Every Child Counts – Pune : a Citizens’ Campaign – all children in school at the right age

The need for all out efforts to reach all children

A July 2015 policy paper jointly released by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, shows that the number of out-of-school children and young adolescents is on the rise, reaching 124 million in 2013. The global number of out-of-school children of primary school age rose by 2.4 million between 2010 and 2013, reaching a total of more than 59 million, 1.7 million of them in India. This serves as a grim reminder that the world has yet to fulfill its original promise to provide every child with a primary education by 2015. These figures may grossly understate the reality, given that most-marginalized children , those belonging to migrant families may not be counted at all. Around 15 million children are estimated to be internal migrants according to a 2013 UNESCO report.
While countries strive to achieve universal primary and secondary education through the new Sustainable Development Goals, A small group of citizens in the city of Pune, India led by eminent social worker Prof. Rajani Paranjpe , founder and President of Door Step School, have been silently doing their bit for making “Education for all” a reality.

Every Child Counts, Pune – Citizens’ Campaign –  a small beginning

Triggered by a call for action on the slow global progress on the UN Millennium development Goal of “Universal elementary education for all by 2015” , Door Step School launched a Campaign – EVERY CHILD COUNTS – A Citizens’ Campaign (ECCC) in Nov 2011. The objective of the campaign was ensure that every child is in school at the right age of 6-7 years , thereby increasing the chance of his/ her continuing and completing 4 years of primary education by 2015.  Despite the legislative measures like the “Right to Free and compulsory Education Act-2009” access to schooling and therefore education and its benefits are denied to many children, particularly children of families employed at Construction sites, Brick-kilns and children of Nomadic communities engaged in their traditional occupations such as street performers, artisans etc.  
In the first two years (2012-14), the Campaign focused on the city of Pune, a city with thriving industries and an therefore an influx of migrants in search of livelihood,  trying to reach children of school going age in every nook and corner of the city through a systematic survey. The survey was carried out by citizen volunteers from Colleges, Companies and social groups as well as social workers of Door Step School. The program was supported by Tata Institute of Social Sciences(TISS)  as an action research project with the objective of building a scalable and replicable model for access to education for all. 

The impact of the Campaign

 With 3000 children being enrolled in these 2 years, several companies came forward with funding support in extending this Campaign to the Pune Metropolitan region covering Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad and emerging suburbs of Pune(Outer Pune), convinced of the presence of large number of migrant children and the problem of their Educational deprivation.
In 2014-15,  a total of 2205 locations(construction sites, shelters along the roadside, semi-permanent slums) were surveyed and 2972 were enrolled into mainstream schools through the Every Child Counts-Citizens’ Campaign and a special program that focused on involving parents in the process called “Parents participation in Children’s education”. These children would have otherwise remained out of school and continued to be educationally excluded, despite the Right to Education(RTE) Act.
Continuing into its 4th year now , the Campaign has so far surveyed 1832 sites and located 3344 children who are of school going age( 5-8 years) .  1286 children have been enrolled in neighborhood schools across Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad and Outer Pune areas in one month this year, taking the total number enrolled to 7329.

A systematic and planned approach

A systematic methodology for identification of children of “school going age(6-7 yr old) and their enrollment was developed and documented in 2012. Volunteer tool-kits were prepared and distributed.
The methodology is a 3 stage approach, with Citizen involvement in grass root level activities at all stages.
a) Stage 1- Survey:. Systematic survey of each and every street in the city to cover Housing and road Construction sites “in progress”, temporary settlements, semi-permanent settlements to determine the presence of labour camps and children who are in the 6-7 year group.  The next step is to map each site to the nearest school based on the list of schools/ map location of the school obtained from school authorities .  Once children are located, parents are approached and counseled on the importance of education , informed of the nearest school and the process of getting the children enrolled into schools. The volunteers/ field staff  encounter questions ranging from ” Who will pay the fees?”, “We are not going to live here long.. why should we enroll our child”, “We do not understand the local language”  to “We don’t think education will benefit our children”. 
Mapping of sites and schools in Pimpri Chinchwad-2015
Wherever children and parents have no exposure to the concept of schooling, the team starts “Preparatory camps” for the children. A temporary classroom is setup in a tent or a more pucca room provided by builders or hired and children are introduced to the idea of schooling and learning. Volunteers often become role models for the children, helping in setting up the camps and conducting play based activities.  The children are taught basic hygiene and get used to sitting for a longer period, say their names , a few important phrases in the local language, making it easier for them to adjust in a large school with many children.
Assessment of transport needs is an important step too. The distance from schools and the presence of large highways on the road to school often poses a barrier for children to make it to school. Though education is Free under the Right to Education act, school transport is not. Funds are raised by our volunteers and partners through events like Marathons to support school transport. “Vidya Valley” a private school has been allowing us use of their school buses in a few areas to support the transport of nearly 100 children for the last 2 years.
b) Stage 2 – Enrollment and support
Sites with children identified during the survey phase are revisited before the start of the enrollment period in June and parents encouraged to visit the schools by themselves to enroll their children. A simple identity card called “My Card”, carrying details of the children and the name of the school is given to the parents to help them provide the required details to the school. Sometimes builders need to be convinced to give the parents time off from work to complete their child’s admission, While many parents are able to reach schools themselves and complete the admission process, many more need hand-holding and need to be escorted to the schools by our volunteers and field staff.
Wherever school transport is absolutely essential, such transport is arranged. Sometimes escorts are arranged to help the children walk to school safely.
c) Stage 3 – Follow -up

During this stage the campaign team with the help of volunteers monitor the progress of children by visiting sites and schools. Parents are educated on their role in getting involved in parent meetings and schooling. Other barriers to children attending school regularly such as lack of parental awareness, particularly among migrant parents, lack of safe transportation to school and school attitudes towards migrant children are addressed.  Many times the children  have to move suddenly when their parents move and do not  inform the school authorities. Given the large number of children who migrate , tracking their movement and ascertaining their continuity in destination schools is quite challenging.

Citizen involvement

Citizen volunteers are an important part  of this program, with many groups taking ownership of localities and raising funds for school transport. In 2014-15 22 Organizations contributed through volunteer mobilization and participation in surveys, enrollment, parent awareness programs  Over 500  volunteers participated in all.  Door Step School would like to thank all these Organizations and Volunteers.

Scaling to other cities beyond Pune

While the grass-root level enrollment activities were in progress in and around Pune, in the background , the larger goal of scaling this program to cover as many cities in India as possible was also on our agenda. We conducted our first outreach program at Nasik  Maharashtra  inviting interested groups and shared details of the Campaign and how it can be replicated. The first step has been taken by NGO “Education on Wheels”  showing interest in replicating the program in Nasik. A reported 500 children were located and enrolled in Nasik under this Campaign in June 2015. Companies have shown interest in taking this program to other cities through their CSR programs.

Creating a platform for wider reach and participation

To create a platform for all stakeholders, NGOs working in other cities/ states, Corporates supporting education through their CSR activities and individuals interested in the cause, the team is setting up an Online Platform that will help organizations and individuals join this Campaign in their own location and ensure that reach each and every child in the country and ensure enrollment. The platform will be child centric.
These efforts are seeds that we envision will grow into a larger movement involving citizens, government agencies and the beneficiary communities themselves. 
Written by:
Raji Satyamurthy, Program Director, ECC