On the path to enroll 1 million kids in school

There is an excitement in the air! Yes it’s that time of the year when families come together to celebrate the Christmas spirit and enjoy holidays.

In my host organization Indus Action, it’s campaign season, and the entire organization is gearing for intense hard work for the coming few months so that eligible children do not miss out on their right to education due to lack of information.

In my last blog, I had shared my host organization’s aim to enroll 1 million kids by ensuring effective implementation of the Section 12(1)(c) of the Right to Education Act (RTE). This provision mandates that unaided private schools reserve at least 25% of their entry level seats for children belonging to the disadvantaged and weaker groups. Though often debated, this provision aims to promote inclusion in the society through the young change-makers in the classrooms.

As I become acquainted with the campaign process, I understand that Indus Action works at two levels – community and the government – to ensure that the campaigns are successful. Take a look:

Source: Indus Action (www.indusaction.org)

The campaign season, which usually starts 3-4 months prior the admission process, involves intense awareness generation, especially at the community level, about this provision so that eligible families are able to avail its benefit. The organization’s missed call helpline and community calling banks are vital tools to disseminate information to the people about the entire admission process, which includes follow ups with eligible families, informing them about the benefits of this provision, the documents required, application dates, lottery dates and support once selected in the lottery. They also are useful in collecting data on the number of eligible families and successful enrollments.

When the admission cycle starts, help-desks and application centres are set up to ensure that parents and eligible families get adequate support to fill the application online. These application centers are within the community and managed by individuals, who have been trained by the organization, so that the support available is also easily accessible by the eligible families. These become important as most of the time, families who are not internet savvy or aware of online application system, spend a lot of time and resources in getting an online application filled.

Source: Indus Action. The image is of a poster at one of training sessions on managing the community calling banks held for volunteers and community women.

Collaboration with the government is central to the efforts of the organization, as their belief is to not blame the system, but rather ironing out the creases to make it more efficient. The government support can help to expand the reach and impact of the efforts. The governments (through state-level partnerships) in turn are supported to adopt technology to strengthen their online system for increased transparency in filling applications, lottery system, tracking of students admitted and a database of schools, along with grievance redressal mechanism and user friendly procedures. These, once set in motion, will make the states capable to adapt the technology to implement other policies as well.

Indus Action is aiming to make the entire admission process as cost effective as possible. As CEO Tarun Cherukuri shared during one of our weekly meetings: in the first campaign in 2013, they got 160 children enrolled in @INR 20,000 per child! Whereas last year, more than 30,000 children were enrolled into private schools under this provision for about INR 200 per child, across 5 states through its Partner Entrepreneur Network in Bangalore, Delhi, Lucknow, Pune, and Raipur.

The ambitious target for this campaign season 2017-2018, is to enroll more than 3 lakh children in private schools across India, and 1 million children by 2020.

I am very excited to be a part of my first campaign, something which is so integral to the organization’s work. I remember reading about the campaign at the AIF Clinton Fellowship’s project portal, then while preparing for my interview with Indus Action, and then when I finally joined the organization as a Fellow. Now I would be able to experience it more closely. I will make sure that I share my experiences and learning through these blogs. You can also keep up to date with all the campaign action here.

At the end of the blog, I would like to share a sketch that I made as a part of one of the activities during a group session at Indus Action. It represents my understanding of the organization after about two months:

To explain: people face innumerable barriers like poverty, caste, class, gender, disability, religion, race etc. due to which they lack the access to information about their own rights of which they are them deprived of. Indus Action for me is a bridge leading people to access information about their legislated rights. The sketch also represents children from disadvantaged communities who face barriers because their parents do not have access to information about the Section 12(1)(c), which mandates that the private schools reserve 25% of their seats for such children. This is the provision on which Indus Action is currently focused on with the aim of enrolling 1 million children into schools under this provision.

I plan to revisit this sketch and my understanding of the organization after ten months!

Deepika, born and brought up in the city of New Delhi, graduated from University of Delhi and then pursued M.A. in Social Work from TISS, Mumbai. After the completion of her post graduation, she has been working in the development sector, which has helped her gain an understanding of various dimensions of her interest areas which are mainly health, disability, advocacy, and women’s rights. Most recently, she was associated with a start-up working to provide accessible travel solutions to persons with disabilities, where some of her responsibilities included exploring and pursuing advocacy and collaboration opportunities with government and non-government agencies, curation of international and national alliances and media interfacing and communications. Deepika believes that her education in social work has guided her to understand that service to others is not just charity. Deepika believes service is about by pushing forward the agenda for inclusion and rights of people. Her professional experience has further strengthened this philosophy. Her motivation is the hope and belief that we can bring about changes irrespective of how huge or small they are. Deepika was a participant of the Summer School for Future International Development Leaders 2017, a program organized by IIM Udaipur and Duke University.

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