India: 'Educate Connect' programme aims to reduce school drop-out among children of migrant workers

According to the 2011 Census of India, there were 92.95 million internal migrant children scattered across the country, with current 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-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the vulnerable situation of these groups at risk. In response to these challenges, Aide et Action has launched the Education Connect programme, which ensures continuity of learning for migrant children returning to Odisha.

Every year 9-year-old Laxmi's family temporarily moves from her village in Balangir district to Hyderabad, Telangana, to work in a brick kiln. For Laxmi, this year was no different from last year, except that she was unable to attend the local school at her destination because it was closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. After spending a considerable amount of time at the brick kiln, Laxmi and her family returned home in June to find that their village school was still closed. 

While the reopening of schools was uncertain due to the pandemic, the Education Connect programme offered Laxmi a glimmer of hope to resume her studies. Education Connect is an initiative of Aide et Action that aims at providing remedial education to migrant children returning to the country during the ongoing pandemic. The centre operates in a public school identified by the community, where 30 repatriated migrant children go every day. Laxmi and her siblings were also enrolled. The children spent the next three months reviewing the concepts they had been taught earlier. The volunteer tried to engage the children by adopting an age-appropriate teaching method.

"I had almost forgotten everything I was taught before. It was very difficult for me to go back to school. The three months of remedial classes were a new life for me. The sikshya sayak (education volunteer) taught us in an innovative way and I was able to learn English and mathematics quickly and I can also read books in English. I can also do basic calculations," said Laxmi.

"We were very worried about the future of our children. We are very grateful to Aide et Action and the volunteers for this great work," said Nitya Rana, father of Laxmi.

"We enrol migrant children in a neighbourhood school at the construction sites and reintegrate them into their village school after their return. Because of the pandemic, the schools are closed. So they could not study at their destination. This year, we surveyed the returnee children and started teaching them according to their skills in these learning centres in the villages of origin," said Lochan Sahu, an education volunteer.

Through this initiative, Aide et Action has been able to keep migrant children interested in learning, thus reducing the dropout rate due to prolonged school closure. A total of 2,500 returning migrant children in the three most migratory districts of Odisha are enrolled in the programme. 

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