Here's a quick summary of our interaction with SSA (i.e. Mr. Bhushan Nalage, cordinator, SSA, Pune) so far:
The Problem: School dropouts (and also, kids not getting admitted to schools at all) from low economic zones.
0) The basic problem is that we tend to provide remedial solutions posthumously! It's time we attack the reasons first!
1) School infrastructure: Unavailability of basic infrastructure such as toilets, drinking water, good classrooms, etc causes children as well as teachers to minimize their time in schools. Pune has 272 corporation schools running in 132 buildings! Imagine!
2) The Head Master (HM): Good HM = good school. HM is decided seniority-wise, which brings up the most tired-of-life person on board, usually. Wherever there are good HMs, the schools are doing well. It is in the HM's capacity to take almost all the decisions regarding the school, right from academic to infrastructural. There are specific zonal offices wherein he's supposed to send letters, in case of any problem at the school. Only if the HM knows the rules well and is willing, the system will work fine!
3) Quality of education: The very basic problem of "What's the whole point of spending so much time and money on education and then being unemployed" is addressed by some parents. We need to go for more practical courses (govt offers these as well) which would earn quicker returns.
4) Surroundings: Let's get little bit into some figures. Only about 1% of kids HAVE TO earn for their family. About 9% of the kids' parents are not willing to send the kids to school. 50% percent of the kids do not go to school because they don't find anything interesting there! Remaining 40% percent of the kids do not go to school due to 'bad' company!! This bad company is of kids who do not go to school and earn and learn their living through personal experiences of the world around! This non-formal experience bases education makes them much smarter than the formally educated school going kids and hence these smart kids can attract other kids more efficiently!
Other factors affecting a kid's life, especially girls, in the 513 slums that we have in Pune so far, is that the social burden is more on girls and hence they take more time to open up to new ideas. Most of them would need counselling before anything else. Also noticeable is the kind of hobbies these kids pursue. The surroundings decide these hobbies. Boys love to save up some money and use 'em later for short outings, watching action movies in local theatres, etc, whereas girls stick to in-house games.
5) Formal vs non-formal: The problem with the non-formal education that people like us give to the dropout kids, is that they are the rulers in our class. We decide, plan and execute our classes according to their moods and in a complete friendly and fun-learn style, giving personal attention to each of the kids. The scene in a school is totally different. The kid might never be even noticed in a mighty class and there would be zero importance attached to his actions, leading him to drop out again!
1) External exam: External exam for all stds is conducted by SSA, any kid (5 to 14 age group) can attend any exam, causing him to get into the respective std at any corporation school. This is of great use, since elder kids cannot go to lower stds.
2) Admission drive: A month before the admission season, surveys are conducted to search for out-of-school kids and they are admitted into schools later. Primary education is compulsory in India, for kids less than 14 years old.
3) Non-formal centers: Those kids who do no go to schools even after the drive, are taught for a year non-formally by some local recruited teacher and are then put back into the school.
4) Evaluation exams: SSA checks kids' performance through evaluation exams conducted every 3 months.
5) Teachers' training: 21 day training courses are offered every month for teachers. The syllabus is revised every 5 years and teaching methodology is also changed accordingly. Hence it's important to train the teachers. The training also aims at increasing the sense of belonging towards the school and kids.
6) Officers' training: Education officers are trained at Giriwan through various innovative methods. This is a residential training. (We are to attend this. Bravo!!)
7) Syllabus and material: They take part in deciding the syllabus, providing free material to schools, etc. We have the latest editions already! :')
8) Collaborating with NGOs: SSA works along with all the functioning NGOs in Pune. The aim is to take the help of whoever who knows things better. Good for us!
9) Workshops: Workshops, outdoor training sessions, etc are arranged for teachers. Summer camps (which include all-fun-no-study activities such as magic shows, craft, etc) are arranged for the kids just after their final exams, just so that their interest in the school does not fade away with the vacation.
10) Special projects: Special and specific projects such as the Pune Station project are taken up by SSA via sanctions from the central govt. The station project successfully dealt with rehabilitation of station-based kids, which, by the way, brought down the crime rate from 174 per month to 47 per month! SSA conducts special purpose health drives in slums as well.
11) Many more: ssa.nic.in
We can do:
1) Admission drive: We can help them by conducting the drive in the ares we know better.
2) Monitoring non-formal centers: We can monitor the non-formal center closer to us. We just need to go there once a week to check if the teacher's doing her job well, if the kids are enjoying the classes, etc. We might conduct some interesting activities for kids on weekends.
3) Monitoring schools: Volunteer should decide upon a conveniently located school, go there regularly to check out if things are in place, if they are not then make the HM take proper action, etc. This would have a great impact on the system!
4) Teaching: Train ourselves!
5) Counselor: As mentioned earlier, sometimes a counselor is a necessity. We can bring our own or point it out to SSA so that they can provide one.
1) Attack the reasons: than the disease!
2) Formal first: For dropouts, formal education should be the first step, non-formal can come into the picture later.
3) Utilize existing system: It is of utmost importance that we shake up and wake up the existing system, which already has all the facilities on paper. This way is more sustainable than doing things through other channels temporarily. There's a system already in place, why not use it?! Why let the system stay idle and let increase corruption?! For example, conducting health camps in slums is a govt duty. They have a special office in Aundh (for Pune) for it. Let's make good use of it!
4) Study: Keep our eyes open, watch out for the policies and schemes of our interest, observe, study them in detail, and implement!
5) No immediate returns: Note that the effects might take more than 5 years to manifest! Chill!
6) Training: For primary education, proper training is necessary. We need it. :')
7) Kids first, parents later: Parents counselling was considered to be a major issue. But the fact may be that, if we start teaching and make a great impact on the kid, then no one can stop him/her from coming to the classes!
8) More thought, less action: Think more! Rather than picking up dropouts and putting them back into the schools over and over again, think about the reasons causing dropouts!
9) Notes later, execution first: In our way of teaching, i.e., the non-formal way, it is sometimes better to execute projects quickly than spending time in paper work. But do not forget to analyse the project and document it properly, once it is done!
10) The ugly world that it is: Now that we are considering working alongside govt initiatives, please note that we may come across bad officials or even some unpleasant news about good officials. Doesn't matter! Just concentrate on our basic goals and we'll be through! :')