Many children work at Marina Beach, selling food and other items

On a hot April morning, the Chennai Corporation playground in Royapuram was brimming with young boys carrying cricket bats and wearing oversized football jerseys. Of the lot, at least five admitted they were school drop-outs.

One of them was 13-year-old M. Rajesh, who says he dropped out three years ago from his school in Seven Wells after he got diabetes.

“I fainted once in school and had to have a lot of medicines. I felt weak most of the time so I decided to stay at home,” he said.

Rajesh is one of the 2,061 children identified by Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) as part of their annual out-of-school survey conducted between April 10 and 30.

The survey reveals that Triplicane, which falls under zone VI of the old Corporation limits, has 335 out-of-school children, the maximum among the 10 zones covered in Chennai district.

While officials are not sure why this is, A. Samadhanam, assistant project officer, SSA Chennai said it could be because of the large number of temporary settlements in Triplicane.

“Many children also work on Marina Beach, selling food and other items. This could be one of the reasons they do not regularly attend schools, and eventually drop out,” she said.

A total of 601 boys and 412 girls in the age group of 6-14 and 425 boys and 248 girls in the 15-18 age group, were found to be out of school. A total of 375 disabled children who do not go to school, were also identified.

“For the first time, the survey covered children between the age group 6-18 instead of 6-14. The list of out-of-school students in the 15-18 age group, will be given to Rashtriya Madhyamik Siksha Abhijan (RMSA) officials. The RMSA scheme covers their educational needs,” said P. Ayyannan, chief educational officer, SSA, Chennai

Ms. Samadhanam said a team consisting of block resource training educators, staff from the integrated education for disabled component and teachers from a nearby government school visited a number of streets in Triplicane.

“This time an attempt was made to conduct the survey in co-ordination with the health department, labour department, Childline service, self-help groups, school management committees and the social welfare department,” said Ms. Samadhanam.

Those involved in the survey are now in the process of classifying the children into migrant children, orphans, pavement dwellers or those under the care of a guardian. They are also working on an age-wise break-up, and community details of the children to provide appropriate intervention, said Ms. Samadhanam.

A. Subramanian, supervisor of the Mylapore zone said poor levels of awareness about the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, also contributed to the problem.

Activists, however, said the number of out-of-school children, especially the number of disabled children may not be comprehensive.

“Most pavement dwellers can only be found before 8 a.m. and after 6 p.m. But the survey was conducted during working hours. Also, out-of-school children may not always be in places covered by the survey, because they have no fixed dwelling,” said Aruna Rathnam, education specialist, Unicef.

Those involved in the survey also admitted that they may not have identified all out-of-school children, despite covering all pavements and settlements under bridges in all the wards.

“Some children travel from Tiruvallur district to Chennai by train to sell beads and miscellaneous items. There is a chance that they would not have been covered in the survey, as they are constantly on the move,” an official said.