Student Council draws attention to child-specific issues in West Bengal
By Sreenath Cheruvari
For eleven year old Madhumita Banerjee, sitting face to face with the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Shri Buddadeb Bhattacharjee in the famous Writers Building and explaining the viewpoint of the Students Council was a situation straight out of dreams. Not only for Madhumita but for 20 other children drawn from Government and Municipal schools in North Twenty Four Parganas district of West Bengal, it was a dream come true. “The whole atmosphere was so overwhelming, I just can’t wait to go back to my village and tell my friends and family about this” said Dipantita Hazra a Grade Eight student from Shyamnagar Balika Vidyalaya. The Chief Minister spent over forty five minutes with the students and listened to the views of the students’ council on topics relating to Health, Education, Child Protection and Environment and some specific problems concerning their schools.
These hand picked students, wearing UNICEF T – shirts and caps, were part of a group representing 60 schools and madrassas as representatives of Student Council, a unique experiment launched by the Department of School Education, UNICEF and Prayasam, an NGO working for child rights, to promote the rights of the child and simultaneously build a sense of responsibility. Piyali Mazumdar from the NGO ‘Prayasam’ explains that the primary objective behind the students’ council is to help the children face the world with confidence. “The idea is to make them aware of various issues that affect their lives and to help them formulate their views on these topics”.
The Students Council programme was received with much enthusiasm by the students. The council leaders were chosen from various schools through secret ballot. During the orientation each school was given specific topics for discussion related to issues that had a direct bearing on them such as Quality education, Health and Family Welfare, HIV/ AIDS prevention, Child Protection and Environment.
The orientation sessions were held with the cooperation of the respective school teachers who welcomed the initiative and gave their full hearted support. Shri Lakshmi Chakraborthy, Headmistress, Barasath Uccha Balika Vidyalaya points out that it is imperative for children to be aware of issues that have a direct bearing on them “The future is in their hands and they should have every right to decide what kind of a world they inherit”
As a part of the programme, mock assemblies were organized and issues related to Education, Health, Child Protection and Environment were discussed. Gopa Banerjee a Grade X student of Belgoria Mahakali Balika Vidylaya said that the deliberations at the students’ council opened his eyes and gave him a new perspective on the gamut of issues facing children. “The knowledge and insight I gained cannot be acquired through any text book. It was a great experience”
As Piyali Mazumdar, of the NGO ‘Prayasam’ put it, “ the fact that the Government officials and the Chief Minister gave a patient hearing to children’s views is a big step, With continued efforts we are sure that children will be able to push matters concerning their welfare into the State Government’s agenda” .