Government’s commitment to see every child in school took another leap with the opening of India’s first 12-hour school in Telangana. The school, which runs from 7 am to 7 pm, is located at Balapur in old city of Hyderabad.
It is a joint initiative between the government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, United Nations High Commission for Refugees and Save the Children foundation.
Besides studies and extra-curricular activities, the school provides three meals including breakfast, lunch and dinner for the ones attending the evening school.
For nine-year-old Asma, however, education is still a distant dream. She said, “I get up every morning to cook rice and then take care of my siblings.”
Asma has 5 siblings. Her elder sister is 12-year-old and works as a house-maid. The youngest one is just a few months old and her mother’s attention is towards nursing him. Father is a daily wage worker.
In such a situation, Asma bears the load of taking care of her younger three.
Prasanthi Bathina, Project coordinator, Save the Children said, “We found Asma moving about in the streets and peeping into the school, showing interest to enter it.
When we initially started questioning her, she used to run away. Slowly she started opening up and we found that she was interested in joining school.”
Save the Children’s ‘Every Last Child’ campaign works towards counselling parents to ensure children like Asma go to school.
When Ms Bhatina met Asma’s mother, she found out that she was not keen on letting her go to school as she wanted her to take care of the house and her younger siblings.
Gauging her situation, Ms Bathina then counselled Asma’s mother to let her attend Save the Children’s day care centre where she, along with her other three children, can get an access to some amount of schooling.
The mother, after some persuasion, agreed to send them all to the centre. Ms Bhatina hopes that seeing her children’s interest in education, she would soon send them all to the new school.
Alka Singh, State Programme Manager, Save the Children said, “This entire thing about not getting an equal start doesn’t end with just getting girls to schools.”
“It is a vicious cycle. It continues if an uneducated girl who has stayed undernourished all her life, marries early. Teenage undernourished girl gives birth to an undernourished child and this cycle goes on, leading to child and maternal mortality in many cases,” she said.
Ms Bhatina added, “It is not about this particular family, majority of families I interact with feel that girls are better confined to the household. They are allowed to get some education but not to the extent they pursue their son’s education.”
While a 12-hour school is a laudable initiative by the government, the real change will come when parents of girls like Asma will let them embrace books over household work. Campaign like ‘Every Last Child’ seems like a step aimed in the right direction.