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Alternate schools enable children to enter formal schools

© UNICEF/India/Sajana/2005
The class congregates on bare,cracked ground under a Babool tree.

By Seema Kurup


Volunteer teacher Vatsala Pawar’s class does not have late-comers, absentees or drop outs. No uniforms, books, tables, chairs, blackboard and walls either. Not even a roof. Vatsala’s class congregates on bare,cracked ground under a Babool tree.

The class looks up eagerly towards Vatsala. She asks, “So what do you want to do today? Songs, exercises or drawing?” Songs get the unanimous vote. In the next instant, the entire class is on its feet, reciting one poem after the other.
Three years ago there were over 1300 out-of-school children in Arni. The Alternate Schools mainstreamed them into a formal school within two years.
The open air class in Pardhipada of Arni taluka in Yavatmal district of the state of Maharashtra, is an initiative of the Alternate School process initiated by the organization “Jhansi Ki Rani Bahuddheshiya Gram Vikas Sanstha” with support from the State run Primary Education Enhancement Project (PEEP) and UNICEF.

According to Rehana Bailimo, the President of the organization, “Three years ago, a survey carried out by our volunteers revealed a figure of over 1300 out-of-school children in Arni. The Alternate Schools brought these children under its wings. In two years time, they were mainstreamed into a formal school. Our follow up reveals, they have continued with their schooling.”

The Alternate School process was initiated as a pilot project in the Arni taluka of Yavatmal, one of the poorest districts in Maharashtra. As Rehana says, “The quality of education in these classes enabled the children to pick up faster and join formal school. Till today, children from Alternate Schools continue to perform the best in formal schools.”

 

© UNICEF/India/Sajana/2005
The open air class in Pardhipada in Yavatmal district of the state of Maharashtra, is an initiative of the Alternate School process

Alternate Schools offered out-of-school children the opportunity to enter the stream of education. Once regularized, children have the choice of getting mainstreamed into formal schools. The three year process has witnessed many a success story in the form of out-of-school children going on to become class ten pass-outs.

For volunteer-teacher Vatsala, running an alternate school class means reaching out to the poorest. “It is an opportunity to work with children, in a community that is the poorest, absolutely un-reached and marginalized. The Pardhi community where I work understood that education is a way to lead their children to a better life. The class now receives their full support. The current efforts are to procure birth certificates for the children to enable them to join a formal school.”
Mothers take over most of the household chores so that their daughters get the opportunity to attend school. And young boys willingly put aside their hunting of wild birds for their two hours of class. 

Pardhis are looked upon as social outcasts, being a de-notified tribe which traditionally sustains itself on alms and robbery. Though the present day generation of Pardhis is taking to alternate occupations, the stigma continues to haunt its children. While the community wages a war for land rights, gainful employment, justice and legal recognition; their children continue to remain out of formal schools.
 
The Alternate School process, with its focus on Right to Education for every child, leads the hitherto unrecognized children towards an entry into the formal schooling process.

The class touches the community too. Parents clean and groom their children for class. Mothers take over most of the household chores so that their daughters get the opportunity to attend school. And young boys willingly put aside their hunting of wild birds for their two hours of class.

The resolute community and the teacher-facilitator then join hands to make education accessible for its children.

Vatsala’s class is full and bustling with little learners.

 

 

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