight variations with regard to interior localities, our actual working area in the field this year. AuthorS V Manjunath is currently heading Azim Premji Foundation - Karnataka as its State head. He made a mid – career shift more than six and half years back, when he joined Azim Premji Foundation.