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Building knowledge blocks

Building knowledge blocks

Author: Ramesh Vinayak
Publication: India Today
Date: February 18, 2008
URL: http://indiatoday.digitaltoday.in/building-knowledge-blocks.html

Introduction: Education finds a way Haryana's bhatta-shalas which look after more than 5,000 children

Against the backdrop of a smoke-billowing chimney of a brick kiln and under a tin-roofed shed stuffed with rows of freshly-molded bricks, a class is in session.

Nearly 50 children sit cross-legged attentively practising numerals on their slates. It is an unusual setting but nine-year-old Ashida isn't complaining as this is the only school she knows of.

In fact, this daughter of an Assamese migrant beams with pride as she displays her neatly-written Hindi alphabets which she picked up in a month. Until last year, she would have spent the first half of the year working in brickkilns and the rest assisting her family in chores back home. "I learn something new in school everyday," she says coyly.

She speaks for about five thousand students who attend 100-odd brick kiln schools across Jhajjar district, Haryana. Known as bhatta-shalas, these schools are a boon for the wards of kiln workers, who miss primary education due to their families' constant inter-state migration.

In 2006, 28-year-old additional deputy commissioner Anil B. Joshi took the initiative of setting up 25 schools, covering 50-odd brickkilns.

He began India's first kiln school by bringing labourer's children into the loop of the Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan-a government project for providing children, between the ages of six and 14, with primary education.

As Jhajjar's soil is ideal for brick-making, it has about 410 brickkilns. From December to July, more than 20,000 workers make their way to the district and work in these kilns. While, their children-10,000 in Jhajjar alone-never make it to school and work for a pittance.

Pune-based NGO Dnyanprabodhini has trained 25 local youth to teach in bhatta-shalas. Each of these schools has a class for students of first to fourth standards, along with a flexible curriculum focusing on basic mathematics, science, languages and hygiene.

Also following the mid-day meal scheme, these schools have reported higher attendance than their regular counterparts. In May 2007, 70 per cent students did well in the final evaluation and received certificates allowing them admission in regular schools. An ILO-funded tracking system for the bhatta-shala project saw the enrollment of 800 students in their native districts in seven states.

The state Government has now prescribed bhatta-shalas as a model for other districts after such a success. As an evolving experiment it is a learning experience for the authorities as well and is laying the foundation for education, brick by brick.

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