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These kids learn... living with problems

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Eager learners: Migrant workers’ children in a makeshift classroom at a construction site near Irungattukottai. —
Eager learners: Migrant workers’ children in a makeshift classroom at a construction site near Irungattukottai. —

K.Lakshmi and Meera Srinivasan

CHENNAI: “A ante amma (mother), aa ante aavu (cow)…”

The voices of little children learning Telugu can be heard through the grinding and whirring of giant machines at a construction site close to Irungattukottai near Sriperumbudur.

The makeshift sheds at the site have been turned into classrooms for the children of migrant labourers from Andhra Pradesh, thanks to the efforts of Aide et Action, a non-governmental organisation working towards providing education to underprivileged children.

Shifting from one school to another is a difficult experience for any child. But for thousands of children leading nomadic lives along with their migrant worker parents, education continues to be one big question mark. Shifting to a school in the new work area is not easy. And by the time the child adapts to a new learning environment, it is time for the parents to leave in search of another job.

From transfer certificates to the language barrier, these children battle a range of problems before they can learn the alphabet and some Math. Coordinators of the State’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan wing have been identifying these children as they fall in the ‘out-of-school’ category and enrolling them in bridge courses. There are about 4,000 to 5,000 children of migrant labourers in the State at any given point.

Organisations like Aide et Action do their bit to ensure these children get access to good education, though only temporarily. Kumari, a teacher in one of the temporary schools, is the wife of a construction worker. “I have completed Class XII in Andhra Pradesh… I teach Telugu and Maths,” she said.

Labourers are happy that their children have an opportunity to study. Chinna Rao, a worker from Srikakulam district, said, “I am paid Rs. 100 and my wife gets Rs. 90 as daily wage. I was unable to educate my child because I constantly move and schools ask for transfer certificate. Now, my son is learning his mother tongue at the temporary school.”

A. Nagamma, a school dropout, is now enrolled in Class V. “My two sisters are also studying here. My parents who are working in a nearby site visit us during weekends,” she said.

Aide et Action’s project co-ordinator A. Bosgo said that about 20,000 Telugu migrant workers were involved in the projects taken up in Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts. With the parents busy at work, the children are left without care during the day. The centres were started to provide them education and also safety from abuse, he said. Regional manager K. Sivagami said about 600 children study in their centres.

The Rural Development Trust is another organisation working in Sholinganallur and the Old Mahabalipuram Road belt. Its managing trustee T.K. Elumalai said the organisation reached out to 670 children. “When the family goes back home, our volunteers travel with the children to put them in schools there,” he said. While temporary support is welcome, the Government should consider establishing hostels or group homes in the source villages so that the children do not lose out on continuity, said Andal Damodaran, vice-president, Indian Council for Child Welfare. “Syllabus and textbooks may be the same, but it’s difficult for the child to adapt to a new context.”

Relatives of labourers or any other responsible family in the village may be paid to look after about 10 to 20 children. That way, they would not have to compromise on their education, Ms. Damodaran said.

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