Building Consensus on the Right to Education

FXB India Suraksha (FXBIS), CHILDLINE-Gautam Budh Nagar in collaboration with DevNext Foundation organized a community outreach programme at J.J. Colony, Noida Sector 16. The programme was designed in sync with the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Gautam Budh Nagar Education department campaign initiative, 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' implemented by Gautam Budh Nagar district administration.
This programme was held on 26th May, 2017 was organized to take advantage of the ongoing school summer holidays to ensure a strong start to the upcoming school year and prevent drop outs. The district, Gautam Budh Nagar has been identified as one of the 100 gender critical districts in India. Girls precisely bear the brunt of accessing educational services, most importantly after the completion of 8th standard. The agenda for the event therefore revolved around building a consensus in favor of Right to Education Act (RTE).

FXBIS has been implementing an Urban Slum Intervention for the past six years. The programme has been focused upon facilitating education and vocational training options for youth and adolescents living within the slum known as J.J. Colony, in Noida Sector 16. Noida sector 16 is a reasonably new urban center and is a pivot for MNCs desiring to set up their offices. Peppered with high rise office and residential buildings, wide open roads Noida is a magnet for the rural populations from the neighboring districts and further afield looking for improved economic prospects. Noida therefore has large migrant population engaged in menial jobs, construction work and many remain unemployed. The continuous shifting and uncertain finance that define the life of migrant families means that a regular education is often denied to the children.
FXBIS through its years of experience work families are unaware of the Right of Education Act. Most schools operate from June till April and the migrant families travel from November to June. As a result, the children are only in school for a limited time and eventually drop out. Also, many of the children that migrate with their parents end up working as early as 6-7years old, so education becomes ephemeral to their plans. Children who try to re-enroll in school after migrating and going back home have many issues, and usually go back to the same class that they have already been in. Since migrant families are unaware that the RTE is something that schools abide by, it becomes difficult especially for migrants families to keep their children in school or even send them to school.

The Indian Parliament enacted the Right to Education Act (RTE) or Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act in 2009. It reinforces the importance of having free and compulsory education for children between the ages of 6 – 14 as provided in the Indian constitution. A child in India is considered anyone under the age of 18. The RTE Act works by making elementary school compulsory for children. Elementary School. Through the Act, it is “free” education where the child is not liable to pay for anything. The private schools are required to keep 25% of their seats under this Act for underprivileged children. RTE Act is purely under the government and not left to the parent’s responsibility. The central government has set up a fund where over a span of five year, they collected 1.71 trillion, where they fund those children that come under this Act. There are regulations and rules that have been set up between the different local authorities within the government. This Act is crucial for the children of India to further grow the nation. FXBIS sought to generate awareness and consensus on RTE so as to prevent drop outs in the upcoming school year.
The event sought to build awareness on girls' right to education. A major part of the agenda was making sure that the parents were aware of the many Government schemes enabling the Right to Education Act. The Right to Education Act guarantees the Right of children to free and compulsory education till they complete their elementary education.
FXBIS has witnessed that many private schools are not adhering to the 25% of seat reservation for students from the lower income groups. There are hundreds of private schools currently operating in Noida and many of them are unaware of the rules of the Act. The District Magistrate, Shri. B.N. Singh has pushed all schools in Noida to accept the poor students under the RTE. The problem that schools are noticing, is that once the child is enrolled, it is up to the child to continue or drop out. This is one of the biggest issues surrounding the RTE and education. FXBIS sought to build an interface between the community , school and government functionaries by bringing them on the same platform.
RTE Act also includes that no child will be held back, expelled, or required to pass the board exams until they complete standard 8th. So according to the RTE act, they are required to take an entrance exam for the 9th standard. But many are failing these exams and drop out of school especially girls. The timing of the exams often coincide with the families' annual visit to their native villages. It puts adolescent girls at a very vulnerable position as they often face the prospects of early marriage effectively ending their schooling. Through this event FXBIS sought to start a discussion on how to ensure a check on the quality of education in government and budget private schools. The children, the most important constituents in this discussion is often relegated to the background. The event also sought to give agency to the children to put their point of views across in front of the community and school authorities.

FXBIS adopts a bottom up approach in all its IBCC campaigns. Therefore the preparation for the programme started with the obtaining support and acquiescence of the Mr. Bhrampal, the Community leader. A collaborative effort thus ensured an easy acceptance amongst the community and a possibly better turn out given the inclement weather conditions.
To prepare for the event, the children with help from FXBIS team spent a week designing and executing an advertising campaign for the event and RTE in general. They planned regular meeting the families living in the locality, built enthusiasm amongst their friends by talking about the issues and painting messages on RTE, gender equality amongst others on walls across the community.
Due to extreme temperatures prevalent on the set date, a shaded yet central location for the event was chosen. A canopy, fans and refreshments were also arranged for the same.

Wall paintings to raise awareness

For this event a Nukkad Natak or street play was performed by a group of students from Kalindi College, Delhi University as part of their periodic volunteering endeavors at FXBIS. The Natak was a poignant story of a girl and her grandmother, who like their countless peers across the country, can only dream of going to school. Growing up she is told that the girls in her family don’t go to school, that girls need to prepare for pursuing household tasks as it would serve them better once they are married. It highlighted how girls grow up internalizing discrimination as the normal and without any agency for pursuing their dreams. It was a poignant tale, as she finds her grandmother's diary and realizes how this unjust social morass has trampled the hopes of girls through the centuries. It makes her resolve to get an education. She then wonders aloud how only if she knew where to start looking for support. India is home to 20,000,000 million girls who are barred from school because their education is seen an unimportant and a meaningless expenditure by parents and society at large. The play sought to normalize young girl's desire for knowledge and education and inspire parents to provide an equal start in life for their children irrespective of sex.

Nukkad Natak on girls' RTE by students from Kalindi College, Delhi University

Through this play the stage was set for the next part of the event, a community interaction with principles from schools in the neighborhood. The guests present at the event were, Mr. Sunil Dutt (Block Education Officer), Mr. Rohtash (Principal, Moonlight Public School), Mrs. Kaushalya (Principal, Jan Jagriti School), Mr. Bhram Pal (Local Leader , J.J Colony, Sector-16).This interaction intended to resolve queries about the admissions process for the upcoming school year and also make people aware of the different government schemes available for the students. A number of issues were raised by parents and students and were ably dealt with by the guests.
The two most pertinent issues raised by the attendants revolved around the necessity of caste certificates during the admissions. Many parents shared harrowing tales of the bureaucratic lassitude and a cumbersome trail of paper work that cause delays. As many of them are wage workers, they find it impossible to shuffle from one office to the next in the hope of getting their child admitted to a school. Often the process is incomplete and children lose out on an academic year. The parents spoke about the difficulty of obtaining caste certificates due the impermanent nature of their residences. They also raised the issue of why such labels are interfering with the fundamental right to education?. Many girls highlighted how a gap is potentially an end to their schooling, due to both societal and economic factors.

Q&A with government and school functionaries

Many amongst the audience also rued on the fact that there are no good schools in the neighborhood and how they were being forced to travel to Delhi. Mr. Dutt, the Block Education Officer came up with the suggestion that the community as a whole should make an application regarding this issue at the Tehsil Diwas and assured them of his support. He also shared his contact number so that the community members could get in touch with him if they were faced with difficulties at school or if they found some wrong doing, non adherences to RTE at the local schools.
The day's events were concluded on a happy note as the Suraksha Youth Club, unveiled their logo and sought cooperation from the community. The club with an open membership format was initiated in June, 2016 an adolescent group with a civic action, awareness and empowerment agenda. The club members being residents of the same colony has developed an action agenda based on their lived experience of the needs of the community. The issues they will work with include the inculcation of cleanliness as way of life, against water and noise pollution, raise awareness against abusive language and eve-teasing. The logo designed by one the members represents the creative energy and optimism of youth, was felt to
be an important step in formalizing the group. They felt that it would make them distinctive and recognizable identity and thereby carry out their tasks in a cohesive manner.

Figure I Suraksha Youth Club presenting their logo in front of the community

Following the conclusion of the formal part of the event, the community members were made aware of the functioning of CHILDLINE and its 24/7 toll free number, 1098. The audience then interacted with the present guests and discussed issues affecting them.
The gathered children were presented with gifts and snacks at the end of the event.
Total attendance :
Children and parents : 180
Team present : 9
Guests : 6

Children and parents gather at the venue for the event