I was the summer of 2014, and I was in Bhopal, the city of lakes in Madhya Pradesh for work. In the ‘not so busy’ weekends, I’d take my bike and go to the villages. It is during such a visit that I met Fr. Paul a calm and serene Jesuit priest in his early 30’s serving in one of those villages. He invited me over to his parsonage and within an hour, I found myself engrossed in his stories of how he got there, and what he does. Throughout our conversation, I could hear kids playing cricket in the maidan just outside his window, and just as I was about to ask him about the kids, a cricket ball came flying through the windows landing on the dining table nearly missing the tea cups. Fr.Paul in all his gentleness got up from his chair, picked up the ball and handed it over to me. The doorbell rang, and I knew it was some kid coming for the ball. I got up and made my way down the stairs to the door.
“Tell them that I’ll come after tea”.
“Sure,” I said.
The barefoot boy at the door knew that he needn’t ask for anything. He took the ball and went back running to the field.
“Looks like there are so many kids here. Is it the summer break? ”
“Oh, Most of them don’t attend school. They drop out at grade Seven or Eight”. He said.
I looked outside the window, and it was hard for me to conceive the fact that these bunch of highly energetic children were missing out on school. This was also my first time seeing a whole group of kids who could not attend school. The conversation that followed with Fr.Paul that day has a big role in me shaping a career towards reducing educational inequity in this country.
Three years later, I was reminded of the barefoot kid as I saw kids flying kites on rooftops here in Khumbarawada, This sight brought in a lot of thoughts about the children’s right to play, the upcoming kite festival, skills to fly a kite and even how much would a kite ( later I figured that it starts from Rs.2 ) but more than everything, I wanted to know if they had dropped out of schools, and also if yes, why so.
Drop out: Probably the most familiar word heard behind walls of schools in this country, in round table conferences on education, and in most if not all non-profit organisations working for/with children.
Now, what sort of a word is that? do kids actually ‘drop out’? to what extent is all these ‘drop out’ stories true?
There’s something fundamentally wrong with the term ‘drop out’. It is that it isolates and picturises the choice of the child as the reason for him to be out of school. This couldn’t be more wrong.
Even if the girl student had to stop going to school because of lack of access to sanitation, we say she dropped out. Even if the child had to choose to take up any petty job for lack of faith in the system which fails to give a stable career, we say he dropped out. A child who cannot keep up pace with the lessons taken in class is bound to leave for lack of motivation and purposefulness in learning the same lessons, is bound to discontinue, and yet we say he/she dropped out. We cannot expect a child to go to a school where even the headmaster doesn’t turn up on time, and yet we say the child dropped out. Plenty of children have to discontinue school due to seasonal migration (learn more about AIF’s efforts to counter this here), and yet we say they dropped out. These are all cases where the systemic issues/flaws pushed the child out of school/ formal educational, and yet we say the child dropped out. A large number of parents have lost hope in higher education for lack of opportunities in their town, and hence stop sending their children to school, and still we say they dropped out.
Despite the fact that a myriad of factors contribute to the situation where a student is forced to discontinue his/her studies, we say the child dropped out.I say the child got pushed out.
This is one of the strongest convictions that I have formed through my period in Shaishav; that children never drop out, but are forced out, doors shut against them and asked not to return, while the upper and middle-class children enjoy a private education undeterred by any of these challenges. Education inequity at its peak.
This is the space where the idea of Shaishav comes to play. We equip children with essential life skills to keep up with formal education, grow up as responsible citizens and also resist early marriage and child labour. Find out more here.
The next someone talks about school drop-outs, think about it for a minute. Those children did not drop-out but were rather pushed out. How and why does this happen? More in the upcoming blogs.