Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) estimates the number of out of school children to be about 4200 , based on dropout figures.
An independent survey by Door Step School based on a sample survey of construction sites suggests that the number of out of school children at construction sites may be as high as 20000 . The SSA figure may be understated as labour camps (informal shanties erected in the vicinity of the construction sites) may not be covered by standard surveys.
Pune is experiencing rapid growth and a construction boom. The number of out of school children is likely to increase with the inadequacy of capacities and systems that addresses the particular nature of issues related to providing schooling to children of itinerant construction labour families.
Efforts to run non-formal education (NFE) classes for urban deprived children (as the SSA puts it) have been made by several NGOs in Pune, including Door Step School, Swadhar, Mobile Creche, India Sponsorship Programme, etc. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan supports such activities through the Mahatma Phule scheme. However, it appears that the funds from the scheme may be meeting only about 25% of the cost of the NFE classes. The rest is met through voluntarism, and by raising funds from private donors.
There are several challenges to NFE classes at construction sites:
1. Frequent and abrupt relocation of construction labour from one site to another disrupts efforts to provide continuous education to children.
2. As construction labour is largely migrant/ non-native, parents tend not to seek means of educating children due to a lack of local networks and language barriers.
3. Schooling is not often a high priority among the very poor construction labour community. The children are first-generation learners, and the severe inadequacy of systems to provide education causes low enrolment and high dropout rates amongst these children.
4. A shortage of trained educators required to run NFE classes is another constraint. The curriculum itself needs to be much more attuned to the needs of children living in difficult circumstances, including aspects such as life-skills and hygiene, in addition to language and maths.
5. NFE Class infrastructure such as water-sanitation provision and the learning environment of NFE classes need to be improved considerably. While some NGOs have insisted that builders provide a minimum infrastructure, other NGOs have been compelled to take what is available so that at least a basic NFE class can run, even though quality is affected. Solutions may include developing and enforcing construction industry norms, as well as providing a bank of movable/ ready to install pre-fabricated classrooms.
6. Inadequate local policies and codes of practice: While the construction industry is beginning to establish policies, guidelines and mechanisms to enable education for children of construction site worker, there is only partial adoption. Legal provisions to enforce provision of schooling at labour camps are still inadequate. Further, while the larger firms of builders and developers have been somewhat proactive in providing space and necessary infrastructure for running NFE classes, much construction activity is done by several small builders and developers, often not members of local builders’ organizations or Chambers of Commerce.
A comprehensive solution needs to be worked out to address this issue. Some steps may be:
1. Development of local policy and code of practice through the Builders’ Associations, the Pune Municipal Corporation and the Chambers of Commerce
2. Creation of a pool of funds from the construction and other industry to meet the full costs of provision of schooling to out-of-school children
3. Development of locale-specific teaching-learning methods and materials, suited to the needs of the community and the particular circumstance
4. Sustained outreach to the construction labour community by development of a team of community outreach workers with the Urban Community Development Dept (UCD) of both the Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporations
5. Setting up a system where residents and other local people around construction sites can assist in reaching the children to NFE classes, such as by providing information to the UCD, providing space, volunteering etc
6. Development of designs for classrooms that can be easily set up and dismantled and a stock of mobile water tanks and toilets for the students and teachers