Children from highly populated semi-urban settlements in Sangam Vihar, had been struggling through the problems of long, expensive and scary ride to school after class V, since more than 2 decades. What followed was an obvious aftermath - high dropout rates, poor attendance ratio, low learning outcomes, increase in child labour and consequently, growing rate of abuse and violence in the community.
Childreach India and Nav Srishti entered Sangam Vihar, New Delhi to bridge the gaps in quality education for children from 6 to 14 years in the community. Each parent came with one plea - Give our children a school that they can go daily being fearless. They were not ready to send their children to the feeder school, 7 km away from where they live.
The parents united, approached and appealed for months to change the feeder school. With the Right to Education Act in place, the authorities sensitized and changed their policy on April 2, 2013. 1800 children graduating from 4 primary schools after class V could now go to the school just one km from their house that children could walk through easily. Not to comment on the condition of roads and its state during rain, for now. Parents and children were in complete joy, for them it was a dream come true as many mothers and fathers had left their education after class V for the same reason.
The memories of the tale of fear, struggle and delight were still afresh when the academic year of 2014-2015 arrived with an uncalled for unexpected challenge. The decision of admission for 465 boys from one of the 4 schools got revert. They had to again go to the same 7 km far school.
“I would rather prefer to keep him at home or send him to my village in Bihar but would never send him to school this far” said Samira, 26 years, mother of Mustaaf.
The children disillusioned, parents in dilemma and teachers disheartened. Parents refused all together to send their 10 year-old children through the unorganized, insensitive and expensive public transport, the crowded roads, the popular streets that reminds them of nerve-wrecking incidents and accidents. For a few, could work harder to earn Rs. 800 a month for one child for travel to school, still not to compromise with the child’s safety. In our annual event that we organized in Sangam Vihar School, last month, to celebrate the involvement, participation and empowerment of parents, teachers and children on the issue of quality education of their children, the parents thronged us with one voice. Why this change for my child, how will he study now, please do something? Each mother told her own tale though similar but still unique as every child!
“I felt sad, did not feel like eating, all children go to school but I sit at home the whole day”, said Sohan, son of Ruksana. Parents and children refused to take transfer certificate from the school. Some with the hope of change in decision while others felt a repeat of class V was better than sitting at home.
Jaya Chatterjee, the program coordinator says “It was the time when I made the parents understand that this is not the issue of only their child, but of 465 children, the government would accept our proposal as this is the basic right of the children, we have to keep patience and be optimistic.”
Visits to the primary school principal, asking him the same question framed distinctively each time, became a daily activity for the parents while their children accompanied them with the readiness to join the school the next day. The united parents and children appealed, petitioned and urged all individuals and institutions with the hope to save the future of their children from dropping out of studies.
The situation became volatile, the primary school principal, already disappointed and concerned about the future of his 465 children became the only target for the crowd of parents in despair. The parents, he knew, would listen to our project coordinator whom he would call before entering the school every day. He knew they would believe in her and her words would have more answers and more hope for them.
Kusum, mother of Vineet, says “This was a daunting task, everyone we approached said, nothing could be done now, but we were together and determined.”
A month old struggle of 465 parents came to a prolific conclusion on April 25. There are still high crowds of parents and children in the primary school. This time for a better reason, collecting admission forms for their children to the nearby senior secondary school.
“This is the victory of the parents and the children, they were informed and aware and had the belief and confidence. None of the parents lost hope and all stood together to voice their situation”, said Neeru Chaudhary, Head - Programs, Childreach India.
If parents are aware they will exercise their rights and the parents at Sangam Vihar have demonstrated it, said Reena Banerjee, Secretary Nav Srishti.