IITians run school for children of migrant labourers

By Yogesh Vajpeyi

Hamirpur (Uttar Pradesh), Sep 27 (IANS) The children of Bidokhar village call it Apna Skool, or our school. An NGO – formed by the faculty and student of Kanpur’s Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) – has set up the non-formal school in Hamirpur district of Uttar Pradesh for elementary education of children of migrant labourers.

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Jagriti has been providing education to children of migrant labourers of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh through a number of centres at the brick kilns adjoining the IIT campus, reports Grassroots Features.

The school in Bidokhar village is different from the regular schools. Since children had to accompany their parents to distant work places, many of them were left out of the regular schools. This is why Jagriti has come forward to help the children complete their education through these non-formal schools. Currently, about 700 children are enrolled in 24 centres.

During monsoons, when the brick kilns are closed, the families go back to their native villages and the schools remain closed.

“The break also causes interruption in their studies since the children forget what they learn,” says Mahendra Dwivedi, who supervises the centres.

To find an answer to the problem, the team visited the villages of the workers in Nalanda and Nawada in Bihar and Hamirpur in Uttar Pradesh and contacted local NGOs for support in their endeavour.

But with no fruitful alliances in sight, the team decided to take up the challenge themselves and started two Apna Skools in Bidokhar and Banki villages in Hamirpur, from where a large number of socially and economically backward families migrate to Kanpur every year to work at the brick kilns.

“We had regular meetings with residents of the two villages and all of them agreed to provide help within their means. So we asked them to arrange a place where we could start Apna Skools,” says Jagriti volunteer R.N. Sharma.

Where was the need for an education centre when the village already had a government school? What will be the role of the villagers in the centre? Who will be responsible for it’s functioning? Asked the village elders.

But the team managed to convince the villagers that it would be different from the government schools, where they practically learnt nothing.

“During our second trip to the villages, we met some educated youths and discussed the issues. We selected two young persons to look after the centres after a test,” informs Sharma.

The Apna Skool in Bidokhar has 26 children, all belonging to Scheduled Caste. “They are studying in classes I, II and III and the centre runs for three hours from 3.30-6.30 p.m.,” says the teacher Chandrabhan, a post-graduate and a resident of the village.

Rambaran Anuragi, the teacher at Banki village, is an arts graduate and a resident of the village. “The centre is run from a room of a private house, since the Panchayat Bhawan is far from where most children live,” he says.

At Apna Skool, the children find an opportunity to develop their skills. They learn reading, writing and basic arithmetical calculations with the help of teachers, whom they affectionately called as ‘Bhaiya Ji’ or ‘Didi Ji’.

The project has also helped fight the practice of child labour.

“We found children 6-14 years old at the brick kilns, either making bricks or carrying unbaked bricks from the site to kiln. We have now brought them to our centres,” says Dwivedi.

While introducing the children into the world of letters, Jagriti is also making the parents aware of their rights.

In December last year, it held a demonstration with migrant workers and children in Kanpur to demand right to education and health care. Jagriti volunteers realise the enormity of their task and they are ready for the challenge.

“The outcome of our efforts will be visible only in their next generation. Since by then, they would know the importance of education and would do something for their children,” says Pranab Mahapatra of IIT, one of the leading members of the initiative.