The school dropouts at the special training centre on Thursday. – AT photo
Manash Pratim Dutta
GUWAHATI, April 8: Nine-year-old Padma Chetry was a student of Class III when the lockdown hit the State following outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the first part of 2020.
As per media reports, during the hard times, the education department had taken a number of steps like online classes, in order to ensure continuity of academic activities. Unfortunately, no such initiative helped Padma in continuing with her education. As a consequence she became a lockdown-induced school dropout.
Daughter of daily wage earner parents, Padma is a resident of the hilly Ganesh Nagar area, adjacent to the Amsang Wildlife Sanctuary and located at a distance of 10 km from the capital complex in the eastern part of Kamrup (Metro) district.
“During the lockdown I could not attend a single online class as my family has no smart phone and my place also has no proper internet connectivity. At the same time, amid the lockdown my parents had faced extreme financial hardships, following which I was forced to discontinue my education. But my parents are very keen to let me carry on with my education,” said Padma while talking to The Assam Tribune.
According to Suman Choudhury, a teacher of the special training centre located in the area and run under the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) Scheme, like Padma around 35 children of the locality were compelled to leave school during the lockdown. Most of their parents are involved in the dairy business and some others also earn their living as daily wage labourers. Interestingly, the group of school dropout children comprises both private and government school-going students.
Man Singh Kewat, a resident of the area who is also working at the special training centre, informed that dairy farmers of the area had faced extreme hardships during the lockdown as they lost their market space.
Similarly, the daily wage labourers also lost all their sources of income. On the other hand, as help from the State government, they got only free rice, nothing else. The area is home to 2,000 people belonging to the Nepali, Bodo, Bihari and Manipuri communities.
Another factor that led to a spurt in school dropouts is lack of any school in the area and every child has to travel a distance of around three km to attend the nearest school located in Narengi area of the city.
“Earlier, there was a school named Bande Mataram Hindi LP School in our area. But three years ago the school closed down due to a clash that took place between its only teacher and a section of villagers,” Kewat said.
After months-long alienation from academic activities, the school dropouts of the area are now attending classes at the special training centre. This centre is covering the school dropouts of Ganeshpara and its neighbouring Tal Tala area.
The centre has been running in a rented house since November last year and at present it has an enrolment of 46 students, including 17 male and 29 female. But the ordeal of the children does not end here, as the government is yet to supply free teaching and learning materials to the centre. Even its teachers and other staff have been working without any monthly salary.
“Although they are enthusiastic about continuing with their education, in reality we cannot help them in a proper way due to lack of teaching and learning materials. We are trying our best to keep them engaged through various ways according to our capacity. But without the teaching and learning materials it will not be possible to continue with the academic activities for long,” said Sanjib Chetry, another teacher of the training centre.
When this correspondent visited the school, attendance of students was very low. On being asked, the teachers said that most students could not attend class as it was raining in the morning.
“The entire area is hilly and most of it is yet to get connected with good road facilities. So during rainy days it becomes difficult to travel from one place to another. So today most students did not come to school,” said the teachers.
Although formal education has remained disrupted, these children are now undergoing vocational education like tailoring and doll-making at the special training centre.