Irregular attendance in government schools cost children a shot at a brighter future. Parents prefer their children working and consider it to be the only solution to their weakening financial conditions.
By Chirag Dutta
April 5, 2020
The address leads to the edge of Chikoppa, fifth house on the right in the last row of houses. Before crossing a small field to reach the gate, lies a small grocery store. The face of a hopeful young boy shines bright in the shop with no lights. Vignesh is mischievous and meritorious at the same time. Being one of the top scorers in math, the 11-year-old wants to be an IPS officer or a soldier when he grows up. Teachers in his school consider him to be one of the most talented students. He loves going to school, he doesn’t misses being at class though. He is very keen about mathematics.
Lately, he has missed two class tests and is having a hard time to focus on his academics. As Vignesh is the headmaster’s favourite, the headmaster himself had looked into the matter to find out that Vignesh has not been able to learn properly for over a month due to his sudden irregularity in attending classes. His grades have gone down and participation in class is close to none. He has been frequently absent for his classes. The headmaster approached his family and found out the reason behind the sudden change of Vignesh.
This is the story of Vignesh, who cannot be regular in school because of the circumstances his family is facing. Son of a small shop owner, who is sick and can barely keep up with his family expenses. Vignesh’s father wants him to go to school but is bound to keep his son at home as there is no one to run their business, as he cannot attend it himself. His mother hopes that they can send him to a private school one day and make a fine businessman out of him.
“We want our son to go to school, and he prefers being at school rather than being at home. He was regular in class till December. My husband fell sick a couple of months ago, since then I have to keep him at home to help me run our shop. It’s the only source of income for our family” added Vignesh’s mother.
As days pass and their financial condition deteriorates, her hope fades. With each passing day, helplessness gives birth to several Vignesh around rural Karnataka and the problem extends to the whole of India.
Bailhongal taluk lies in north Karnataka, almost 500 Km away from its capital – Bengaluru city. As one travels from the city to Belagavi district, it is straightforward to notice a gradual change in a lifestyle of the natives. By the time one reaches the district, he will be introduced to a completely different lifestyle. A transition from the life surrounding IT to a life centered in agriculture. Belagavi has seen the rise of numerous great scholars, origin of prominent personalities, and is a hub of rising talent. Holding the highest number of educational blocks in the state, Belagavi is one of the literacy rich districts of Karnataka.
Belawadi village is located to the north of Bailhongal. The village houses approximately 6000 people. Among the five government schools which were surveyed, three are primary schools, two boys’ school and a girls’ school, one elementary co-ed school, and a senior secondary school. All of these schools witness irregular attendance on a daily basis. Especially in the boys’ schools, the problem is particularly observable. Girls’ schools face the least problems with regular student attendance. There maybe be a few absentees at times but absence is nor a regular issue, neither is the absence for long durations.
The Higher Primary Kannada Boys’ school has a strength of 179 students. On a regular basis, at least 15-20 student remain absent. Higher Primary Urdu boys’ school has 165 students enrolled, out of which 10-12 students do not attend classes regularly. The elementary co-ed school has the population of 113 students with absentees up to 10 regularly. 165 students attend The Primary Girl’s school and experience the least amount of absentees which amount to 1-2 students. Most absentees are boys and belong from families categorised under BPL.
Teachers believe that parents prefer their children working as most of them have agriculture based origins. Parents are more confident putting their children at work rather than getting them educated. On the other hand, they understand that these families need their children to help them in their work to support them.
Sujata Chalwadi, headmistress of the Kannada Primary Boys Schools, said, “There is a lack of awareness about the importance of education around the village. Some parents are helpless and are bound to keep their children at home, but there are many who are reluctant to influence their children to go to school. The predominant mentality of not sending children to schools still exists as the children are expected to help their elders at work so that they can earn more. The thought process of introducing the children at an early age is quite normal for them. It has been passed down from generations to generations and must change for the greater good as they believe.”
Education in Rural
Three schools were surveyed in the villages that come under the Marakumbi gram panchayat, including Marakumbi, Herikoppa and Chikoppa. It was found that the elementary school from Murkumbi village has a good and stable attendance record. When compared to the government primary schools in Herikoppa and Chikoppa, which has the total number of 102 and 91 respectively, it was seen that approximately around eight to twelve students don’t attend classes every day. When teachers were approached about the issue, they pointed out the fact that financial crisis, tremors in the country’s agriculture sector, and the lack of awareness among the elders are the main factors that contribute to the absence of students. Most attendance received by these schools are during days with P.E classes, as the children love the games period before the mid-day meal of the day.
The social science teacher of the school, M Kubera said, “We don’t expect children to be very sincere with their academics. We primarily focus on getting them accustomed to the school environment. Once they get a habit of being regular at school, influencing them to study and lead a disciplined lifestyle is not very hard. Mid-day meals, extra games periods, academic contests with prizes are our way of influencing the children. We try every possible way to keep a child regular at school”.
In Murgod, Urdu Higher Primary school has 165 students, out of which, around 10 students do not attend on a daily basis. A few among these absentees appear for class once or twice a week. The Kannada Higher Primary school has a strength of 498 students with regular 10-12 absentees. “We can only help children and influence them when they have the support of their families. If their families choose a separate lifestyle for them, we cannot do anything about it. In Murgod, every time a child misses class for more than a week or so, one of our teachers pay the family a visit” said Md. Rashid, Urdu teacher.
There are cases when students drop out from the course without a notice, leaving their names enrolled. Even though they don’t attend, they are counted as students of that school. The teachers believe that these students belong from an economically weaker background and are ordered to focus on helping their family rather than gain education. Absence of students is affecting the overall level of education around the rural Karnataka. However, there are many government schools around Karnataka which, on an average, regularly have at least 10 to 15 absentees. There are many under Bailhongal taluk which face the similar issue. Other than irregular attendance in class, Bailhongal taluk is facing a 5 per cent student dropout rate.
The Tahseeldar of Bailhongal was approached to understand the education system in the rural Karnataka. The tehseeldaar stated that a team of two teachers are sent to a child’s house every time he misses class three days consecutively. Though they are aware about the problem of lack of attendance and try to provide solutions, it remains stagnant due to the ignorance of the families. If the problem of is too sophisticated to solve, it is sent as a grievance to the education department.
“Lack of attendance has always been an issue in the taluk. We have been paying special attention to the status of education in the taluk since the Right to Education Act was reinforced. The problem is on the rise because of recent crises taking place in Karnataka. First farmer suicides hit us and then the floods. The flood forced many families to relocate themselves. Several of them who relocated did not withdraw their child’s name from their previous schools which led to many absentees being marked.” said D H Hugar.
Under the Article 21-A and the RTE Act came into effect on 1 April 2010. The title of the RTE Act incorporates the words ‘free and compulsory’, ‘been admitted by his or her parents to a school which is not supported by the appropriate Government, shall be liable to pay any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing elementary education. ‘Compulsory education’ casts an obligation on the appropriate Government and local authorities to provide and ensure admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by all children in the 6-14 age group. With this, India has moved forward to a rights-based framework that casts a legal obligation on the Central and State Governments to implement this fundamental child right as enshrined in the Article 21A of the Constitution, in accordance with the provisions of the RTE Act.
What washed away schools
In 2019, immense damage was done in Karnataka due to heavy rainfall. In Belagavi, 331 villages were heavily affected by the flood. 3000 schools were severely damaged with more than 1,500 schools claimed to be damaged and unsafe for children by the department of education. 5,147 houses were damaged, there was a few that completely collapsed. 98,608 people were displaced during the flood – reported Deccan Herald. Belagavi district withstood the heaviest damage as 232 schools were damaged, many among those were damaged beyond repair, the highest number in the state. Karnataka government had sanctioned a relief of Rs 199 Cr for repair and reconstruction. The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) has agreed to allocate Rs 758 Cr for the damage caused to the education sector of the state. The state estimated a loss of Rs 334 Cr from more than 7,500 damaged schools across the state.
“In a bid to solve the problem after the flood, we created teams comprising of around 11 people and sent them out to the affected villages to inspect the family’s well-being. Each team focused on a specific factor of the educational status. Some analyzed the conditions of the school while some analyzed the conditions of educational resources, and some analyzed the immediate condition of children regarding their education and what awaits in the future” added D H Hugar.
However, the crisis of 2019, played a key role in generating and increasing the problem. The damage on the educational infrastructure and private property, directly or indirectly, severely affected child education in the district. Karnataka wasn’t the only state that had to withstand such a disaster. Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and North East India, were among the states that went through serious damage.
In Kerala, the floods caused heavy damage to 522 schools and forced 2.87 lakh people to relocate. In Maharashtra, approximately 4 lakh people had to be relocated, affecting 761 villages, Kohlapur being the most devastated. The flood stunned the growing interest of education in Rural India. While the nation is still recovering from the havoc wrecked by heavy rainfall, schools are being rebuilt at a fast pace but the destruction caused was immense and is expected to take more time than estimated before it is completely rebuilt.
“After the floods, we are staying up to date about the problems faced by the education sector. Irregular attendance and dropout cases are being looked into critically. We have even increased awareness programs in Belagavi. As it is one of the most affected districts, solving this problem will be gradual and take some time” said the MLA of Bailhongal.
Farmer suicides has been another major setback to both rural development and child education. In Karnataka, more than 2,400 farmers had committed suicide in 2018 due to climatic adversities, making it the leading state with farmer suicides in the year. Children were left with no choice but to join their family at work. The education second faced the aftermath of crisis and children suffered. In many states, owing to farmer suicides caused by the natural calamity, the government has made it free for children of the deceased.
The MLA of Bailhongal gave on opinion on how the parents send their children to school for education but their primary focus remains on adding a helping hand for their livelihood. “Parents need to more concerned about their child education. In several cases, they send their children to learn how to read, write, reason, and calculate, once children learn, they get them to start working. We look out for children in need and help them to restart or continue their education if they are facing unavoidable circumstances. Awareness about educating children is very important in rural areas frequently as every time there is a set back due to natural or man-made causes, children lag behind in education. This increases the dropout rate around the taluk.”
The government has come up with several schemes to improve the condition in the field of education which includes schemes like the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, the Kasturba Balika Vidyalaya Yojna, and others. Though these schemes have been implementedin many villages across the nation, proper enforcement is needed to receive the desired outcome.
As the economic condition of the country deteriorates, many small-scale business men, farmers, craft workers, etc, face a strong financial crisis. Eventually, this leads them to push their children into working, to support the family. Once these children step into the work field, they lose their interest in formal education. This issue is another cause for dropouts across the taluk. Boys are more likely pushed into working more than girls.
Way to bring a change
Brindaa Adige, an activist talked about how important it is for the parents to realise that proper education among the children provides brighter scope for their future. She acknowledged the fact that natural disasters and economic slump does most damage to the child education in rural India. She shared her concern about the lack of awareness.
“…the most effective way of improving the condition of child education is by introducing parents and elderly to various opportunities education can bring to children. Children receive most influence from them. Introducing them to the idea of opportunities created by education in new professions that are emerging for their children will encourage them to educate their children. Children are moulded by their parents. To influence children, parents must be influenced”, she said.
Since there are several other reasons to this problem, along with the destruction caused by natural disaster or family pressure, it is a serious problem persisting in Karnataka and extends itself nationwide. The setback drastically affects the school population regularly, weakening the implementation of the RTE. Along with the government body, the public authority tend to initiate several steps to solve the problem of misbalanced education process. With their initiative to change the system and the thought process of the society, a slow yet steady affectivity is expected.
And with each passing day, a young child from the taluk holds a dream of being with his friends in the school without any obstruction. Someday poverty and grief-stricken family won’t be an issue for the lack of education among the children.