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A new kind of class action

Hit by the double whammy of poverty and disability, no one in Kalim Pasha’s family ever thought he would receive education like other children till a Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) volunteer came knocking at his home in Mysore in 2007.

india Updated: Jan 06, 2009 00:38 IST
Chetan Chauhan

Hit by the double whammy of poverty and disability, no one in Kalim Pasha’s family ever thought he would receive education like other children till a Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) volunteer came knocking at his home in Mysore in 2007.

A spastic by birth, Kalim can barely stand and his speech is slurred, but he has a sharp mind that can up pick nuances of education fast. “In just a few months, he can count from one to 10, has learnt drawing with the help of crayons and can now express himself,” said his SSA volunteer Shano, who discovered him under a unique SSA project for providing home-based education to 81,900 disabled children in Karnataka.

His favourite pastime now is looking at colourful pictures of animals in his books, and using his crayons to draw. “This boy is amazing. He has a drive to learn despite his disability,” said his mother, who rolls incense sticks for a living.

Hundreds of kilometres away in Rabindra Palli slum cluster in Kolkata, Babiya, who was born paralysed, is going to school thanks SSA. G Chatterjee, the principal of a local SSA school, spotted him in the slum cluster and offered to buy him a wheelchair, from SSA funds, if his mother Savita agreed to send him to school. “With tears in her eyes, she accepted the wheelchair,” Chatterjee said. Now, his father Kamal Das, a vegetable seller, wheels him to school.

In Madhya Pradesh’s most backward Orcha sub-division, Prachi Ojha recalls how education helped her become a radio jockey in a community radio station, Bundelkhand Radio, launched in October. “There was lot of opposition to my education in my village. I resisted it, saying [astronaut] Kalpana Chawla was also a girl. My parents stood by me and now I am in Class 11, and working alongside,” she said, minutes before going on air. Her father is a landless farmer, who could barely feed his family, but free education helped Ojha pursue her dreams.

These are just a few of the millions of children who got access to education, courtesy the Rs 50,000-crore SSA, which the
World Bank called the world’s most successful school programme.

In 2007-08, 12.8 million children joined schools, increasing the enrollment to over 210 million, about 96.4 per cent of the child population. The enrollment percentage was 81 in 2001, when the programme started.

To cope with the rush, over 340,000 schools were added over the last five years — almost 30 per cent of the 1.2 million schools in India, a recent report of National University for Educational Planning and Administration said.

However, the programme still has a high dropout rate of 30 per cent. The next goal of the government is to address this.