Ronjali Boro, a 13-year-old girl from Charan Janghal village in the Tamulpur subdivision of Assam’s Baksa district, was forced to drop out of school after completing 7th standard as she had to shoulder the responsibility of taking her younger step-brother to school. Meanwhile, 10-year-old Sujit Barman from Mahendra Nagar village in Baksa district, simply decided to stop going to school altogether as he wasn’t interested in pursuing academics.
These are only two of the countless children in Assam who struggle to complete their elementary education. The reasons behind Assam’s alarmingly high dropout rate are multifaceted. Many students are compelled to discontinue their studies to financially support their families or even to shoulder household chores. Moreover, the absence of an effective remedial support system leaves many children struggling to develop an understanding of foundational concepts and keep up with their peers. Another key challenge is a lack of awareness within the community regarding the importance of attending school.
To tackle these issues, the Tata Trusts launched the Assam State Initiative (ASI) in 2019. Implemented by Trusts’ associate organisation, the Centre for Microfinance and Livelihood (CML), the programme conducts motivational camps for out-of-school children (OoSC) to rekindle their love for learning and bring them back to school. The initiative also provides them with remedial support to bridge the learning gap.
Going back to school
Encouraging parents to prioritise their children’s education by allowing them to return to school is one of the most crucial tasks undertaken by the ASI team. While most parents do want their children to receive a good education, their social and financial conditions simply do not allow it. Children are expected to work and take on household responsibilities to support their families, leaving them with little time and energy to focus on their studies.
When the ASI facilitators first met Ronjali, she was bringing her step-brother back from school. They spoke to her step-mother and tried to impress upon her the importance of sending Ronjali to a motivational camp. After convincing both her and her father, Ronjali was allowed to attend the camp. To their delight, the ASI team observed her enthusiastically participating in all of the activities, contrary to what they had been told about her lack of interest in school.
However, their challenge did not end here. Even after the camp concluded, Ronjali had to resume taking care of her step-brother. Undeterred, the ASI team sought help from the local school headmaster and other villagers, who intervened and spoke to the girl’s step-mother. Finally, in March 2021, Ronjali was successfully enrolled at a Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya in Nagrijuli.
A similar situation unfolded for Deepak Lal Choudhury. His mother was extremely hesitant to send him to school after he had once injured himself during a fight. When education facilitator Aradhana Ghosh met the boy, she discovered that his mother was too scared to even allow him to play with the other boys in the neighbourhood. Ms Ghosh had to spend some time convincing Deepak’s mother to send him to a motivational camp. At the camp, it was heartening to witness his active participation in the activities. Deepak was soon enrolled at Jharpara Bapuji Girls’ MV School (a co-ed school) where he is now a regular student.
The ASI team also engaged in similar discussions with the parents of 10-year-old Sujit Barman. After attending a motivational camp, he was shifted to the Residential Special Training Centre (RSTC) in Kalakuchi in March 2020. He has now developed an interest in his studies and no longer thinks about quitting school.
Education above all else
Among the children who drop out of school, many do so to earn a living. Mir Alom is one such example. Mir had to drop out of school during the Covid-19 pandemic as his family couldn’t afford the electronic devices needed for remote learning. Further, the income of the family plummeted during the pandemic, forcing Mir’s father to send him to work at the village tea stall. ASI education facilitator Soriful Islam intervened by persuading Mir’s father to send him to a motivational camp for 15 days. Mir was then admitted to Hatisila BN MV School in 4th standard, where he now attends classes regularly and is back on track with his education.
Till date, ASI-Education has been implemented in 90 schools across 121 villages and covers four districts of lower Assam — Baksa, Bongaigaon, Goalpara and Nalbari. Over the past three years, it has enabled 1,237 children to return to school and has provided remedial support to 5,850 students.