According to the India census 2011, there were 92.95 million internal child migrants dispersed across the country, with present-day figures likely to be much higher. Studies indicate that these children are more vulnerable with higher probabilities of child labour and discontinued educational opportunities. The current COVID pandemic has further exacerbated their challenges and in response, Aide et Action has initiated the ‘Education Connect Program’ to ensure continued learning for returnee migrant children in Odisha in eastern India.
Nine-year-old Laxmi’s family temporarily migrates every year from their village in the Balangir district of Odisha to Hyderabad in Telangana, a journey of almost 1,000km, to work in a brick kiln. For Laxmi, this year was no different from last year, except she was unable to attend the local school in Hyderabad because it was closed due to COVID restrictions. After spending a considerable amount of time at the brick kiln, Laxmi and her family returned home in June, only to discover that the school in their own village also remained closed.
With uncertainty looming over the reopening of schools due to the pandemic, Aide et Action’s ‘Education Connect program’ offered a ray of hope to Laxmi to resume her education. The program provides remedial education for returnee migrant children during the ongoing pandemic. The program’s education centre is in a community-identified government school building. We had 30 returnee migrant children attend the centre every day, including Laxmi and her siblings. The children spent three months revising lessons they had previously been taught but may have forgotten and the volunteer focused on engaging children by adopting age-specific teaching methodology.
“I almost forgot whatever was taught to me earlier. It was very difficult for me to resume my study. The three months of remedial classes were a new life for me,” said Laxmi. The sikshya sayak (education volunteer) taught us innovatively and I could learn English, Mathematics quickly and I could read English books as well. I can do basic numerical as well,”
Nitya Rana, Laxmi’s father has also viewed the remedial classes as a lifeline for his daughter and had feared the impact long-term school closures would have on his daughter .“We were very much worried about the future of our children. Heartiest thanks to the volunteers for this great work,” he said.
Education volunteer Lochan Sahu, claims the program is simple – identify the children excluded from education, understand their educational needs, and then teach them to get them back to a level where they can reintegrate into public school. “We enrol migrant children in a neighbourhood school at worksites and reintegrate them in their village school after they return”, explains Lochan. “Due to the pandemic, the schools are closed at their destination … this year, we surveyed returnee children and started teaching them as per their learning competencies at these learning centres in source villages.”
As a result of this initiative, Aide et Action has been able to maintain migrant children’s interest in learning, thereby decreasing school dropout rates arising due to prolonged closure of schools. In total, 2,500 returned migrant children in Odisha’s three most migratory districts are enrolled in the programme.