Schools for Child Labourers that Shape Up Students of Excellence

News »

Schools for Child Labourers that Shape Up Students of Excellence

At a village near Sivakasi, a woman is bathing three children. After towelling them, she neatly combs their hair and feeds them gruel. Next, she takes them to a nearby INDUS school.

Nothing out of the ordinary, you might say. But the woman isn’t the children’s parent nor is she their blood relative. Actually, she teaches at the INDUS school. And the children were child labourers.

Who have now been weaned into school:

Had the teacher not gone the extra mile to fetch the children from home, they would perhaps have stayed as child labourers with no hope of joining the national mainstream. Unlike other normal schools, bringing students from home is part of the activity for all teachers at INDUS schools in this district.

INDUS schools are part of a joint venture between India and the US for eliminating child labour. The project was launched in Virudhunagar in 1994. The schools are run by the Union Ministry of Labour under the National Child Labour Programme (NCLP). The need for such schools arose as other mainstream schools were reluctant to admit students who were into child labour.

“As both parents are daily wage labourers, they leave home early – while the children are asleep – after preparing gruel. Our teachers fan into the villages, gently wake up the students, freshen them up, feed them and bring them to school,” explains NCLP project director J Maria.

For all their efforts, the teachers are paid just Rs.1,500 per month – way below what sanitation workers or anganwadi employees earn. Here is the irony: the students, when they were child labourers, earned more than what their teachers earn now.

When the project was first implemented there were 83 schools across the district, but now there are only 41. Similarly at that, there were estimated 40,000 child workers employed in match, fireworks and printing industries besides those working in hotels and shops. Now, the number is estimated to little more than 2,000.

Currently, there are 1,193 students, an euphemism for child workers, taught by about 100 teacher, who work much longer hours than teacher in other schools. They not only teach the prescribed syllabus (for normal school), but also develop the per- sonality and interpersonal skills essential for these children’s admission in a regular school. The effort of teachers has indeed born fruit for many public examination toppers, especially Class X and XII students who once studied in INDUS.

These teachers also organise a monthly programme named nila palli on full moon days, when villagers and officials gather at a common venue to witness the students displaying their thespian qualities, speaking, singing and dancing, which had prompted many reluctant parents of child workers to send them to these schools.

But for all their dedication, the teachers are not even considered worthy employees and are paid despicable salaries. What’s worse is that their salaries for the last six months remain unpaid. Moved by their plight, District Collector Sigy Thomas Vaidyan diverted other funds and gave these schools Rs.10 lakh to meet their immediate needs.