'Every child must be in school. It is the obligation of the government to ensure every child completes elementary education'. These were some of the ideals put forth in the Right to Education (RTE) Act that came into effect in 2010. But even today, scores of children in the state remain outside the purview of the benefits of education.
Children of rag-pickers at a school in Shivaji Nagar, Govandi. After attending classes in the morning, some of them head to the dumping ground. (Praful Gangurde/HT Photos)
Almost 75,000 children in the state do not attend school, while 10,000 children in the city are estimated to be out of school at present, with close to 80% employed as child labourers.
While the rigorous implementation of the RTE Act has helped bring down the number of out-of-school children over the last few years, it is largely the high-risk group of children — comprising street children, rag-pickers and beggars — that has been left out of the education system. (READ: Street children caught up in drugs, begging for easy money)
According to Farida Lambay, member of the state commission for protection of child rights, the main reason is the lack of collaboration between the different state departments and the subsequent absence of a holistic approach to the problem of children remaining out of school.
"All departments, including the education department and the child welfare department are working on their own, but there needs to be a convergence to tackle the issue. For example, while the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has the mandate for educating all children, the women and child welfare department must work to create foster care for children without homes,” said Lambay. "It is particularly difficult to enrol street children in schools unless they are provided with a secure environment,” she said.
While there is no clear census on the number of street children in the city at present, Lambay said the number has come down considerably from 2005, when a survey by Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) had put the number of children on the city's streets at close to 40,000.
Activists said that for families that live hand-to-mouth, education is the last priority and it is the duty of the state to ensure that children get an environment that motivates parents to send them to school. (READ: Attend class in the morning, dumping ground in the evening)
"It is a social issue. Simply putting children in schools without providing them with a secure environment will not help,” said Nitin Wadhwani, founder of the Citizens' Association for Child Rights, who works closely with the civic education department and monitors civic schools. "There is a need for more boarding schools where children can be accommodated,” he said.
State officials also acknowledged the problem. "It is most difficult to enrol children who have to earn to survive and to help their family members,” said a senior SSA official, who did not wish to be named.
"We need more hostels where children can be rehabilitated and given a good environment to study. There are at present 14 such hostels in the state and the education department must take the onus of building more.” (Interview | Mahavir Mane: 100% enrolment can be achieved)
Officials also pegged the responsibility on citizens. "While it is the obligation of the state, it is also the legal duty of every citizen to ensure every child is educated. If an individual comes across a child of school-going age who is out of school, it is their responsibility to inform the management of the nearest school or the local authority. It is then the responsibility of the school to enrol these students. The local body — the municipal corporation or the zilla parishad — must ensure schools enrol children. Only after that does the responsibility fall on the government,” said the SSA official.