Project for schooling of migrant children in Kerala at a crossroads

Project Roshni being implemented in Ernakulam district aims at enabling migrant children to overcome linguistic barrier and enhance their academic performance through a discourse-oriented pedagogy. Now it is at a crossroads with the project implementation transferred from a dedicated team to the Education department, thanks to red tapism.

Updated - June 09, 2023 01:14 pm IST

Published - June 08, 2023 07:47 pm IST - KOCHI

Wards of migrant workers at SNHSS Thrikkanarvattom in Kochi.

Wards of migrant workers at SNHSS Thrikkanarvattom in Kochi. | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

When Muhammed Dilshad notched up full A+ in the SSLC examination back in 2019, its significance went far beyond being a mere personal achievement. 

Dilshad, whose family hails from Darbhanga in Bihar, was the first migrant student to achieve that after coming through a still nascent Project Roshni in Ernakulam district. The project aims at enabling migrant children to overcome linguistic barrier and enhance their academic performance through a discourse-oriented pedagogy (DOP) with code switching – a process of alternating between two or more languages, as an enabling tool. 

Dilshad was among the earliest beneficiaries when the project in its previous avatar was being tried out by a research team headed by his primary class teacher Jayasree Kulakkunnath at Government High School, Binanipuram, when he was in sixth standard. 

Also read: What’s discourse oriented pedagogy?

“Roshni helped me ace Malayalam exam without which I would not have been to secure full A+ in SSLC exams. It also helped me better integrate into the class improving my overall academic performance,” says Dilshad, who is now pursuing BTech at the IHRD College of Engineering in Cherthala. 

The Binanipuram school evolved the concept after the number of migrant students far exceeded local students thanks to the large concentration of migrant community in the industrial belt of Eloor. 

“We launched the project on a trial basis in November 2015 in the first standard where the teacher was accompanied by a multi-lingual educational volunteer (EV), who helped migrant children understand the lessons in their language and using imageries rooted in their culture. The impact was almost instant with migrant students displaying tremendous progress in as little as three months,” says Ms. Jayasree. 

As the experiment made significant headway, it captured the attention of the then Ernakulam Collector Mohammed Y. Safirullah, who was equally worried about the adverse impact of linguistic barrier on the education of migrant children and in creating an inclusive society. 

In August 2017, the Ernakulam district administration organised a meeting of all stakeholders to address the issue of migrant children’s educational needs and advance their academic performance. Thus, the experiment at the Binanipuram school was developed into a full-fledged project with the backing of the district administration and the corporate social responsibility funding of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. 

Thus was borne Roshni project, the first phase of which was rolled out in four government and aided schools covering 110 students on October 18, 2017. Using the service of trained educational volunteers, these multi-lingual and multi-graded students were given an hour-long extra class that began with a nutritious breakfast every morning before regular classes. 

“Roshni was critical on three counts. The migrant children had to learn Malayalam to understand the lessons being taught in the classrooms to be able to continue their education rather than dropout. Breakfast ensured that these children, who had to leave their dwellings early as their parents left for work, did not have to study on an empty stomach. It also ensured their safety as they were positively engaged in Roshni sessions with no time for loitering about,” says Mr. Safirullah, who is now serving the State as the Officer on Special Duty, Finance Resources. 

As Roshni proved a resounding success, it was expanded to 20 schools covering 620 students in the second phase during the 2018-19 academic year and 38 schools covering 1,235 students in the third phase. The thematic, activity-oriented multi-graded modules were found effective in improving the academic standards of migrant students in the social audits held by stakeholders. 

Before Roshni, the majority of migrant children were found to be irregular in attending classes and many dropped out in the middle of the academic year. But an impact assessment study showed that post-Roshni the dropout rate fell from 124 to 40 during the first three years. 

The project was then poised for a State-wide expansion after Governor Arif Mohammed Khan announced the same in his policy address in January 2020. But it never took off as the pandemic set in. 

In the fourth and fifth phase during the height of the pandemic years, the project was run in a hybrid mode, both online and offline, as educational volunteers reached out to 1,024 students across 35 schools and 1,050 students in 40 schools accordingly. Classes were held on KITE VICTERS, a free-to-air children’s edutainment television channel owned and operated by KITE Kerala under the Department of General Education. 

“Despite the massive exodus of migrant workers to their home States, most of the families of students of Roshni either preferred to stay back or return for the sake of education of their children,” says C.K. Prakash, general coordinator, Roshni. 

SSLC results during those two years in schools where Roshni was implemented reflected its impact. All except two of the 112 migrant students cleared it while 15 secured all A+. 

But fissures started to appear in the project very soon. It emerged that there were not enough educational volunteers and that their honorarium for five months was pending since December 2021. The then District Collector Jafar Malik took the initiative to clear the dues in May 2022 by which time some senior educational volunteers had left for other jobs. 

“There were just 26 educational volunteers for 40 schools which forced us to share our days between two schools making the project less effective. The extra Roshni class hour was done away with when schools reopened after the pandemic last year. Besides, we also had to do with old modules,” says Roopa John, one of the senior educational volunteers. 

Though the sixth phase of the project was announced in 80 schools with 3,500 students with two extra modules for the new academic year in 2022, the end of Mr. Malik’s tenure as Collector put the brakes on the project. 

It was severely hit when the project implementation was transferred from a dedicated Roshni team to the Education department, thanks to red tapism. The Deputy Director of Education oversees the functioning of over 1,000 schools in Ernakulam district, precluding any special focus on Roshni project. On the whole, decisions and payments to educational volunteers got delayed and the project slowed down.  

The silverlining is that the new District Collector N.S.K. Umesh says he will take the project back to its old glory by devoting his personal attention. “At least 45 educational volunteers will be recruited, and the project will be taken to 2,000 students across 40 schools. Since the Education department is in the process of collecting student data, a call on whether more schools need to be covered will be taken later,” he says. 

However, there is no clarity on the proposed State-wide rollout of the project. 

“It should be expanded across the State and DOP should be adopted in all classes and not necessarily restricted to migrant students alone. The pedagogy should be able to identify the essential input to be given to students as language cannot be taught through mere words and grammar,” says academic and linguist K.N. Anandan, who evolved DOP and had served as academic consultant of Roshni. 

Sources with the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT), which was entrusted with the State-wide expansion of the project, says a decision on launching the project on a pilot basis in a few select districts is likely later this month. 

“It requires coordination among multiple departments, including Education, Social justice and Finance, which calls for a Minister-level meeting. It will be rolled out in Kannur, Thiruvananthapuram and Palakkad/Idukki districts or in all four of them soon,” says an SCERT official.

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