RDT’s work in Ananthapuram began with its ‘Food for Work’ programme in 1969. Nutrition and Health were the areas that needed urgent action, and it took a few years before Education was brought into the fold of RDT’s early work around 1975.
The Professional School
Education for Orphaned Children
47 years ago, Ananthapuram’s rural areas were marked by extreme poverty and glaring social inequities. Large families were the norm - owing to the lack of any family planning, and irregular and inadequate food intake was common– by women and girls in particular, this therefore resulted in poor nutrition and overall lack of good health. The landscape was dry and arid and work was hard to come by, and caste lines being what they were, the terms of employment were usually unfair. Under such tryingcircumstances,where everyone was illiterate, and subsistence was so difficult, education was really not a top priority in rural households.
Collective efforts of parents, community based organizations and target families would result in accessing the services and schemes of government and improved infrastructure facilities in government institutions ultimately contributing for improved enrolment and retention of children both at secondary and intermediate (pre-university) level.
Change in the mind-set of parents and policies and programs of government towards girls’ literacy coupled with the concerted and collective efforts of CBOs and RDT facilitate girls to continue their education atleastupto intermediate level without getting dropout in between due to early marriage.
Students’ to access to quality education due to improved infrastructure facilities and human resources in government schools and colleges and support from RDT as well as the key role of both parents and CBOs in accessing the services of both government and RDT/Other Organizations.
Children from rural poor and marginalized sections make use of opportunities/incentives/adequate infrastructure being provided both by Government and support from RDT for higher education and successfully complete their education
Youngsters from marginalized rural communities with higher, professional and technical education background have enhanced employment opportunities due to coaching for admission into government services being provided by Government and Professional School run by RDT.
Improved leadership and managerial skills among CBOs/Education Committees contribute for better accessing of resources and services not only from Government but also from RDT and other organizations towards their children’s education.
Both orphan children identified by RDT as well as children belonging to urban poor belonging to marginalized sections have an access to education being provided by RDT as well as initiative of CBOs and other groups to utilize services and resources from RDT, Government and Other Organizations.
Villagers were completely disinterested in their children’s schooling. Being unlettered themselves, most parents were unaware of education’s effects, and enrolment in existentfew government schools, was very low. Many villagers, indebted to landlords, would indenture their children as well to work off their debts- so,many children who were enrolled in government schools, would attend poorly and invariably dropout.
Making villagers aware of education’s benefits was a necessary prerequisite to thebetterment of their lives. Education would help their children break out of the cycle of generations of subservience and take charge of their lives. As a foundation stone for the first generation of learners, RDT began by promoting basic primary school attendance in the project areas.
The attendance of girls was a complicated subset of the overall poor attendance record of rural children. Girls were traditionally the first line of support in all household efforts if the elders were occupied or indisposed. They stepped up to take care of siblings, cook, clean and even assist in farming or wage labour. Most therefore were poor in school attendance, dropped out early and went in to early marriages as well.
RDT began its work with speaking to women, asking them to bring their children to informal gatherings where the children were cleaned, their hair combed and oiled, and they were fed a basic, but nutritious meal- which was a major incentive to attend. These occasions were the beginnings of RDT’s Supplementary School programme. The idea was to use these interactions to urge mothers to enrol and send their child continuously to school. Progress was slow, and for over a decade, retention levels only inched along- from 15% in 1985, to 17%, 18%, 20%, till it was around 25% around 1990.
In the early 90s however, things saw a marked upswing, possibly due to a combination of factors. Families had become smaller by then, and parents were more committed to seeing that their 2, 3 or 4 children (as opposed to 6 to 10 numbers earlier) received the best quality inputs. The government also was driving a programme that gave families rations of extra rice for every child that stayed in school, which meant that parents didn’t need to put little hands to work if the family was well-fed. By then, the emergence of first generation learners who had become parents, improved levels of awareness, government initiatives providing free and compulsory education also added to enrolment numbers.
Overall, the successes the government and RDT achieved in other sectorial initiatives like housing, food security, women’s empowerment, healthcare, etc. meant that the hard struggle for survival eased up and allowed parents to focus on the quality of their children’s care and upbringing. And education was a primary aspect and driver of an improvement in living standards.
Ensuring Education for All
With the support of children, their parents, volunteers, and the government, RDT is working towards creating a society which is just towards children’s educational rights. We are trying to harness the power of education to eradicate poverty and inequality from the society.