With an objective to increase school enrolment rate, reduce the number of dropouts, and to abolish child-labour a workshop for heads and ward members of 15 rural local bodies in Mount Block was held last week. The training programme on free and compulsory education as part of the Right to Education Act, 2009, was conducted by the St. Thomas Mount Panchayat Union (also called St. Thomas Mount Block), along with Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Hand-in-Hand, a voluntary organisation.
After the merging of 10 village panchayats along Rajiv Gandhi Salai and East Coast Road with Chennai Corporation last year, there are 15 village panchayats in Mount Block now. The ward members, presidents, and vice-presidents of these rural local bodies took part.
Officials of the School Education Department, Mount Block, and representatives from the voluntary organisation gave a presentation on the salient features of the Act and stressed on the role of the elected representatives, as they work at the grass roots level, in identifying ‘out of school' children and ensuring that children within the age group of six to 14 are in school.
There are two wings in SSA in Mount Block – Rural and Urban. While those in village and town panchayats come under Rural, those in municipalities such as Tambaram, Pallavaram, Pammal and Anakaputhur are covered under Urban pockets.
There are close to 140 government and aided primary and middle schools in the southern suburbs of Chennai in which more than 75,000 students are enrolled.
If awareness campaigns on these issues are intensified, strength in schools is bound to increase considerably, SSA officials told the elected representatives.
As many as 71 elected representatives took part in the workshop and they highlighted the problems faced by students, teachers, and non-teaching staff in their respective local bodies due to lack of basic infrastructure in schools. Even today, there were many schools in the city and its southern suburbs where children did not enjoy comfortable amenities. It was the duty of the elected representatives' to raise these issues during the meeting of their local bodies or during the village councils (grama sabhas). There are many instances of elected representatives walking the extra mile to rope in the support of corporate firms and local industries to help in improving the amenities in the schools. Such programmes will be held to achieve the aims of provisions of Right to Education Act in the near future, officials said. They pointed out the various programmes carried out through out the year to ensure cent per cent school enrolment rate and a zero per cent school dropout rate.
Making a living
However, due to various socio-economic reasons, it was not possible. Several thousand children, especially from States outside TN continued to remain outside the purview of school education. The migrant children made a living seeking alms in trains, public places, and performing in road side shows. Many young boys from the northern States made a living by selling food in mobile carts.
While the Government was running alternative schools along Rajiv Gandhi Salai for the benefit of migrant workers from Orissa, West Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh, some voluntary organisations too pitched in. However, the number of such schools is not enough considering the enormous influx of migrant families from other States..