Pradeep Kumar, a migrant labourer from Orissa who is working at a construction site within the Loyola College campus, has not thought about how he is going to educate his five-year-old son Vibhu and three-year-old daughter Shavoni, who live with him on the campus.
“Where is the school here?” he asks. “None of the children here go to school,” he says.
Around 40-odd children of migrant labourers mostly from Orissa, and some from Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand who live behind Loyola-ICAM College of Engineering and Technology (LICET) on the Loyola College campus where their parents work, have never seen the inside of a school, or have dropped out when they left their villages when their parents moved in search of work.
Though there have been ad-hoc efforts to provide some form of education to the children, benefits of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act are yet to reach their doorsteps.
According to the residents of the settlement, they have been here for close to four years. Rough estimates indicate that there are over 200 people on the site.
The settlement was briefly part of the School-on-Wheels project run by non-governmental organisation Udhavam Karangal, between May and December 2012, according to Vidyakar, a social worker of the organisation.
“It was one of the four places where our van equipped with audio-visual aids and teaching material, travelled to teach children of migrant labourers,” he said, adding that they came six days a week and hired a teacher who could talk in Oriya and Telugu, the languages understood by the children.
“Initially, the parents were not comfortable with the idea, and the mothers would sit with their children till the class was over,” he said.
Acting on a complaint by the Unorganised Worker’s Federation, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights then took up the issue and visited the site on Monday, said Nina Nayak, a member of the commission.
“These children have been here for close to four years, and they have not been going to a school and there seems to have been no effort to find out if there is an anganwadi nearby,” she said, adding that some of the children were malnourished.
Ms. Nayak said they have held meetings with representatives from the social welfare, school education, labour, home and health departments about this settlement as well as the Chemmenchery resettlement colony.
“If there is an individual who is teaching the children, there are questions as to who authorises the individual to teach the children, and how the individual enters the place,” said Ms. Nayak. “There are provisions in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and for inter-state co-ordination, and they have to source material and instructors who can speak the language of the children,” she added.
P. Ayyannan, chief educational officer, Chennai district, SSA, who visited the site on Wednesday, said they would make arrangements to provide books and a special educator within a week’s time. But since the SSA does not have an educator who can converse in Oriya, they would be taking the help of P. Dev, an individual volunteer who has been teaching the children for some time, he said. Mr. Ayyannan said that they only had textbooks in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, English and Urdu. “Though we are supposed to provide one educator for 25 children, till we find a suitable educator, we will take the help of Mr. Dev, who can converse in Oriya,” he said. SSA officials identified 35 children of school going-age in the settlement.
The principal of LICET said that they had provided a classroom with LCD projectors for the children, and whenever time permits, the staff and students of the college teach the children.
“There is a person taking care of them,” he said, adding that some, not all children were here since the project started in 2009. Some children, he said, were born here. “We gave them slates, notebooks, colour pencils and clothes during Christmas,” he added.
A senior official of the school education department said that they would have a discussion with the concerned authorities to chart a future course of action.
Sanjaya, one of the labourers did not bring his son to Chennai, and enrolled him in a school back in Orissa. But not everyone has someone to take care of their children back home. Binothini, holding an infant on her hip, stood tall amidst the group of children who huddled together. “I won’t go out of here to study. I am scared,” she says, talking in Oriya, a little Hindi and using hand gestures.