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Getting children back to school in pandemic times

Bengaluru: The Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) has helped bring children from poor families back to school in Bengaluru. The initiative is part of CFAR’s work to alleviate the impact of COVID-19, particularly on the poor and the marginalized.

CFAR is currently implementing a four-city social inclusion project for the urban poor in Bengaluru, Pune, Ajmer and Bhubaneswar. In Bengaluru, the project is being implemented in 48 slums across 7 Wards in the West Zone where Single Window and Help-desks which are mechanisms that connect communities to institutions and benefits and help mainstream socially marginalized urban poor communities. The seven wards include Binnipete-121, Subhash Nagar-95, Nagarabhavi-128, Nayandahalli-131, Chaluvadi Playa-138, Oklipuram-96 and Deepanjali Nagar-158 Bangalore urban district covering 1, 42,350 urban slum population. The project is being run in partnership with urban local bodies and key departments across the settlements and is being supported by the Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives and Azim Premji Foundation.

When the lockdown was lifted in September and November, we observed that many children were working as daily wage labourers in grocery shops, repair shops, street vendors and construction sites to support the family. As a result, many of them simply dropped out of school or discontinued schooling. The children were earning approximately Rs.100 per day which was a great support to the family. At the construction workers’ sites, we noticed that many children accompanied their parents to work and supported as helpers and earned money.

When the schools reopened, neither of the parents nor the children were prepared to go back to school as they had become earning members of their families and helped meet their financial needs. In one of the government schools, in Ambedkar Nagar of Nayandahalli-131 Ward with 1,100 households, we observed that out of 46 children, 23 were not going regularly to school while some had dropped out and had migrated back to their native places. That is when the CFAR team, supported by Help-desk members, reached out to school authorities and the parents to ensure that children returned to school and continued their education.

CFAR team prepared a list of children from various schools and with that list the Help-desk members and Single Window teams visited door-to-door and counseled parents. In the first instance, 22 children who had dropped out were re-admitted after counseling. As the intervention was scaled up, 28 Help-desk members reached out to and counseled around 865 parents on this issue.

We found that many of the children could not track the day they had to attend classes as the school was running on alternate days. They had no one to guide them as the parents would leave for work early in the morning. Since Help-desk members were located in the same settlement, they guided the children and ensured that they attended school regularly. The Help-desk workers also worked with school authorities to distribute food grains provided under the midday meal scheme.

The Single Window and Help-desk team worked closely with 15 government schools and one Government College. We collected a list of 1,290 children studying in sixth and seventh standards and 102 children studying in eighth to tenth standards and began to systematically work with the children to ensure that they attended classes regularly. A total of 865 parents were counseled by the Help-desk members. From January 2021 we also facilitated 78 children to update their Aadhar cards for their admission in the first standard. The Aadhar centres were set up in collaboration with E-Governance and Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) in the Single Window office functioning in a government building in Bangalore.