Hamirpur, Uttar Pradesh. The children of Bidokhar village, 13 kms south of Bharua Sumerpur block of Hamipur district in Uttar Pradesh, call it Apna Skool.
Bidokhar is a sprawling village in Bundelkhand with a population of nearly 10,000 and a highly hierarchical society.
But Apna Skool is different. It caters to a group of children from extremely poor backgrounds whose parents migrate to Kanpur every year for one season to work in brick kilns in the suburbs.
Kanpur is a major industrial metropolis of north India which attracts seasonal migrant labourers from Hamirpur and other adjoining backward districts of Bundelkhand region.
As per a 2002 survey by India's Rural Development Ministry, 50 to 60 percent of the population in these districts is below poverty line. The literacy rates range between 58 in Hamirpur to 51 in Kanpur Dehat—below the national average of 61.
The Apna Skool in Bidokhar is run by Jagriti, an NGO formed by the faculty and students of IIT Kanpur to provide an answer to the challenge of educating the children of these migratory workers, who accompany them to Kanpur and have no access to any form of education.
In Kanpur Jagriti has been running education centres for these children near the brick kilns around the IIT campus for more than a decade. The two-dozen centres run by it currently provide non-formal education to 700 children.
But these centres don't function during monsoons when the brick kilns are closed and the families go back to their native villages. "This breaks their education and they forget what they had learnt," says Mahendra Dwivedi of Jagriti.
To find an answer to the problem, Jagriti activists visited some villages in Hamirpur and other adjoining districts from which the workers hailed.
A team of IIT educationists accompanied migratory workers to Bidokhar and Banki villages in June 2006 when they went back after the brick kilns had closed. They had intense interaction with the villagers and found them responsive.
"We met some educated youth and discussed the issues related to the education of these children with them. We selected one young person to look after the centre in each village after a written test and verbal interaction," informs RN Sharma.
The school in Bidokhar has 26 children — all belonging to the scheduled castes. "They are studying in classes I, II and III and the centre runs for three hours from 3.30 to 6.30 in the evening," says their teacher Chandrabhan, a post graduate, who is also a resident of the village
Rambaran Anuragi of the school in Banki is an arts graduate from the same village.The centre is run from a room of a private house because the Panchayat Bhawan is far away from the hutments where most children live..
The two Apna Skools in Hamipur may not be big news. But they show how the challenge of educating children of seasonal migratory workers can be met with the help of the local communities.
Away from their villages, these migrant families live in temporary hutments near their work place. The adults are engaged as daily labourers. The children, who accompany them, just hang around.
The girl child is worse off because she has to take care of the infants while the parents are at work and assist the family in household chores.
In the Apna Skool these children find an opportunity to develop their skills. They learn reading, writing and basic arithmetical calculations with the help of teachers whom they affectionately called Bhaiya Ji or Didi Ji.
The project has also helped fight the practice of child labour. "We found children aged between six and 14 at brick kilns either making bricks or carrying unbaked bricks from the site to kiln. We have now brought them to the centres," says Dwivedi. While initiating them into the world of letters, Jagriti is also making the children and parents aware of their rights.
In December last year, it organised a demonstration of migrant workers and their children in Kanpur demanding the right to education and health care.Jagriti volunteers realise the enormity of their task but are still optimistic. "Due to the characteristic feature of movement by the migrant workers, we believe that the real outcome of our efforts will be demonstrated in the next generation.
The next generation will certainly arrange for the education for their children as they will understand its importance better," says Dr Dr Pranab Mahapatra of IIT, Kanpur, who is one of the brains behind the movement.