Ten-year-old, Khushi Mena and her friends are happily going through their lessons in their school located in the remote village of Kitoda, Udaipur district, in northern Indian state of Rajasthan.
Ten-year-old Khushi Mena and her friends are happily going through their lessons in their school located in the remote village of Kitoda, Udaipur district, in northern Indian state of Rajasthan. Watching them from a distance, with a great sense of pride, is the panchayat coordinator, Silwans Patel, and other community leaders and village-level workers. If it were not for Silwans and other community leaders, girls like Khushi would have dropped out of the school to look after their younger siblings, herd sheep and work on cotton fields in neighbouring states.
Rajasthan is one of India’s largest state in terms of geographical area and the student dropout rates continue to be higher than the national average as large number of children are engaged in paid labour (particularly in the cotton industry). In 2010, close to 1.2 million children in the state were out of school, 0.7 million were girls.
For the last six years, Silwans has been working with determination towards ensuring that every child, particularly girls, stay in school and complete their elementary education. Luckily, Silwans is not alone in this mission. Community leaders and village-level workers in ten panchayats of Udaipur are also working on the same.
The spurt in the enrolment rate would have been unthinkable in 2008 when less than half the number of children aged 6-14 years attended school in eight panchayats of Girwa, Sarada and Kherwada blocks in Udapiur
After multi-stakeholder deliberations, it was decided that transport facilities for children of these areas would ease their access to school and improve their participation in education.
Providing transport to get the children back to school and stay in the school was just a small part of the problem. “The most difficult part was to change the attitude of parents to send their children, particularly the girls, to school,” says Silwans Patel.
Night meetings were organised so that both the parents could participate in the discussions. “We ask the families not to send children to work in the marble mines, construction sites and cotton fields. Through day and night meetings with parents, bhajan mandalis (prayer groups), we have reaped rich dividends,” he states.
Principal Laxmi Joshi, who has been teaching for 29 years, offers incentives to students who show up on time or are regular to school. “I know some children, especially girls, don't have pens. So we give them pens as a prize and it works wonders with these children. During our prayer sessions, we felicitate them so that they remain motivated
Khushi’s school mate, Shaama is delighted to be in school. Shaama had dropped out of school after her family moved from another village a few months ago. “I love studying and thanks to community mobilisers like Nani bai. I am back in school and I love it here. I will complete my education, come what may,” says Shaama flanked with her siblings.