About a year ago, several children from Chakrapani Vasti of Bhosari would tag along with their parents wherever they went to earn their daily bread. The slum comprises about 80 families with no fixed source of income as most of them depend on rag-picking, selling herbs and medicines, trinkets, small jewelery items and so on for their livelihoods. In maximum cases, the young children add to the income of their parents by doing extra work. So, when the representatives working for Every Child Counts (ECC), a citizens campaign, approached the families of the vasti urging them to enroll their children in a school, a tough decision lay ahead of them. However, with patience and persistence, they have managed to conquer nearly all obstacles and have succeeded in enrolling about 40 children at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Primary School, Bhosari.
The ECC Campaign, which aims to enroll every 6 to 7 year-old child in mainstream schools, was conceived by city-based social worker Rajani Paranjpe, who runs runs Door Step School (DSS) that educates under-privileged children in Pune and Mumbai. As part of the campaign, in the year 2012 and 2013, as many as 3000 children were enrolled in PMC area under the Right to Education Act in 2012 and 2013. The initiative, this year, reached out to PCMC and fringe areas of Pune like Talegaon, Chakan, Wagholi and Pirangut. With the support of 150 volunteers from various educational institutes and corporate CSR groups, since June this year, 1100 sites were surveyed and over a 1,000 children enrolled. The Chakrapani Vasti was one of the areas which were surveyed under the campaign. The slum had over 50 children between the age groups 6 to 10 years. Recounting the initial challenges, says Ankita Yadav, associate director, ECC, “When we visited Chakrapani Vasti in April this year for the first time and met the families, they were far from being convinced. After two to three meetings, about 15 to 20 parents came forward. One of the prime concerns of most parents was that the income earned by their kids would stop if they start going to school.” There were a few parents who hadn’t enrolled their kids simply because they didn’t have the necessary documents, and hence they were sending their children for private tuition. “None of them were aware about the RTE Act and the fact that their children can be enrolled without the documents,” added Yadav. Once the representatives educated them about the RTE Act, a few more parents gave a nod.
The next challenge, however, was to acclimatize the children to the school environment. “The children weren’t habituated to sitting in one place; they’re hyperactive. We arranged for a bus which worked as a school-on-wheels. It was parked at the vasti itself and we started conducting preparatory classes for them in the bus,” informs Yadav, adding that the classes went on for 20 days in two shifts, for three hours each.
August onward, the children started going to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Primary School. Since commuting to school was a problem posed, a school bus was arranged with the donations received from various quarters. However, Yadav points out another problem that needs to be tackled. “The children aren’t very regular and once they take a break they get relaxed. In such cases, we need to counsel the children as well as their parents,” she says, adding that the support classes for the children are still on at the vasti wherein the focus is on development of pre-reading and pre-writing skills. Besides, the children are also exposed to art and craft. “The educational aids are different given their approach to the concept of school and learning. We have a proper detailed plan for three hours to keep them engaged,” says Yadav, adding that the DSS representatives’ next target is to get a nod from the parents who are yet to be convinced.