Students abandon education to help their families

BANGALORE, India, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Jayanti Shankar and Shanti Narshima would like to see their daughters go to school but neither they, nor their neighbors or the government, place education high on their priority list.

The mothers say their older girls have more important things to do, such as taking care of other children in the family and doing household work. This is true especially since the government recently banned mobile schools.

“After the mobile schools were stopped here, I didn’t allow Uma to go to school. It was very difficult to manage her other siblings without her help,” said Jayanti, Uma’s mother.

Uma Shankar, a 12-year-old dropout, didn’t continue her studies after her mobile school at the Nayandahalli slums was closed. She stays at home and takes care of her siblings and helps her mother with household chores.

Ten mobile schools that had provided education for the children of migrant laborers in Bangalore were closed recently upon enactment of the strangely titled Indian Right to Education Act. Mobile schools operated on wheels while classes were conducted in the bus. The schools provided students with food, textbooks and writing pads.

The Right to Education Act changed that, mandating that no school could run on wheels.

“Only 10 percent were utilizing mobile schools. There was no point carrying on with it,” said Marankaih .K, assistant director of education, Bangalore. However, he said, the government introduced several plans to compensate for mobile schools and that it would take time to implement them.

Mobile schools had offered a significant benefit for students in that the girls were allowed to carry siblings with them to classes. Closure of the schools, however, left the girls with a no-win option of enrolling in government schools, which don't allow students to babysit in class. Fallout of the legislation forced many parents to keep their older children home.

“The mobile school was good. I used to like studying there. I used to get good food, pens and a slate,” Uma said. But she wasn't the only child in the Nayandahalli slums to drop out of school. About 30 students discontinued studies after mobile schools were closed.

“She has to take care of her four siblings," Jayanti said. "Anyway, she’s a girl. She would eventually get married. What is the point in teaching her?”

Even the students who continued their studies and joined government schools are frequently absent.

Shanti is one of the few parents who sent her older daughter to government school but she didn't do it regularly.

“Bhavani could take her siblings with her to the mobile school but now it is very difficult to manage. So, for some days I don’t go to work and for some days Bhavani doesn’t go to school,” Shanti said.

The mobile-school project started with four schools under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan program in 1999. The project was aimed at providing education to underprivileged children in slums. It was designed to transfer children to regular schools after providing a year of mobile schooling.

Under the project, old buses were converted into mobile classrooms. The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Cooperation, the government bus providers of Bangalore, contributed buses for the program.

The children were picked up at their homes at four slums in Bangalore, taught in classes from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and returned home after school. By April 2010, 10 mobile schools had been added to the project.

“The concept of mobile schools brought many students back on the right track of education. This sudden shift has brought a big change in their lives. It will take time for these kids to adapt,” said Puttayamma Devi, a teacher at the government school at Lakshmidevi Nagar, who often interacted with children living in Peenya slums.

“I was frustrated by the response we got from the government and from the parents. There was a lack of awareness among them. They were more interested in making their children work than to make them study,” said Herald Quadris, former assistant director of education, who worked closely with mobile schools for the past two years.

Any hope of education that Bhavan and Uma had appears to have waned. They said that they have lost interest in education and that they want to concentrate on taking the care of their brothers and sisters.