THOOTHUKUDI: The closure of schools during the Covid-19 lockdown had led to many school students dropping out of schools in search of jobs. The recently-conducted Out of School Children (OoSC) survey by the Integrated School Education Department in the district had brought to light that 1,092 children had dropped out of schools during the academic year 2020-21. Schools were closed by March 2020 following the spread of Covid-19 across the country. While classes IX to XII resumed on February 1, schools still remain shut for other students.
However, it is not just the closure of schools that pushed the students to take up jobs, pointed out Project Director of People's Action for Development (PAD) Dr Mannar Mannan. "Many of their parents became jobless and to share the financial burden, children chose to work. Students above 14 years took up menial works at grocery shops, supermarkets, seafood processing units, salt pans, fishing, fuel stations and other entities. Girls from Vilathikulam and Pudur region are working at spinning mills in neighbouring districts," he explained. At least 15 to 22 per cent of the high school students are not attending schools and doing jobs to sustain their families, he added. PAD works for child rights in the Gulf of Mannar coastal belt.
Mannan, who had enrolled over 80 dropouts into schools this year, said that it was hard to convince the students of class IX, X, XI and XII to continue their studies as they developed a liking towards working. "As the jobs help them earn, they are no more interested in completing their education," he said, adding he is counselling the students and their parents in this regard.
A parent of a Class XI student told TNIE that his son continues to work at a mechanic workshop, despite the schools having started, as he is not interested in studies anymore. A class XII student said that he continues to work at a grocery shop in the evening after attending school so that he can support his family. "I started working during the lockdown to share the burden of my widowed mother," he said.
A staff member, who participated in the OoSC survey in Thoothukudi, said that he faced stiff opposition from parents when he attempted to rescue a drop out working in a fish market in Trespuram. A teacher said that it was difficult to counsel the fishermen from disengaging their wards in fishing. "There was no cooperation from the fishermen families to enrol their wards into schools," she said.
When asked, School Education Department officials said that the OoSC survey was usually done for children below 14 years to ensure all of them get compulsory education under the Right To Education Act, 2009. However, the top officials of the Education Department sought the OoSC data for the students between 15 and 18 years to streamline them back to education, he said.
According to data available, as many as 25,110 class X students and 20,700 class XII students are supposed to study in the 2020-21 academic year in Thoothukudi. A senior Education Department official said that so far, over 85 per cent of the classes X, XI, and XII students had returned to schools in the district and the department is taking steps to enrol the rest.
The activists said that even as the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act has reduced the number of children below 14 years engaging in works, many children between 15-18 years are still working. Given the Covid-19 situation, the School Education Department should make additional efforts to provide compulsory education to students up to 18 years, as any person below 18 years is considered a child according to the Juvenile Justice Act, they said.