Students Taking Action at Samastipur Schools to Curb Absenteeism

Ananya’s Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust. 

“Let’s track our friends and bring them back to school.”

Dropping out from school is a global problem. The greater percentages of children leave their education at their school-going age before completing the primary and secondary education level. Thus, the dropout rate seems a necessary concern for international education. Through USAID’s School Dropout Prevention Pilot Programme (SDPP)[1] , an early warning system was developed to help teachers to identify students at risk, understand the reasons and strategies with the families, and bring the students back to school. From 2010 to 2015, the SDPP programme piloted and tested the effectiveness of dropout prevention in four target countries: Cambodia, India, Tajikistan, and Timor-Leste. In India, Quest Alliance[2] implemented the SDPP programme in Bihar. Quest Alliance named the programme as Anandshala, making joyful environment in the school ensuring the students to stay back, engage themselves, and learn from it.

Chatra Mitras (Students’ friend)

The process of Early Warning System (EWS) taken up by the Quest Alliance includes the collection of information about the students on the basis of attendance, learning level in Hindi (language), and classroom participation. This helps the class teacher to identify the students who are at risk and need more focus. Through this process, the class teacher can provide the students an equitable assistance so that the children can be brought back to school.

Approaches and Attempt by the Government

The Government of India has universalized the Education Programme for all under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan 2001, which drives all the children to school. Recently revived Samagrah Shiksha Abhiyan[3] is concerned with the quality of education and learning. This along with the Right to Education Act 2009 ensures the free and compulsory education for all the children from 6 to 14 years. The guidelines of free and compulsory education of the Bihar Government came in effect in 2011.

In 2013, under the regulation of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and Right to Education Act Government of Bihar has launched their exclusive programme on the School Dropout called as Muhim. The objective was to curb the school dropout, track the child, and improve attendance in the school. To continue this process, the government introduced Muhim registers for all schools. Muhim is done for the student from Class I to VIII.

Debriefing the Process of Muhim

The initial information about the child’s absenteeism is collected from the attendance register. A child comes into notice when s/he is absent for three consecutive school working[4] days. Then on the fourth day, the class teacher will ask the friends of the child about the reason of her/his absenteeism and also to get the information about the child. The class teacher has to regularly follow up with the child’s friends and keep the track for next three days. Now on the eighth day, the class teacher will visit the child’s home, get the information, and meet the parents. Then for the rest of the week, the class teacher will follow up on the child’s presence in the school. Even if the child has not started coming to school, then on fifteenth day, the class teacher will inform the head teacher of the school. The head teacher will document the name of the child in the Muhim register[5] under the probable dropout[6] list.

From the fifteenth day, the head teacher will follow up with the child and his/her family for a week. The head teacher will do the home visit of the child. After the week on 22nd day, if the child has not started coming to school, then the head teacher will inform the school management committee (SMC) [7] about the child. Followed by this, the members of SMC will track the child, meet his/her parents, and try to bring the child back to school. Even if the child is not coming to the school still, then on 28th day the SMC and head teacher will discuss about the child and plan for a joint visit. For the next 2-3 days, home visits will be made. The documentation in the Muhim register will be done by the head teacher.

Finally, on 31st day , the head teacher and SMC will declare the child as a dropout. Then the enrollment registration of the child will be cancelled from the school register. This is more than a month process followed by the government middle schools in Bihar to track the students who are in the verge of getting dropout from the school.

Innovative Idea Taken by a School to Curb their Absenteeism

The wall of information in classroom with the house division and the name of Chatra Mitra (Student’s friend).

Problem:

High dropout rate and absenteeism among the students in the Government Upgraded Middle School Chakarman Paharpur of Patori Block in Samastipur, Bihar.

No-Cost Innovation:

The school has revived the process of tracking the students to bring them back to the school in an innovative way. They have put a quality add-on in the process of Muhim under the governments’ method of tracking the probable dropout children.

There are six hamlets in the catchment area of the school. The students of the school were divided into six groups based on the hamlets. Then, the students from standard I to VIII are re-divided according to those six groups. That means now in each standard, there are students from each group. These standard-wise hamlet specific groups have around 10-15 students, depending on the density of the population. The students call the groups as “house.” They named these houses after the name of eminent personalities. For example, in standard VIII, there are six houses and these are: Gandhi House, Nehru House, Abdul Kalam House, Ambedkar House, Sania Mirza House, and Kalpana Chawla House. Each group has a leader who is called as “Chatra Mitra” (Student’s friend). S/he is the responsible person for the hamlet. The students of upper grades are more active while the younger ones learn and bring all necessary information to the school.

Information register of a Chatra Mitra (Student’s friend) to accumulate the information about the absentee students.

To specify the procedure, “Chatra Mitra” has a notebook which records the detailed information of the students including their contact number. They record daily information about their group, the details of the reason of absenteeism and the application of leave if something turns up as urgent. Most of the time, the head teacher makes a follow-up if the student is absent for more than two days and if the reason of absenteeism is not justifiable. During the morning and evening home visits, Chatra Mitra collect the assurance signature from the parents that the student will be coming to school from the next day. There are 40 CMs (Chatra Mitra) in the school. The Chatra Mitra are not only from the Baal Sansad[8], but also the students who are equally focused on the issue.

This process of student tracking seemed more proactive than the Muhim Programme of the Government of Bihar. In the process of Muhim, the class teacher will notify the student after three days of absenteeism. But here, the students as Chatra Mitra are bringing the information right in the day of the first absence. The process is intervening from the beginning stage of probable dropout. The notable crux of the programme is the students of Baal Sansad, the elected student parliament, have played a pivotal role to it. They have identified the problem of low attendance in the school. They worked with their head teacher and assistant teacher to chalk out the plan. They created the students’ houses to bring back their friends to school.

Result:

With the end of the academic year 2018-19, the Baal Sansad’s initiative has able to hike the attendance up to 82%, which was previously stuck to 62%. Now the students inform their Chatra Mitras prior to their leaves and submit applications to the teachers. Thus this is a step ahead in thinking which has magnificently increased the rate of attendance in the school. Similarly, the entire  process has developed leadership among the children.

The boy of class VII (Abhiraj) in the middle who came back to school after the students started the programme.

Take Away:

This approach is an example of how government school teachers and students can work together for a better cause. This again proves and emphasizes on the peer motivation. Children are also the change makers and torch bearer in their communities. They can not only motivate their friends but also their parents and community. They are initiating their school teachers to think differently. Through the platform of student parliament, the students are developing their agency. Initiating the scalable, no-cost, and sustainable innovations. These innovations are not far away from the government system. When the teachers and the education functionaries lack the trigger, the students can play the role of the spark.


Notes:

[1] School Dropout Prevention Pilot Programme of USAID is a programme to find reason of school dropout and to search and test necessary solutions to it. For more information, go to: http://schooldropoutprevention.com/

[2] Quest Alliance, the host organization is working towards bridging the gap between education and employment by enabling self-learning among youth. For more information, go to: https://www.questalliance.net/

[3] Samaghar Shiksha Programme under the Ministry of Human Resource Development. http://samagra.mhrd.gov.in/

[4] A working day will not consider the holidays. If the child is absent for 2 consecutives and the third and fourth day is the school holiday, then s/he will be not marked or listed under the tracking process. Again, if s/he absent after the school holiday is over and that is a working day, the school is open, then the action will be taken.

[5] Muhim Register is the information book of the students who are in probable dropout list.

[6] Probable Dropout is the first at-risk children who are not attending the school for or more than 15 days.

[7] School Management Committee is a local committee constituting the parents, teachers and elected representatives of the community.

[8] Baal Sansad is the elected student parliament/ body in every government middle schools in India. The Baal Sansad is an elected body of the school which identifies issues, initiates problem solving approaches and drives impactful changes in their school. They act as an inspiration to work with the limited resources and high aspiration for their school. They are the democratic voice of the entire student body. For more, see: https://aif.org/for-the-children-by-the-children-and-of-the-children-students-understanding-democracy/

Ananya strongly believes in story-telling and capacity of an individual to share their own story to create change. Through her fellowship with Quest Alliance in Samastipur, Bihar she is trying to capture the stories of change and creating platform to share the same. William J. Clinton Fellowship has provided her an opportunity to explore her creative ideas and skills. She is proud to pursue her fellowship with Quest Alliance. She has completed her post-graduation in Masters of Social Work from Visva-Bharati, India. She flagged her professional career with Pratham, focusing on the education of children of Tea Tribes in North-eastern India. Moving towards central India she has worked in Ekjut with Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (formerly known as Primitive Tribal Groups) of Jharkhand state, for ensuring their nutrition and food security. She is a selected change maker of Change.org campaigning for Universalization of Maternity Entitlement for all women. She enjoys singing and music, especially playing guitar.

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