Schools in the fast lane

Educating the children of a migrant population constantly on the move is a challenge few in the city have taken up.

How do you educate children of migrant workers who have no permanent place called home ? From tent schools in labour camps to tracking the child via phone, organisations in the city of 1.8 million migrants are trying to figure it out.  

Little room inspite of the construction boom – Jnana Jyoti tent school

They come to the city to build the urban dreams of a population that works in state-of-the-art office complexes, lives in swanky high-rises and entertains itself in multi-storeyed-plexes. They live in dirty tenements, paying the landowners a few hundred rupees a month to camp in plots with no water or electricity and always amidst stinky free-flowing drains. And while they work away at the next concrete wonder or go looking for daily wage labour, the children, unlike their more fortunate settled counterparts in schools, stay put at camp.

A study estimates the number of migrant workers in Bangalore city to be over 15 lakhs, living in over 800 slums. For a population whose shifting rate varies from a few months to a few years, educating their nomadic children is a huge challenge, requiring intervention at multiple levels.

The tenting solution

As with every other social welfare scheme, the govt., through its “tent” schools, has got something going, but only just. In the staid one-room, one-window enclosures set up in labour camps all over the city, 35-40 children ranging from those just born to teens jostle for space while screaming ‘two ones are two’ loudly. No methods exist to monitor progress, nobody knows when the children come or go; the schools do little to enrol these camp children. Gayatri, the teacher at the Tubarahalli tent school I visit looks every bit as helpless as the kids. “How do I manage 35-40 children alone? The other teacher is on vacation. We get midday meals from Akshaya Patra, but kids have to walk to the govt. school to receive it.” The govt. prescribed syllabus emphasizes on learning how to read and write Kannada letters, singing a few songs and doing some basic math. The centre needs sponsors for morning milk and snacks for the kids, notebooks, stationery etc; which is ironic, as there is a huge board outside declaring sponsorship by some company, who apparently have not showed up after the inauguration day.

‘Floor math’ at Epsilon school. Pic: AM

A successful experiment

In contrast, the AzimPremji Foundation run schools at construction sites and the Ashraya run crèches are examples of how dedicated, systemic interventions can bring immense benefit. Housed in colourfully painted red brick structures put up by the builder, the Epsilon school has 1 classroom for kids from 0-6, and two for those above. “Our 2 point focus is to kindle the desire to learn in the younger kids while preparing the older ones to join mainstream schools using our ‘no-textbook’ interactive learning. We deal with the uncertainty of the duration of their stay (averages at 150 days) by giving them what we call ‘power shots’ – modules spanning just 6-8 weeks”, says Dr. Shalini, Project Leader – Academics and Pedagogy at the AzimPremji Foundation. Other systems like nutritious food twice a day, monthly onsite health check ups, a dedicated caretaker for the babies, regular community meetings to encourage parents to educate their children and a savings scheme ensure 100% enrolment.

Progressive methods, caring teachers

“We pamper the little ones! It’s the only way they will learn” says Ancilla, the ever-smiling motherly figure, who teaches them all the basics- from taking a bath to reading and developing motor skills using fun activities, art, craft and toys. As the older children sit in circles around the teacher, sans notebooks, animatedly “discussing” the lesson, they get regularly assessed through interaction levels, without tests or exams. Children who leave the city get certificates that can be used to gain admission to schools wherever they go next. Watching a very charged Prakash urging the boys to total up Dhoni’s latest scores during Math and Ancilla gently feeding and comforting a bawling toddler make it clear that motivated teachers keep the school together. “Which institution prepares teachers to teach without textbooks? We place a lot of emphasis on training; weekly workshops, discussions and intensive quarterly training modules. We also teach them to use the internet and download material online” says Shalini.

Once the student comes up to the 5th Std level, he/she is enrolled in the nearest Govt. school, and progress tracked for the next 2 years for those in the same city. Where kids move out and conventional tracking methods fail, the special student-teacher rapport built helps, as the kids keep calling their teachers to tell them what they are studying. The results are admirable – 440 children enrolled in the last 3 years (2008-2010),over 10 being tracked for progress in mainstream Bangalore schools , 2 of them have even topped their classes!

The builder’s will

Discussing Dhoni’s scores in class. Pic: AM

The Epsilon and Windmill schools run due to a 50:50 partnership with the builder. The builders support the project in multiple ways – infrastructure, giving parents off-time to attend school meetings, monetary and outreach help. Construction houses like Purva outsource running of onsite crèches to organizations like Ashraya. Builders, it would seem, help this system stand on two feet. “Only 5% of the workforce in a project comprises knowledge workers. The rest, doing the bulk of the work, are the real creators of the wealth. Only if builders recognize that investing in the welfare of their labour is a strategic measure for retention and ensuring reliable work rather than meeting regulations, will the situation improve”, avers Mr. Chandrashekhar Hariharan, Chairman of ecoBCIL constructions.

Meanwhile, the 1.8 million migrants working on the city’s infrastructure have to wait – for the builders to come together, organizations like Azim- Premji Foundation to spread their wings further and the govt. to start thinking of partners who can help run their schools better.

Aarti Mohan is the Chief editor of The Alternative. more


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Aarti Mohan is the Chief editor of The Alternative. more

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