For 60 year India had no compulsory education for children. A new law came into effect on April 1 providing children with access to free education. But children’s rights organizations complain about the implementation.
Students sitting on the floor
It is 2 o’clock at a school in the old part of Pune. Classes are supposed to run from 12.30 to 5.30 pm at Baburao Sana’s school, just like in other state school but there’s no learning going on in this classroom. Instead there is chaos. Class One’s teacher is not here. The children are playing, crying, shouting, or just running around.
Gangu is a seven years old girl. Her black hair is short and she has a gold nose ring. She is wearing the school uniform , a yellow blouse and a grey pinafore. She looks upon the chaos calmly. She knows that the teacher always comes very late. "We play here while we wait", she says.
NGO provides education for children of migrant workers
Gangu belongs to the nomadic Pardhi tribe who are migrant workers. All year round, they travel the country, looking for work. They sell flowers or balloons on the streets to earn some money. She had never been to school before because she was always on the road. But last year she was adopted by the NGO Ekalavya. She now lives in a home with other Pardhi children and goes to school everyday.
Queuing in school uniform for food
It is 3pm. Priyanka Gaikwad, the teacher, finally arrives. She tells the children to calm down. She explains that she was late because she had to fill out some official forms in the headmistress’ office. "We often have other duties apart from school", Gaikwad complains. "We have to compile reports for the government or help with the census." Because class one’s exams are in a couple of days the headmistress gave her this work. Moreover, her colleague from another class is on holiday so she has to teach both classes together. But there is not enough space and it is very chaotic.
Problem of crowded classes
Instead of 30 children, there are 60 sitting here - some are even crouching on the floor. Gangu takes her seat between two other girls. The first subject of the day is Marathi – the main language of Maharashtra.
Too many pupils, too less space
The children first learn the letters. Then they have to name words that they know which begin with these letters. The teacher has a stick to beat the children with if they are too loud or talk among themselves. Although she’s officially not allowed, she says it’s impossible to discipline the children otherwise.
Indian school system not effective
Many of the children are quiet however. They know they have their exam soon. Gangu also wants to take it but she is not allowed. She is not registered at the school because she does not have a birth certificate. She missed the deadline to get a certificate from the local state hospital. This means she might have to wait for a year to get a certificate and repeat the year.
Many Pardhi children have gone back to their parents and their nomadic way of life for this very reason. They get bored when they have to repeat the class. Gangu is adamant that this will not happen. She wants to go into Class Two, be successful, build a big house for her parents and live with them. Children’s rights activists hope that the new law will help overcome these bureaucratic barriers, otherwise they fear for universal education in India.
Author: Pia Chandavarkar (Pune)
Editor: Chi Viet Giang