In Gujarat, Niloshi’s five-year olds enroll in school amidst jubilation
By Radhika Srivastava
A broken mountain road ascends to Niloshi village in Valsad district of Gujarat, one of the relatively prosperous states of India. Niloshi, located at a rugged end of the Western Ghat mountains, is home to one of the most backward tribes in the state.
However, on June 17, Niloshi woke up to a joyful occasion involving all households. All five-year olds in the village were to be enrolled in the village primary school on that day. They were part of a special school enrollment drive called ``Shala Pravesh Utsav’’ launched by the Gujarat State government. Niloshi, with a female literacy rate of 6.5 per cent, was determined to bring about a radical change. Parents who had never been to school were dancing and singing as they saw their little ones go to school.
`Shala Pravesh Utsav’ literally means School Entrance Festival. And the mood was surely festive. The drum-beaters whipped up a frenzy with their music and accompanying them were wind instrument players. Coloured paper flags stuck to a string hung on bamboo poles along the road. At the centre of all the activity were about thirty children, all below six years who stood in a line outside the village temple, waiting to be enrolled in school. All wore paper crowns and were clearly very pleased with all the attention they were getting. Their small hands reached out every now and then to adjust the diadems on their heads.
Next to Sarika stood five-year old Manisha, daughter of Navsu Bhoya, an illiterate farmer who remarked “Had the Shala Pravesh Utsav not been held, I would not have known that it was time for Manisha to join school. I always thought she was too small and could wait for a couple of more years.”
Balubhai Ganga Bhai Pawar, the village headman, who has played a key role in leading the drive and motivating parents said, “We sent out messengers to all homes to speak to parents of children not yet enrolled. This is how the villagers came to know of the event and agreed to send their children to school. Our preparations include training by UNICEF in which we learnt how to make crowns and placards.”
The School Enrollment Drive, an annual event, aims to reach all children above the age of five and getting them enrolled in primary schools. Between June 16 and 18, this drive was held in all 18,618 villages in Gujarat. As a result 235,085 children (118,728 boys and 116,357 girls) children were enrolled.The initiative began after Gujarat was shown to rank 21st among the 35 states and Union Territories in India in terms of its literacy status, especially that of girls and women. A large number of teachers have been recruited in the past couple of years and several scholarship schemes have been started for children in villages. The enrolment drive is part of the effort to put all children in school. The state chief minister, Narendra Modi, launched the campaign by pleading with people to get their girls admitted to school.
In the crowd sat Sankadi, a tribal woman and her son Jamu, 5, who has six elder siblings none of whom goes to school. “I came to know through my neighbour about the Shala Pravesh Utsav. So I have brought my son here,” she said. “For many generations, nobody in my family ever went to school. Our children would help us with cattle grazing. But I think Jamu should get a chance to study,” she said.
Sankadi was not quite sure how education would help Jamu lead a better life, but she was willing to give it a try. “I have heard that education is necessary. And I have hope that at least Jamu might benefit from it,” she said.