Ensuring education for migrant children
With the enactment of the Right to Education Act in 2009, authorities are obliged to guarantee the schooling of children from migrant families.
As the Covid-19-induced migration threatens to multiply the enrolment-attendance mismatch and increase the number of out-of-school children, India needs to steer effective policy from the files to the field. With the enactment of the Right to Education Act in 2009, authorities are obliged to guarantee the schooling of children from migrant families.
Yet, estimates from Census 2011 throw light on the massive challenge at hand—to ensure children from around 10.7 million households in rural India that practice seasonal migration complete elementary education. The three states of Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh account for half of the 12.82 million children who have never enrolled in schools; and eight states—Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal account for two-thirds of the 35.62 million children who have dropped out.
Interestingly, these states also account for 80% of the children who are enrolled but not attending school. One factor common to these states is migration. Migrant children are disadvantaged in terms of enrolling and attending school, and are at a lower grade for their age with the disparity deepening with age progression. These children are also more prone to abuse and health risks, and are likely to be out of school, dropping out to supplement household incomes. Research corroborates the lower educational attainment in high out-migration districts.
The unintended consequence of the current pandemic is that due to the lockdown, the public eye finally shifted its gaze to those who have been living on the margins. Over 40 million internal migrants have been impacted. A survey across 18 states reveals 46.2% of migrant children have discontinued their education. Exacerbated by the digital divide and loss in regular incomes, Covid-19 could cause a massive spike in child labour, undoing decades of progress.
Delving into policy documents dating back to early Five-Year Plans provides an array of possible solutions for migrant children, ranging from flexible schooling days/instructional hours, open schools, seasonal schools in destination areas, residential schools in source areas, to even providing teaching volunteers who move with migrating families! Policies envisioned the creation of Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) centres at arrival points (bus or train stations) to facilitate health check-ups and educational tracking. The recent Samagra Shiksha guidelines highlight the major role of local governance and community engagement in universalising education.
Extrapolating from global evidence on migration in Germany, Sweden, etc., the two key takeaways for Indian policy is the need to eliminate language barriers and ensure education begins at the earliest stages. While multiple models for metamorphosis exist, the biggest test is to successfully operationalise these interventions. Being cognisant of the risks of over-simplification, the following measures could serve as a roadmap towards a rejuvenated education landscape.
First, there is a dire need for better data. The pandemic is proof of India’s capacity for speedy implementation as over 27 states expeditiously launched migrant portals. These portals can be leveraged to identify and map high in- and out-migration districts, and provide an accurate estimate of the number of migrant children. This is pertinent to drive evidence-based contextualised policy. For example, if many children are travelling from source A to destination B, the latter state/district must have teachers who are able to communicate to the students in the language spoken in A while being able to integrate them to the language in B.
The curriculum should be child-friendly and multilingual. Further, rich, regular and credible data can help evaluate causality and policy effectiveness. Second, like the One India One Ration Card or the inter-operable Transport Card, there is tremendous potential to launch a One India One Student Card—a single transferable identity that serves as a storehouse of critical information throughout a child’s life cycle in education, from preschool till work. The Economic Survey 2016-17 recognised the major hindrance to effective migrant policy as the ‘lack of portability of benefits, legal and other entitlements upon relocation’.
A digital repository of a child’s schooling/learning information may be consistently captured and maintained. This will prove especially useful for the ICDS centres at arrival points as well as schools and local governments in destination areas, serving as a gateway for requisite inter-state and inter-departmental (education, health, welfare, police, labour, etc.) collaboration. Further, it can facilitate effective profiling to understand the nature of migration (permanent vs. seasonal migration, etc.) and tailor suitable solutions. In fact, this measure will help augment efforts such as Karnataka’s “Migrated children and Children of migrated daily wagers Right for Free and Compulsory Education Policy 2019”, which focuses on movement registers and a student-achievement tracking system.
Third, dedicated action must be taken to converge multiple stakeholders. Students must be oriented to the destination education system and provided requisite support including counselling; parents must be informed of the returns to education through large-scale awareness programs and targeted home visits; teachers should be trained for diverse classes; schools must be designed for inclusivity; School Management Committees should enable the integration of migrant families; Panchayati Raj Institutions and local governments must drive the overall planning processes; and at higher levels of governance, systems of regular monitoring, review, coordination and accountability should be in place.
Given limited resources and budget constraints, the focus in initial phases can be on the youngest children and those most likely to reap maximum benefits from public education. Profiling and planning could aid such targeting. The issue of education for migrant children must be addressed in a long-term and structural manner. While their efforts have so far been invisible, it is estimated that India’s 100 million migrants contribute to 10% of the GDP. Imagine, just how much this can be enhanced via education! Let’s begin by collectively acting to move our migrant children from the margins to the marrow.
Specialises in education policy at NITI Aayog
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