Multilingual education as a tool for learning and inclusion for migrant children in India

24 February 2023

Photo credits: Chandra Kiran, Jyoti Prakash 


India's National Sample Survey Bureau estimates the number of construction workers in the country at over 74 million (2016-17). Internal migrant workers account for 35.4 % of all construction workers in urban areas of the country, according to the 2001 census. A preliminary study by Action Education/Aide et Action found that the children of these migrant workers are the most vulnerable and face a variety of age-specific emotional and economic challenges. While adults are working, children are often left unsupervised or in the care of older siblings. Due to their isolation, these children do not have access to early childhood education and care, which has a significant impact on their learning and development process. Even if they are able to access the rural childcare centres launched by the government, the language barrier remains.


Improving learning through multilingual education

To address this, Action Education has launched the Safe, healthy and supportive learning environment for migrant children The project is based on the principles of "child-friendly work" in the cities of Bhopal, Bhubaneshwar, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Patna. As part of the project, children from the workcamps are enrolled in the childcare and learning centres set up in the work colonies. These centres provide a safe space for children from different ethnic groups to develop, learn and grow in innovative ways. The project promotes multilingual education as a means to improve learning outcomes and bring cultural diversity. Volunteers are trained in multilingual education methods and are encouraged to use teaching materials in different languages. Effective engagement with the children has resulted in their physical, cognitive, socio-emotional and learning development.

In addition to preparing these children for school, the project also enrolled them in nearby public schools. Thanks to the project, migrant children who speak non-official languages in the cities where they are located have been able to resume a learning process. Since 2014, the project has offered a education and care support for 12,000 children aged 3-6.


Children of migrant workers in India at school in the workplace

Workplace and mother-tongue learning

Despite the Right to Education Act 2009, which guarantees schooling for all children, migrant children, especially seasonal children, are deprived of this right. According to the 2011 census, children from about 10.7 million households in rural India are engaged in seasonal migration and are officially enrolled in elementary education. However, due to migration and language barriers at their destination, the majority are not enrolled in school. Although efforts are being made to provide education to migrant children at the destination, the short periods of migration and language barriers have hampered the process. 

In order to overcome these difficulties, Action Education/Aide et Action has set up 'workplace schools' for the children of migrant workers from Odisha in the states of Tamil Nadu and Telangana. These workplace schools operate either at the brick kiln site or at a local government school with a teacher/volunteer who speaks the language of the migrant children. The workplace school model adopts a multi-stakeholder approach where the government and the brick kiln owners play their roles effectively. While the government provides lunch, uniforms and office supplies for all migrant children, the brick kiln owners oversee the salaries of the education volunteers. At the end of the school year, all children receive certificates approved by the local government & Action Education and are re-enrolled in schools in their place of origin. Since 2014, Action Education/Aide et Action has successfully provided a uninterrupted mother-tongue education for 31,368 migrant children in Odisha.


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