A mother with her newly enrolled daughter, Kirti
By Radha Vadaria
Valsad, Gujarat: It was a big day in five-year old Kirti Utana’s life. The drums were beating, village women donned their finest sarees, the streets were decked up with marigold and gulmohur flowers. All this to celebrate the fact that Kirti, daughter of illiterate, farm-labourer parents Shanti and Dharmesh, in tribal village Siddumbar, Dharampur in Valsad, Gujarat was going to a school!
It was festival time on June 15th to 17th all across 18,000 villages in Gujarat when the State Government, with the active support of NGOs and civil society organizations, celebrated education by launching the extensive school enrolment drive. Chirstened as `Kanya Kelavani Mahotsav’, the drive launched five years ago is aimed at ensuring that all children, especially girls, above five years of age are enrolled in the school and complete elementary education at least.
This year, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Education Minister Anandiben Patel with over 500 officers belonging to the Indian Civil Services, supported by hundreds of state, district and taluka levels officials, visited remote schools to mobilize parents to get their boys and girls enrolled in primary school. The drive also aimed at creating awareness about cleanliness and water conservation as part of the `Nirmal Gujarat’ campaign.
Community leaders including Sarpanch (village head), panchayat members, Village Education Committee members, Principals. Teachers and parents rallied in big numbers in schools to encourage parents to admit their wards in school. UNICEF volunteers like Rama Dalvi in Avdha village made special efforts to go house to house to convince parents and even personally bring children to the school to get their child enrolled.
The efforts seem to have borne fruit as illiterate parents like Minaxi Vinod, who had never been to school herself, made it a point to reach her daughter Mitali for enrollment in the Sidumbar school. "Illiteracy is a curse. I have lived under that curse, struggling to make ends meet, earning a meager Rs 40 per day doing back-breaking work as a farm-labourer. I want a better future for my daughter, I want her to become a teacher", said Minaxi, her eyes gleaming with conviction that education will bring good tidings for her daughter.
In Aavdha Primary School in Dharampur, spirit of children and parents soared as high as colourful baloons that adorned the premises to welcome children into the world of education.
Pride was evident on Savita Gadia’s face as her daughter Mayuri is handed over a school bag with slate and chalk to embrace a future that promises to be radically different from this tribal labourer mother.
"I am `angootha chap’ (illiterate) and know how people with vested interest cheat us for their benefit. I want my daughter to be able to stand for her rights", says Savita.
A group of newly enrolled children with school bags
Educationists in remote areas concede the primary school enrolment drive that has been deliberately given a festive touch has met with sizeable success in the past five years. During the three day drive, a total of 568,318 children have been enrolled in the schools, of which 48% are girls.
"Earlier, there were just 200 students in the school. In the past couple of years, the number has swelled to 700. Significantly, the number of girls studying in the school too has jumped from 25 per cent to 40 per cent", says Hirabhai Patel, Principal of Sidumbar School, where quality of education is bolstered by UNICEF interventions like Training of Teachers in Multi Grade Multi Level (MGML), provision of Teaching Learning Materials (TLMs) and Meena Communication Initiative.
In Valsad district, Maa Foundation donated school bags to all children joining school. The bright-colored school bags containing slate and writing chalk distributed by presiding officials at the school function made children gleam with joy as their parents, many of whom cannot afford the luxury of buying school bags for their wards, expressed gratitude. In Aavdha primary school, the former sarpanch has donated land to construct two class-rooms which will now house the primary school children.
Figures indicate that the school enrolment drive of the state government supported by incentives like Vidyalaxmi bond of Rs 1,000 given to each girl who completes primary education and 60 kg of wheat for tribal girls attending school, has met with significant success. In addition to the various incentives by the Government, many a corporate houses and community have also come forward to motivate parents and children by donating school bags, uniforms, stationery, etc. As a result, the drop-out rate has come down from 35.31 % in 1997-1998 to 3.24% in 2006-2007 in class 1-5. In girls, this rate has dropped from 38.95% to 5.97 in the same time period.
Dr Yogendra Mathur, State Representative of UNICEF Gujarat appreciated the efforts of the State Government in promoting girl’s education in the last five years. And hoped that not only all girls in villages now complete primary education but aim for higher education as well.