Friday, November 9, 2007

Schools turn away poor children on flimsy grounds: activists

Wednesday November 7, 04:41 PM

Hyderabad, Nov 7 (IANS) For children from the economically weaker sections in India, the battle to go to school can border on the bizarre as experts pointed out at a three-day workshop being held here.

The workshop on Child Labour and Education, which is sponsored by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, began on Nov 6 and is the first national workshop of its kind.
Legal experts like Ashok Agarwal, commission member Shantha Sinha and others had story after story of how little it took to push children out of the school system. The hurdles could be anything ranging from a mole to a maternal grandparent.

'The credit for the dropout rate mainly goes to the government,' Agarwal said Tuesday explaining how rules, rather than infrastructure and funds contributed to keep children out of school in 21st century India.

Sinha gave a number of examples, telling the gathering of media persons and experts how schools insisted on students wearing uniforms.

A group of 12 children were admitted to a school, their parents were very poor and they thoughtfully bought the children school uniforms - green skirts and yellow blouses - with their meagre saving.

They were parents of first generation school goers and had thought any uniform could be worn in any school. The school insisted that the skirt had to be blue and the poor parents could not buy another set for their wards.

'On Aug 15, Independence Day, when the whole country celebrated, these children were not allowed to participate in the flag hoisting,' Sinha said.

Another story was about a girl who had sought a transfer from one school to another. The principal of the school she wanted to join told her: 'Where is your mole? Go get your mole.' Neither did the child nor her parents understand what it was that the school wanted.

The admission time was over by the time the case came before Sinha and her team. Everyone finally understood that the admission process required papers that established the identity of the child and a birthmark of some kind was required.

The school in Andhra Pradesh refused admission after the fixed time and finally the case went up to the ministry of education, which ordered the school to admit students at any time.
Agarwal's battles with the system have been many, among them obtaining reservation of up to 25 percent of seats in private schools for the economically weaker sections in Delhi.

He spoke of a case where a child was denied admission because the father and the child had Hindu names and a maternal grandparent had a Muslim name.

Another of his tales is about how a principal denied a child admission because the child's name had the prefix Master. 'If you are a master, why do you need admission in school,' the principal told the child. He later admitted he did not know that master could be used as part of a name. Then there is the case of Sholay, an over-age disabled girl who wanted to study and was rejected admission, and the case of seven blind boys who wanted to study in a Kendriya Vidyalaya but were not given admission.

To get each of these children into schools is a Herculian challenge amidst ignorance. There is also the battle with daily humiliation by the teachers under some pretext or the other when the child is a first generation student.

'We cannot break the cycle of poverty unless there is a concerted effort to change the body language towards the underprivileged. We cannot expect any human capital if we don't change attitudes now,' warned Sinha.

Experts called for doing away with rules, fees, humiliation and contempt for first generation students who are forced to become child labourers when schools deny them admission.

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