Parsing Dawar muses philosophically, “I used to be worried about the schooling of my children - two boys and two girls. I thought, if I stopped drinking, I could save Rs.500 a month … my son is now in 12th Class” he says with a smile.
Dawar’s other two children also go to school in which he himself is the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) president. The school is in Kajali Dongri, a remote village in Madhya Pradesh.
Jhabua, 430 kms west of Bhopal, stands in line with areas having low literacy levels despite the state’s literacy rate registering a decadal growth of 19.44 per cent, between 1991 and 2001, with female literacy up by 20.93 per cent. However, in Jhabua it rose by a meager 13.98 per cent.
Many children, mainly girls, dropped out before completing the five years of primary schooling due to a lack of quality education and poor levels of learning. This prompted the state government to implement the universal education programme, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA – Education for All Campaign) and put it into action in the area.
The result, school attendance of children in the 6 to 14 age group improved considerably. The programme was supported by UNICEF, which together with the state government, teachers and local communities designed and demonstrated the quality education package in elementary schools.
The implementation process ensured that the project schools (150 model schools and 60 residential bridge courses) met certain quality specifications with respect to community school partnerships, school facilities, teaching learning material and the process to improve enrolment and check the drop out rate.
Where the PTA acted as a catalyst in bringing poor children to school and bridging the gap with the community, UNICEF made sure the facilities – like mats, tables, pencil, rubber and writing pads – were available to retain the children in school. Maths kits were supplied to 150 schools in the first phase. Ten model schools were set up in terms of school furniture, seating mats and learning materials. In 2006 it is proposed to expand this to 100 more schools as good models to showcase the quality package.
“Mats and tables have changed the scene. Children who used to sit on floor now feel happy in coming to school”, says Gomadsi Barmaudalia, Head Master of a middle school in Pippal Khunta – another tribal settlement in Jhabua.
A number of girls in the school at Jhakela are seeing a school for the first time. Under the bridge course started by the government and again supported by the UNICEF, these girls are being prepared for admission in Class V in just nine months. Girl students like Kammila are delighted making blocks provided to them in the judo kit supplied by UNICEF. An added incentive for them is the mid-day meals and the dress provided to the girls besides a monthly scholarship.