Mobile ‘Wisdom’ Library for the Street Children

The phenomenon of slum and street children is a growing concern in many developing states. Children living and working on the slums and streets is an urban phenomenon in India as well, that has grown exponentially. Overpopulation and uncontrolled urbanization have exerted immense pressure on the infrastructure of the city and many families are forced to live in slums and squatter colonies, or are homeless.

Children in slum and street situations are migrants but many are from, or are long-term residents of, the city, and are likely to stay here. Owing to their social status, the marginalized communities face exclusion from government services and have no, or limited, access to good quality education. In urban areas, unemployment is a major concern and it affects the division of roles and the power relations in the family setting.

A huge group of these children is engaged in labor in urban areas. Domestic work is the largest employment category for girls under the age of 16 years. In Kolkata alone about 1.78 million populations currently, lives in slums, and of this 13.5% are children aged between 6-14 years. Education traditionally has not been a priority for these communities living in the slums/streets.

Save the Children emphasizes towards ensuring quality education for marginalized children residing in slums or in street situations, across the city of Kolkata. The objective of this urban education intervention is to, provide school readiness support to irregular and dropout children, further to that, mainstreaming of these children in local government schools, and simultaneously, provide both onsite and technical support to government primary schools, towards ensuring child friendly and enabling environment in all intervened schools.

Save the Children started street to school education programme on the auspicious occasion of Teacher’s day 5th September 2011 and, 2 Mobile Learning Centres or yellow buses started running across 20 slum communities of Kolkata. These buses used to come to these communities to cater education through wheels, for under privileged children. In the beginning, a door to door survey was conducted to identify drop out or never enrolled children so that, they can be given school readiness support towards mainstreaming or enrolling in local or adjacent government schools. Initial 3 years were too tough to mobilize both the communities and government schools as well. Because no such collaboration was made instantly with Kolkata Primary School Council or Sarba Shiksha Mission in those days.

The first collaboration was made when 10 KMC schools were came under this intervention and children from those selected school adjacent communities were bring into MLCs for school readiness and further mainstreaming. Collaboration with Kolkata Primary School Council and Sarba Shiksha Mission was started in the year of 2016 and Save the Children was given official permission towards working in 20 KPSC run primary schools. Through this collaboration, Save the Children started working on child friendly learning ambience in intervention schools through the components like: BALA or subject based wall paintings, school libraries or reading corners, school gardening, formation of child cabinets and special learning programme or subject based learning support through the project personnel called ‘School Facilitator’.

Mobile Learning Centres (MLC) are the top up to this urban education initiative. Both these MLCs envisages bringing education to the door steps of the children who are very hard to reach including children working as rag pickers, domestic helps, in tanneries, bus terminuses and railway stations. This is a departure from the usual reading within the four walls of schools, motivating these children to engage their minds in an exciting learning process. The Units are not only providing basic education to children, but also providing inputs on life skills and lessons on personal hygiene, health care and environmental responsibility to the children and their families.

These buses are equipped with computers and a television to make learning interesting. The learning modules are supplemented with activities like arts and crafts, games, quizzes and storytelling to provide a fun-filled learning experience to these children, who otherwise have no access to quality education. Gradually the children are motivated and integrated with mainstream education. The entire process takes place within three to six months from the point of identification of a child and the programme tracks the retention of the targeted children through community-based mechanism. The flexible nature of this outreach programme and its support services gives us the potential to reach out to more children as we move across other squatter and slum settlements.  At present, two MLCs are covering 23 wards of Kolkata Municipal Corporation and 32 slums areas adjacent to 19 government primary schools and 10 ICDS we are working with.  A trained team is associated with this initiative09/13/2022 and reaching around 4000 children per year in a direct and indirect way. In this situation – MLC visited slums locations and provided support to the children. Providing educational materials and counselling support to cope with pandemic situation

Activities in and around communities and schools:

Paying regular visit to intervened government schools (20) and adjacent communities is part of this intervention. For this task, we have a team of area supervisors and well equipped MLC & school facilitators, who not only identify drop out and irregular children, but also provide school readiness support to mainstream these children. Apart from these, onsite technical support is given to Government primary schools so that, they are turned into enabling and child friendly as well. Periodic community pocket meetings, home visit of children and awareness camps on educational entitlements are also integral part of this initiative. Since 2016, we are able to mainstream more than 600 children with the help of these MLCs and further, ensured age appropriate learning competencies of these children in government schools. Simultaneously we have enabled government schools into child friendly schools through innovative components like building as Learning Aid (using school surface to develop teaching learning materials TLM), School Gardening, Gender sensitive and Child Friendly Toilets, School Gardening, Suggestion Box, Child Cabinets as well. One thing we must mention as per the Child Rights principles, all these schools are running without ANY CORPORAL AND PHYSICAL PUNISHMENT!

Engagement with Communities

Community engagement and Child Participation are unique and mandatory compliances met by Save the Children in any programme intervention. As part of this urban initiative, we have also reared children groups in various community pockets across Kolkata and further to that, capacitated them through our institutional process of Child Champions’ training. Till the date, more than 30 child leaders are trained and now they are leading communities to identify and mainstream of dropout children through yearly enrollment drive and, observation of special days throughout the year. Hence, we need to mention that even in between countrywide lockdown, we never had to stop our intervention just because of our child champions and community representatives as well. We have formed a virtual group through WhatsApp, where we have been able to include children –parents-school teachers- community volunteers as well. Till the date, the group is tracking and monitoring the wellbeing of all intervened children along with, providing remote learning support as well. This virtual group has prioritized to disseminate the messages on various safety measures including frequent hand washing, staying at home and maintaining physical distancing towards combatting the outbreak of COVID 19. Through this group, we have also captured childrenown feeling of this lockdown and its effect as well. As a result, a series called ‘Our drawing our Stories’ has been published in our social media pages, which has drawn a huge applaud. Child Champions from different slum communities have also taken part in various webinars and virtual workshops organized by Save the Children and other agencies, especially on education continuity in between pandemic days and gender issues as well.

Engagement with other agencies

Strengthening of Teachers’ Collective through the meetings of“Shiksha Baithak” :

Shiksha Baithak is now considered as a platform which brings the teachers of intervention schools together and further sharing of knowledge, discussion on curriculum, various policies and exchange of innovative ideas towards building conducive and learning environment in all schools. Since 2017, we have been able to continue the regularity and quality outcome through the meetings of Teachers’ Collective or Shiksha Baithak. Apart from education and pedagogy, teachers are even capacitated on various child protection issues and related acts as well. In between lockdown, we have made the meetings of Shiksha Baithak into virtual happening and, conducting weekly meetings since June 2020. Right now, more than 70 government schools teachers are connected through this virtual platform from Kolkata, Malda, North 24 Parganas and Bankura districts as well.  We are having time to time support from the representative of Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan –West Bengal and State Education Department as well. We are even bringing external resource person who are enlightening teachers and implementing team, on present pandemic situation and required psychosocial support for children and communities. Simultaneously, teachers are identifying age and grade appropriate essential learning outcomes of children in vernacular- numeracy –English and, designing subject wise outlines so that, the learning gaps of children can be bridged, once they are back to school after the pandemic. Till the date, weekly virtual Shiksha Baithak has completed 69th session and going to celebrate 70th in a special way.

Engagement with West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights (WBCPCR)

Periodic and event based engagement with WBCPCR with regard to children in street situation and especially providing learning support in between pandemic situation, has been fruitfull and sustainable as well. Starting from children’s participation in CRC weeks activities organized by WBCPCR along with annual excursion, book fair and observing State Child Protection Day for consecutive years has established a strong rapport with the ultimate authority towards securing child protection in the state of West Bengal. Apart from these event based engagement and participation, a big and effective task has been continued under this collaboration that is providing subject based learning support through small audio clips broadcasted by Jadavpur University Community Radio. Considering the challenges towards maintaining learning continuity of marginalized urban children, WBCPCR made collaboration with Jadavpur University Community Radio and broadcasted subject based audio clips on primary language-mathematics-environment as well. School and MLC Facilitators from Save the Children, recorded small audio clips explaining texts and exercises of West Bengal Government standard 1-IV curriculam. Till the date more than 110 audio clips are shared by Save the Children which are broadcasted to support urban marginalized children. In a result, all School and MLC Facilitators are felicitated and certified by WBCPCR towards reaching the most marginalized children. Besides this, MLC Team members and children from intervention slum pockets and schools are regular writer of a magazine called ‘Hullor’ periodically published by WBCPCR.

Peer Educator and ‘’Each One Teach One Initiative

‘Learning by Doing’ and creating peer educators through community mobilization and collaboration with Government Schools and other Premium Institutions, have also been possible under this urban education initiative. In this decade long journey, MLC Kolkata programme has been able to create a resource bank of more than 40 peer educators from different slum pockets of Kolkata. These entire peer educators are the learners supported by MLC Team earlier days. Now they are in college, schools or associated with other works but they did not forget the support received through MLCs in their daily education and school enrollment as well. As a result, they are now contributing towards providing afterschool study support to the children from their own communities, in return. Even in between pandemic days when movement was restricted through lockdown, these peer educators had taken care of the younger children’s education of their communities and still, taking part in community based learning classes, when MLCs are paying visits around intervention slum pockets.

Save the Children has also made collaboration with premium education institutions like: Modern High School, Mahadevi Birla Schools where learners from higher classes have extended learning support to children from adjacent slum pockets under ‘Each One Teach One’ initiative.

In a decade long existence, now both the MLCs or yellow buses run by Save the Children are quiet known on Kolkata roads. These buses under urban education programme have been able to bring smile on the poor and pale faces of urban marginalized slum children. Whenever MLCs pay visit to intervention slum pockets, children are happy and eager to get into the buses to touch all the equipment and get the cordial human assistance from MLC Facilitators. Apart from children, intervention schools, KPSC Kolkata and some other government departments like PNRD has also shown interest to demonstrate the activities run by MLCs. For last 5 years (2016 to till the date), total 35 KPSC run schools are enabled into Child Friendly Schools not only through physical or infrastructural components but also with pedagogical support through subject based learning support to enhance age appropriate learning competenties around 1500 children.

At present MLCs are covering 32 locations (slums) of Kolkata. Working with 22 (twenty two ) government primary schools of KPSC/ SSM  and with few ICDS, reaching over 8000 children.

Save the Children envisages ensuring quality education, especially early education components including language and numeracy. Based on this objective, MLC Kolkata is now on the verge of promoting ‘Ready to Learn’ for 3 to 5 years’ children from communities, ICDS and pre-primary schools.