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Gujarat slum schools' low attendance amidst fast state urbanisation

By Rajiv Shah 
Gujarat’s urban poor has gone up from 4.3 million in 2004-05 and 4.5 million in 2009-10 as a corollary to the state’s high-speed urbanization (35.83 per cent urban population in the last one decade, highest in the country) is enough reason to believe that Gujarat’s slum population would also be rising at an even higher pace. If Census of India’s 2011 figures suggest that Gujarat’s 42.6 per cent population lives in urban areas, a 2009 study, “Status of Urban Slums in Gujarat and Rajasthan: A Case Study of Seven Cities”, carried out by Benjamin Stanwix of the University of Cape Town, for the Mahila Housing SEWA Trust, Ahmedabad, has estimated that the “population of the slums in Ahmedabad has been growing faster than that of the overall population, almost doubling in the two decades since 1976 to over 41 per cent of the total population.” Other experts believe, as of today, as of today, around 45 per cent of Ahmedabad lives in slums. It may be lower than Mumbai, where nearly two-thirds of the population lives in the slum araes, yet the fact is, Ahmedabad is fast catching up.
It is against this backdrop that there is a need to understand the status of education of the poor, especially among children of Gujarat’s urban areas. The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) gives some indications as to where things stand as of today with these poorer sections. If experts are to be believed, majority of the slum-dwellers come from three backward communities, scheduled tribes (ST), scheduled castes (SC) and other backward classes (OBC). Data from NSSO survey completed in 2010 suggest that despite high state government claims of successful enrolment ratio in the schools of urban areas, things are not so rosy for the backward sections of population. In fact, it is indeed appalling to find that that the “attendance rate among educational institutions” for children aged 5-14, who study in classes one to eight, was 82.6 per cent for STs, 88.9 per cent of SCs, and 82.7 per cent among OBCs Gujarat’s urban areas. It means that 17.4 per cent of ST children, 11.1 per cent of SC children, and 17.3 per cent of OBC children were found not to attend school when the survey was carried out. What is even worse is that female “attendance rate” in this age group (5-14) was rather low – it was 73.7 per cent among STs, 81.6 per cent among SCs, and 81.1 per cent among OBCs.
The story does not end here. In all three social groups, one finds that the attendance rate among children is quite low vis-à-vis other states in India. Take SC female children in the age-group 5 to 14, for instance, whose attendance rate is was found to be 81.6 per cent in Gujarat. It is nearly eight per cent lower than the national average (90.3 per cent). Most states have a better attendance rate for these primary school children – 91.3 per cent in Andhra Pradesh, 90.8 per cent in Haryana, 98.9 per cent in Himachal Pradesh, 87.8 per cent in Karnataka, 96.8 per cent in Kerala, 85.3 in Madhya Pradesh, 96.8 per cent in Maharashtra, 99.8 per cent in Tamil Nadu, 82.9 per cent in Uttar Pradesh, 86.6 per cent in Orissa, 81.9 per cent in Rajasthan, and 97.8 per cent in West Bengal. Only Bihar, with 69 per cent, and Punjab with 81 per cent, are worse performers in SC girl child education than Gujarat. Things are not very different for OBCs – here, the national average of the girl child school attendance is 90.2 per cent, as against Gujarat’s 81.1 per cent, which is worse than most states, except Bihar and Uttarakhand. Things are not very different for STs either, with their all-India girl child attendance in urban areas being 84.9 per cent as against Gujarat’s 73.7 per cent.
It is quite notable that the NSSO survey completed in 2009 finds only 19 per cent people in the state’s notified slum areas and 16 per cent of the non-notified slums responded, during a query, that there has been some improvement in educational facilities in the neighbourhood over the last five years. This is worse than all states for which the surveys were carried out, except for Andhra Pradesh. In fact, 62.5 per cent of the slum dwellers in Gujarat’s urban areas responded that the educational facilities at the primary level “never existed earlier, nor exists now.” Significantly, another 18.7 per cent of the slum dwellers felt that there has been “no change” in educational facilities at the primary level over the last five years. The NSSO survey also finds that in just 43.6 per cent of notified slum areas of Gujarat, the primary school is situated less than half a kilometer of distance, which is worse than most urbanized states. The all-India average of this — of schools situated in less than half a kilometer distance — is 57.2 per cent. The situation is much better in non-notified slums, though, with 62.7 per cent per cent schools being in less than half a kilometer distance.
While no concrete data are available yet on the school dropout rate, top voluntary agencies working among the state’s slum dwellers distinctly feel that the urban poor – who form one-third of the slums – have found that children have been at a receiving end as far as education is concerned. The Education Support Organisation’s Prof Pankaj Jain, who has been running highly-acclaimed Gyan Shala schools in Ahmedabad, for instance, told an interview to this writer that, roughly, 20 per cent of the children, who are enrolled in class one, get dropped out in class two. “The dropout would be much higher in the last year of the primary school, which is the class eight”, he says, adding, “At 418 Gyan Shala centres, which run in rented rooms in all the slum bastis of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) area as also outside, we pick up these school dropouts. We estimate that they are 10,500 of them right now, studying in classes one to three, after which we seek to mainstream them in normal schools.” Saying that most of these children are either Muslim, or SC or OBC, Prof Jain thinks, “A major reason why the parents are found to enroll their children in class one in AMC schools is that on the enrolment day, they are offered freebies such as bags and dresses. These children later on drop out.”
Prof Jain thinks that an important reason why these children drop out is, there is a perception among the parents that the quality of education in AMC schools is “extremely poor.” Saying that this may not be true of all AMC schools, he points out, in his estimate, this impression has led to a situation where, as against three lakh children going to AMC schools a few years ago, today the numbers have dropped to nearly two lakh, posing a big question mark to the policy makers to find out where have these one lakh children gone. Prof Jain cites independent studies to reveal that the quality of education is, on an average, poor in AMC-run schools compared to Gyan Shala centres running in slum areas. Thus, a study report, prepared to assess the education of Gyan Shala schools, done by the Education Initiative, has found that, in AMC schools, “correct responses” to questions posed to children of class three was received in 34.3 per cent cases in language (Gujarati) and 36.8 per cent cases in mathematics. This is as against 60.6 per cent and 69.4 per cent “correct responses”, respectively, in Gyan Shala schools.
In fact, according to Prof Jain, “We believe, there has been a higher dropout of children in urban slum schools as against in the state’s rural areas.” He thinks there could be several reasons behind this, but the main one is, it would be easy for the village panchayat to monitor which children go to school and which do not, as the children are “easily identifiable.” However, this is not the case with the AMC schools, where it is impossible to carry out monitoring in the slums and chalis. Secondly, it would be very easy for the education officials to manipulate data to while filling up data of the children who go from class one to two and further on, while it may not be so easy for the urban officials to do it, as they are under constant scanner.
The problem of dropout among slum children would be even worse among the tribal migrants, who seasonally come to the state’s urban areas to work. Some of them, over the years, have settled down in Ahmedabad, going to their village only at the time of agricultural season. Vipul Pandya, who heads a voluntary agency, Bandhkam Majur Sangathan (BMS), and especially works among the tribal migrants, says, “Nearly 50 per cent of these migrant parents, who mainly work as construction workers, do not go to school. Even if they go to school, they are dropped out very soon. There are nearly 50,000 adivasi workers living in make-shift shanties dotted in different parts of the city, out of which 10,000 permanently They have stayed put in Ahmedabad, some of them for the last two decades.”
Pandya adds, “However, at around two dozen areas, where these migrants live, whether it is Sindhubhawan near Bodakdev, Chandlodia, Juhapura, Motera, Naranpura, Vatva or Shivranjini, I have found most of the children not going to school. In fact, you can easily qualify them as out of school children, who have never been to school. They are potential child workers, who often find themselves in hazardous jobs like construction work.” Worse, he adds, “There are no balwadis for the infants who particularly are with these migrants, living makeshift shanties. Hence the parents – mainly Bhils from Dahod in Gujarat and Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh – have to look after these children even as they work on construction site. When on work, often this leads to fatal accidents. Nobody cares about these children, they are rarely monitored by AMC’s education staff.”

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