A group of children are being given some money in return for coming to a learning centre so they do not have to work to earn a living for their families.
The children are being taught art and craft and their mothers tailoring. The proceeds of the products that are sold are handed over to them at the end of each week.
The children are being taught numbers and letters so they can remain in touch with studies and not drop out during the pandemic, a reality across homes for families who have been struggling to make ends meet.
First, their requirement has to be catered to, which is money, and only then can they be taught, said a teacher at Hatgachhia Abaitanik Prathamik Vidyalaya for students from Nursery to Class IV, near Tangra in east Kolkata, who is associated with the project.
The initiative was discussed at an online programme on Sunday “Schooling as Collaboration”, by Pratichi’s Sahojog, a platform for collective efforts, highlighting initiatives taken outside school when in-person classes are suspended.
Arpita Chakraborty, teacher at the school, who is associated with the project, shared the challenges they faced.
“The children, many of whom have grown up, told us that their families are not allowing them to go to the centre because they have to go to rag pick or to a leather workshop to earn. The money could be Rs 50 a day. We decided to teach them painting and skills and started selling what they make. We started giving the money to their parents so that the children are sent to the centre,” said Chakraborty, a working member at Tanuz Vocational Training Society, Rahee, the centre where the sessions are being held.
Even the older siblings and mothers are taught skills and given money.
“We cannot follow a syllabus but at least we can prevent some dropouts and see that they are not detached from studies completely. But food and money is the first requirement and if that is not attended to they will not come to the centre to turn the pages of a book,” she said.
Schools had been closed since March 2020 and briefly reopened in February this year for classes IX to XII but were shut down because of the rise in Covid cases.
The government asked schools to reopen from November 16 for classes IX to XII.
On Sunday, initiatives taken in districts like Purba Bardhaman, Howrah, Murshidabad, Bankura and Birbhum in the absence of physical classes were discussed.
“What has become clear during the pandemic is that the imparting of knowledge cannot be limited to a teacher but society has a key role to play. We have tried to bring forward initiatives not just by teachers but other individuals who have taken the lead despite schools being closed,” said Sabir Ahamed of Pratichi in his welcome address.