The long walk towards education for migrant children

The long walk towards education for migrant children

  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram

It’s a Saturday, when many children are out playing on their day off. Six-year-old Kajal (name changed), from Odisha’s Koraput district, is revising her language lessons in Odia with her teacher Gulnaar at a small work site centre in Perumbakkam, Chennai. She isn’t the only one in the small room. Uday (name changed) from Nellore in Andhra Pradesh is waiting for his teacher to help him...

It’s a Saturday, when many children are out playing on their day off. Six-year-old Kajal (name changed), from Odisha’s Koraput district, is revising her language lessons in Odia with her teacher Gulnaar at a small work site centre in Perumbakkam, Chennai. She isn’t the only one in the small room. Uday (name changed) from Nellore in Andhra Pradesh is waiting for his teacher to help him with his lessons in Telugu.

The two are part of a weekend study group that helps integrate children of inter-state migrants into the education system and keep them there, even as their parents travel for work. While the parents go to work the children revise the lessons they study at school, at the centre, which acts as a daycare of sorts. These children primarily come from Odisha and Andhra with their parents who work as labourers in the construction industry.

  • What is Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan?
    • The scheme, launched in July 2018, is an umbrella programme for the school education sector extending from pre-school to class XII.
    • It subsumes three centrally sponsored schemes — Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan and Teacher Education.
    • The scheme looks to provide education to children affected by periodic migration and ones living in remote and scattered habitations.
    • It also reaches out to girls and children belonging to minority communities.
    • The scheme looks after the infrastructural strengthening of existing government schools and provides for its annual maintenance and repair of toilets and other facilities.

The initiative by the Tamil Nadu State Education Department, under the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, works closely with an NGO called Aide Et Action to reach out to migrant families that come to the state for various forms of work. The 50-odd children at the centre in Perumbakkam are between the age group of 3 to 14. While those above six years are enrolled in nearby government schools through the week, the centre teaches children between the ages of 3 to 6 throughout the week. The older kids are at the centre only on Saturdays, when their parents are working.

The children at the centre, who are taught in Telugu and Odia, will be in Chennai for at least another year as their parents are working on a construction project along the city’s IT corridor. When they leave, the children will be given a certificate and the next school they go to will ensure their enrolment to help continue their education.

The above is a result of the Right To Education Act, 2009, which ensures that states look at education beyond boundaries to include migrant children. As a result, Tamil Nadu, which sees a huge number of migrants coming in from Andhra and Odisha, has tied up with the respective state education departments. The children are taught in their parent tongue, as mandated by the Act.

India and internal migration

The Global Education Monitoring (GEM) report from the UNESCO, released in 2019, says, ‘In India, inter-state migration rates doubled between 2001 and 2011 (World Economic Forum, 2017). An estimated 9 million migrated between states annually from 2011 to 2016.’

The top receiving states of migrants are Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra and Delhi, while the top sending states are Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Andhra.

In Tamil Nadu, over the past few years, the migrant population has concentrated in the districts of Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram, apart from Chennai.

Ben Davis, programme officer of Aid Et Action India, says that they have a post card system that helps them track the migrant children. He explains, “When they return to their respective villages, the government school nearby sends us an acknowledgment that they have been enrolled in the school and will continue their education there, through a postcard. This has worked well in districts like Tiruvallur, where about 30 such centres are functioning to cater to children of migrant workers in the brick kiln industry.”

As many as 10 lakh migrant workers are said to visit the state for over six months at a time. While they are mostly employed at brick kilns and construction sites, experts point out that ancillary units linked to the automobile sector have a huge share of migrant workers, including those from Assam. Bernard D’Sami, senior fellow, Loyola Institute of Social Science Training and Research (LISSTAR), Loyola College, says, “The states have woken up to the challenges of catering to the migrant workforce with respect to education, and Tamil Nadu, along with Kerala, has developed aggressive models to cater to their needs.”

In Tiruvallur, B Senthil, child care protection officer, talks about the enumeration process done every year in the district in association with the brick kiln owners association. He says, “Through coordinated efforts, we are able to reach out to every migrant worker family to ensure that they do not drop out due to travel and migration.” He gives examples of sending back children between the ages of 10 to 13 in the past three years. One such person is Sucharita (name changed) who has now completed class 10 in her village in Odisha’s Balangir district.

States step up measures

Last year, the Maharashtra government came up with the idea of direct benefit transfer of ₹8,500 for every family of migrant workers to ensure that the children do not drop out due to migration. Covered under the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, the pilot project was implemented in Shirur, in Beed taluk. The amount, meant for six months, was part of a pilot project to ensure parents do not pull children out of schools when they leave to cities in search of jobs. Instead, they could leave the children behind with the grandparents or relatives to continue their education.

D’Sami says that Odisha has the best model among the sending states, as it has opened seasonal hostels for the children to be lodged and continue studies, when their parents leave. He adds, “They have opened several such hostels in districts like Kalahandi, where there is a huge migrant population that goes as far as Tamil Nadu in search of work.”

Among the receiving states, Kerala is the best as it looks at the migrant force as guest workers. D’Sami says that the state takes all measures to ensure that the migrant population is looked after. For example, ‘Roshni’, a project in Ernakulam district in Kerala, launched in 2017, helps migrant children acquire proficiency in Malayalam, English and Hindi using the strategy of code-switching through special packages and by taking extra 90-minute morning classes before the regular ones.

Volunteers in Hindi, Bengali and Odia were brought on board for this project and it aimed at providing balanced minimum morning food and conducting comprehensive intellectual boosting workshops and study tours for migrant labourers’ children.

The adolescent gap

However, activists and experts working in the field say that they are unable to track the children after they cross 14 years. Davis says that they are yet to find a way to enrol this age group into schools. “We are trying to rope them in as well so that they continue studying, but somehow they seem to fall through the gaps,” he adds. The activists says the reason for this could be that after they complete class eight they become another pair of hands to employ.

Senthil says that they have been carrying out sudden checks at kilns to see that children are not made to work. “We hear about children being made to work. However, so far, we have not been able to identify such cases,” he says.

The GEM report also highlights that about 80 per cent of seasonal migrant children in seven Indian cities lacked access to education near work sites, and 40 per cent worked experiencing abuse and exploitation.

Even as Tamil Nadu cracks the whip on bonded labour, the truth remains that they get exploited, says T Kuralamuthan, a social worker at International Justice Mission. He adds, “In brick kilns, the children are given the task of turning the bricks over, when it is ready. Since bonded labourers are often trapped as families it is common to see children getting exploited this way. There have been cases of small children accidentally drowning in clay pits, in brick kilns. But these are settled amicably and no one gets to know about them. There are other industries like food processing units and textile mills that employ those in the age group of 15-25 years. The ones who work here are school dropouts.”

In 2015, around 50 girls were rescued from a food unit in Namakkal; most of them were from Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh. They lived in unhygienic and unsafe conditions in 10×10 rooms.

Kuralamuthan questions why the system in place doesn’t include psychosocial support. “We have children as young as 11 years being employed in food industries in Usilampatti. They are barely clothed while working and after they are rescued they are immediately sent to bridge schools in uniforms. How do they make the switch and how easy is it for them?” he wonders, adding that a policy should include such factors like mental health components. He also says that it is practically impossible to track each and every child to see if they continue studying after rescue and rehabilitation.

Activists say that there is a need for a more symbiotic approach with the health, labour, education, and social welfare departments in states. PK Elumalai, a social activist, says, “A separate body within the labour department can look at the migrant workforce and work on its rights to ensure minimum benefits like wages, better living conditions, healthcare access and such.”

Next Story