Dhruv Jha came to the city at the young age of 12 as a migrant worker, forced into child labour due to his circumstances. He is 40 now and is working on passing his 12th-grade exams from the National Institute Of Open Schooling.
He tells me, “I was not lucky like other children of my age to get schooling. One day, I was told by a night school volunteer that I could attend evening school at the Innovation Night School. Here I could study while also working.”
Dhruv Jha’s story, as well as his wife who is pursuing her class 8th from night school, is similar to many other children and adults who are not able to live their childhood and pursue formal education.
Forced to work as child labour due to their circumstances and the inequality of resources that plagues India. Night schools have provided an alternative to these students.
One such night school is the Innovation Mobile Night School, which as the name suggests, brings the night school to the students instead of them having to travel from their home or after work.
Sandeep Rajput, the founder of All India Citizen’s Alliance Of Progress And Development (AICAPD) NGO, and the Innovation Night and Mobile Schools explains the night school he is a part of. “We are active in 10 areas throughout Gurgaon, Noida, And Uttar Pradesh. Instead of a traditional night school, we operate a mobile night school,” he tells me.
The Innovation Mobile Night School has converted a bus to hold 52 students with desks and chairs. Sandeep tells me that to date, 5000 students have been taught in these schools.
Reaching out to prospective students and convincing their parents can be very challenging. Sandeep Rajput says, “Teaching underprivileged children is very challenging as most of them have never attended school or were forced to drop out. It takes time to convince them and their parents. Most of them say, ‘Sir, ab padhkar kya karenge, hame to majdoori he karni hai (Sir, what will we do by studying? We have to do labor only)’ but this can be changed.
I found many such children who were not interested to study but they are doing really well after attending night school. Many children I found are very quick learners, they just need support. They can do wonders if they are educated.”
Sandeep’s mobile night schools, their volunteers, and teachers conduct surveys in slums to find students in need of night school, and then bring the converted bus to the students, making it easier for them to study. These schools teach up to class 8th and give further assistance in passing 12th from the NIOS system.
India’s first night school was set up in 1885 by social reformer and feminist Jyotiba Phule in Maharasthra. Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule were anti-caste reformers who started schools for Dalits, laborers, and women. More than 100 years later, Night schools are still hugely prominent in Mumbai, which is a hub for immigrants looking for a better future.
These schools are meant to give adults and students whose chances of education were taken away from the exploitative inequalities of the Indian system a second chance for formal and certified education. What is disheartening is that they are slowly fading away due to government apathy.
In a report by DNA India, 4 such schools in Mumbai did not have more than 3 teachers, lacked benches and chairs, and did not have adequate government funding. Emblematic of a larger problem in India, the apathy towards these night schools is symptomatic of how the working class and the poor are pushed out of education and a path to a better future.
As of the 2011 Census, there are 10.1 million working children in India between the ages of 5 to 14. As the pandemic hit India, many children have been forced to fend for their families due to their parents succumbing to the virus or losing their livelihood. One shudders to think what the next census will tell us about the state of working children in India.
In this scenario, it is important to look at how education will reach the marginalized. While Night schools like the AICAPD are doing commendable work, the entire education system needs reform to reach the majority of underprivileged children. The poor and marginalized communities already suffer from a lack of access to education. The girl child in India cannot access education in a nation that is as fundamentally patriarchal as India.
The National Education Policy has formalized dropping out in a sense, both in school and higher education. Allowing students to leave school at class 10 to pursue vocational studies, and making the 4 Year Undergraduate Program where students have the option to leave after every year of college has simply wrapped a bow on dropping out. It will be underprivileged students who will have to make these choices due to the circumstances they have to contend with.
The 2021 budget saw a marginal decrease in pre-matric scholarship schemes for marginalized students or no increase at all. The budget for scholarship schemes for minority communities has also decreased. The budget for the post-matric scholarship for Other Backward Castes has been reduced by Rs 115 crore.
Night Schools can serve as a viable alternative for many students if the government aided these efforts. As scholarships are cut, fees are hiked, and our educational institutions become more and more exclusive.
On International Literacy Day, it is important to remember that education is a right for all, not just a commodity for the privileged.
Feature Image Credit: AICAPD