SINDHUPALCHOWK, Jan 15: Out of the 100 children enrolled in class one at Bhimeshwori Secondary School, 50 students were absent on Thursday. When the school sent out teachers to inspect what the absentees were doing, some students were busy looking after their younger siblings while some were playing in the dust. The teachers managed to return with 32 of the students while the rest, who had gone to carry sand in the Indrawati River, were not found.
This is just an example. It’s become a difficult task for schools to keep track of students from poor and backward communities, like the Majhis and Danuwars, and make them attend classes regularly. “We’ve had enough of wandering through the villages to look for the students,” says Krishna Prasad Shrestha, Principal of the school. The numbers of Majhi and Danuwar, who make their livelihood with fishing, are many in Bhimtar village situated on the banks of Indrawati.
Compared to other villages in the district, Bhimtar has the largest number of dropouts and irregular students. According to Principal Shrestha, 700 students have been admitted to the school. “Only about 350 students attend their classes,” he says. With so many students attending school for a day and then missing for days on end, teachers don’t have a clear idea of who their students are. 50 students have already dropped out of school since the last admission date, informs Shrestha. Students leave for the capital and Palpa citing domestic work. Six married students from classes six and seven have stopped coming to school. Children from Majhi community marry at the age of 12 or 13.
Bhimeshwori Secondary School in Sindhupalchowk district where Majhi and Danuwar children study.
It’s from the primary level that most students are absent. However, all the students return to school during examinations. Last April, during the admission week campaign, the school took back 133 dropouts. They were welcomed to the school by the then Director General, Mahashram Sharma, with garlands and tika.
Because students stopped coming after four months of the school year, it took the help of the Education Office and donor agencies. They started many programs to attract the students back to school. Bags and tiffin boxes were distributed to the students. Though this did help to increase attendance for a couple of days, the normal state of irregular attendance is back.
Women Self Dependent Centre distributed bags to maintain the attendance of 26 children who were brought back from domestic work. Seeing the irregularity of Primary level students, Helambu Education Project (HELP) in coordination with the Education Office presented tiffin boxes to the school’s 400 students, as well as to 1300 children in the Village Development Community.
“The children happily attended school for a few days, carrying lunch in their Tiffin boxes,” says Shrestha, “Now they are in some corner of their houses. Even when they bring it school, its empty.”
Though the communities are involved in agriculture, they do not have any land apart from where they live. Working for 18 hours daily, they leave home in the early hours of the morning for work and their children arrive at school hungry. Many of them don’t go to school at all. It’s usually at around 1pm that the meal is cooked and the students return home for lunch. They fail to go back to attend the rest of the classes. Shrestha states, “When there is a marriage ceremony in the village, or during festivals, the school is forced to shut down.”
The proximity of the Indrawti River is also one of the reasons behind the rising number of absentees at the school. There are more than 10 crusher industries in the river, and older children resort to working for them. The younger ones stay back home to mind their little brothers and sisters. Since a day’s work of loading aggregate fetches Rs 1000, parents prefer to see their children at work rather than at the school.
In a bid to catch the attention of students, the school has included computer education in its curriculum since the last three years. Mobilizing internal sources and also with the help of donations, the school has 12 computers which it uses to teach children from the Primary level. Initially a source of great interest, the computers mean nothing to the students now. For the last two years, the government has been providing special scholarships to the children from marginalized communities but even that has not been able to attract students.
Statistics reveal that in the two Secondary Schools and seven Primary Schools, there are 300 children admitted annually to class one but only 50 make it to the next class. More than 250 of the students will have left school during the course of the year. In the last academic calendar, 269 students dropped out. The data for children who missed school was collected at the end of the academic year and on April, 320 students were enrolled.