Under the Right to Education (RTE) Act elementary school education for 6-14 year olds is compulsory in India. However, 27% of the population is illiterate and 13% of children aged 6-14 do not go to school. For socially excluded groups these figures are much higher. PACS has been working to increase non-discriminatory access, participation and inclusion of children from socially excluded groups in schools as well as working to improve the quality of education provided.
Why is education an issue for socially excluded groups?
Despite being compulsory under the RTE Act, only 87% of elementary school aged children actually attend school, and the drop in enrolment from Primary to Upper Primary is high – on average, 52% of children drop out after Class 5. A lack of education leads ultimately to lower employment chances and long-term income poverty.
Drop out rates are especially high for children from socially excluded groups: 54% of children from Scheduled Castes, 59% of children from Scheduled Tribes and Muslim communities, and 63% of children with disabilities drop out between these levels.
Whilst the national illiteracy level is 27%, illiteracy amongst socially excluded groups is even higher – 34% of Scheduled Castes, 35% of women and girls, 41% of Scheduled Tribes and Muslims, and 52% of people with disabilities cannot read or write.
The reason for the lack of access to education for these groups is multi-faceted:
In poor households, often at least one child is expected to remain at home to look after younger siblings and complete household chores so that both parents can go out to work. It is usually girls who are taken out of school - a formal education is not traditionally seen as important or necessary for them in their future role as wives and homemakers.
Children from Scheduled Castes often face discrimination at school due to ingrained cultural perceptions that they unable to learn. Dalit children commonly find they are not given books or materials, are forced to clean toilets and have to sit separately from other children. This discrimination deters children from attending school and parents from sending their children to school.
Tribal groups often live in remote locations, without access to government schools. In addition Scheduled Tribes have their own culture, language and traditions. As a result, formal education, especially in a non-tribal language, is an alien concept for tribal communities and tribal children face being labelled as “backward” at school.
In Muslim communities, formal education is often not seen as a route to getting a job as many families practice trades that have been passed down for generations. Therefore academic qualifications are not highly valued. Muslim identity also negatively affects the admittance of Muslim children to mainstream educational institutions.
Cultural stereotypes have often deemed disabled people to be intellectally challenged, and therefore education is seen to be unimportant. In addition, teachers are not trained to teach children with special needs and most schools don't have disability-friendly access and infrastructure.
In short, if parents do not think that formal education is important, enrolment at school is less likely to be encouraged. And for poorer families, acute problems related to hunger, income and shelter mean that education takes a backseat.
Even if children are enrolled in school, many will be “first generation learners” – the first in their family to ever have had a formal education. With limited educational levels, parents cannot support their children with homework and children often find themselves falling behind.
As a result of all these factors, enrolment and drop out rates amongst socially excluded groups are high.
What work has PACS done on education?
PACS has been working on the theme of education with 32 Civil Society Organisation (CSO) partners and 46 network partners in all seven PACS States, covering 54 districts. PACS work on education has involved a number of interventions and initiatives including:
Increasing the participation of socially excluded groups in School Management Committees and other bodies, enabling members to better monitor and address issues of discrimination and wrongdoing in their local schools.
Working to ensure that schools are more inclusive and meet the standards as outlined under the RTE Act.
What impact has PACS education work had?
5469 School Management Committees have been formed with active support from PACS partners.
15,057 individuals from socially excluded groups are now SMC members, representing the voices of their communities and children.
431 School Development Plans have been developed as a result of which 96,797,000 rupees have been demanded for school improvements.
Mid-Day Meals have been monitored and regularised in 3439 schools.
In Uttar Pradesh, PACS SMCs and CBOs helped to enrol 21,865 children (12,552 girls and 12,313 boys) in schools in collaboration with the State government's Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan ("Education for Everyone Campaign"). Likewise, in West Bengal, 13,033 out-of-school children have been supported to return to mainstream education.
3145 training and sensitisation events have been held on the subject of education,attended by a range of people including PACS partner staff, government officials, the media and CBO members.
1169 advocacy meetings have been held with government officials and other stakeholders on the subject of education, leading to 115 recommendations on education being proposed.