“Now they have food, but no books”
Children of brick kiln workers from Odisha at a school in Tiruvallur district. Photo: V. Ganesan | The Hindu

Asish Mehra sits in the front row of his class, flipping through his notebook. There is hardly any space between the Oriya letters, as if he is desperately trying to save paper. It is his only notebook, and it turns out Asish is indeed trying to make the paper last.

He is one of the many children of workers in the brick kilns of Tiruvallur lucky enough to step foot into a real classroom. Since the Right to Education Act came into force, Asish and his friends have moved from temporary bridge courses into regular campuses. Last year they all went to school in uniforms, carrying school bags bursting with notebooks, and pencils, and were fed noon meals there.

But that was last year. “That was in the first flush of starting the project. This year, things have changed,” explains Saroj Kumar Sunani, an education volunteer from Odisha. These kids come in from the eastern State in February and leave after May, the prime season for brick kilns. The volunteers say that in the second year since the system was adopted, the benefits that the government provides the children have all been tardy in reaching the beneficiaries, or in some cases, have not come at all.

“The noon meal was sanctioned for these children only on April 1,” Mr. Sunani explains. His colleague Hemant Sahu says parents preferred not to send the children to school until the meal was given. “Some owners, like KCK Chaudhry of RVK brick kiln in Villiyur, came forward to provide money for food for the children in their kilns, but not all.”

Lochan Sahu, another education volunteer from Odisha, says “Now they have food, but no books. What is the point? They come, listen and go back.”

The NGO, Aide et Action, has managed to procure some text books so that they can be shared among the children. There are at least 600 school going children in 15 chambers, but only a few books; certainly not enough to go around.

“It is a great scheme to mainstream child labourers,” says Bosco of Aide et Action. “If these children get all the facilities that other kids get, then it facilitates learning. The school also provides transfer certificates to children when they go back home, so that they can join a regular school there. Periodic evaluation of the students is being done to see if they are benefitting from the scheme.

Mohammed Aslam, State Project Director, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme, says, “We have given clear instructions to the district SSA co-ordinators that whatever is given to a regular student should be given to these children too.”

R. Dhanasekar, Tiruvallur District Co-ordinator for SSA, explains, “The problem is that they come when the school year is in full swing. The term starts in June and we distribute books and uniforms then. These children come in February, and they learn only in Oriya. These are two reasons for the delay.” However, he has promised that books would soon be procured for all the children.

Susai Raj of Jeeva Jyothi, an NGO that works in the same area, says, “The problem is that no State authority is paying attention to them. They think that mainstreaming means giving them entry into a school. But how can we provide them an education if we just give them a class room and nothing else?”

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