Wednesday, Aug 21, 2002
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By Feroze Ahmed
He was put through the CLEP's transit school and admitted to class two this year. He wants to become a doctor. ``It hurts when he says that'', his mother Hatheeja, who is expecting her fourth child, says.
``We could not afford treatment. So we sent him to transit school for the nice atmosphere there and because they fed him at least one meal a day,'' she says. The Don Bosco Social Service Society, which facilitated Sadiq's re-schooling, is now planning to take him to the Adyar Cancer Hospital to treat the tumour above his neck.
Another child, Janaki, had a cleft deformity, which made her the target of jokes and forced her to quit school. She was later admitted to a transit school, when the NGO noticed her plight and arranged for an operation. She is now in class three and smiling.
The CLEP has not just rehabilitated over 6,000 students in the last five years; its spin offs have benefited scores of Sadiqs and Janakis in more ways than just getting them back to school. Some transit school students have even completed schooling, like Jayasudha who has joined a B.Com course.
But at this juncture, when the Government should be evolving CLEP into a wholesome programme, ironing out the chinks, involving the education department in it, promoting schooling as a community activity and facilitating higher education, the TNSCB finds that the corpus fund for the programme has not been reinstituted. The CLEP had a Rs. one crore fund that lasted five years.
``The transit school programme was a tremendous success. It is a tried and tested model which has to be replicated throughout Tamil Nadu and serve as a role model for the rest of the country'', a UNICEF project officer, Thomas George, says.
``The Tamil Nadu Government has declared Universal Elementary Education by 2005. This cannot be achieved without a programme to tackle the high incidence of drop outs''.
Even by conservative Government statistics, more than 30 lakh students in the State drop out every year from primary and middle school--the CLEP's target group. According to a UNICEF survey in 2000, at least 20 lakh children, who should be in school, work as child labourers.
For starters, the CLEP has to focus on restricting the high drop out rate of transit school students from regular schools, which according to the TNSCB is more than 50 per cent.
Many leave school because they find it more demanding than transit schools, are harassed by teachers and classmates, enticed back to work, are not interested in studies, or forced to quit by parents, like in the case of girls after they attain puberty.
Nagomi, for instance, who last year officially became the first transit school student to complete class 10, is now married and has dropped out from class 12. (She has been persuaded to write her board exams privately.)
Some NGOs like Asha Nivas, MCDS and NHADP are attempting to run its own transit schools. But smaller organisations will not be able to continue the programme sans support and, without standardisation, the programme might lose its effectiveness, say activists.
``Definitely transit schools should not go on for ever'', says a social worker. ``But they should run at least for the next five years, by when the Government should get all children in school''.
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