Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Making a difference


In spite of the many challenges they face, a KGBV in the remote Bordha village in Vadodara district has helped many tribal girls by giving them access to education

Eisha Sarkar
Published in Success Stories in Education Gujarat 2012 by UNICEF and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan

The drone of 25-odd girls reciting Math multiplication tables rises above the smoke from a kitchen woodfire that fills a classroom in the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) near Bordha village (82.7 km from Vadodara city). They stop their lessons to welcome the visitors.

Cooking makai rotlas (flatbread made of corn) on woodfires in the KGBV's kitchen

At this remote residential school for tribal girls in Pavi Jetpur taluka visitors are few. “During the monsoon, the roads turn into streams. Few people can make it this far,” says Sonalben Savlaben Damo as she enters the tiny ‘office’ which has a table, a few chairs, a cupboard full of books and charts and walls which are adorned with the students’ art and craft works. Damo, who is a native of neighboring Dahod district, has been heading the team of seven teachers here since 2009. The KGBV at Bordha was opened in December 2008 by Mahila Samakhya, a welfare organization for girls’ education.

The KGBV scheme

The KGBV is so remote, it takes 3.5 hours from Vadodara city to get there

Launched in July 2004 by the Government of India, KGBV is a scheme for setting up residential schools at the upper primary level for girls belonging predominantly to the Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), Socially and Economically Backward Classes (SEBC) and minority communities. The scheme is being implemented in educationally backward blocks of the country where the female rural literacy is below the national average (65.46 per cent as per Census 2011) and the gender gap in literacy is above the national average (16.68 percentage points as per Census 2011). The scheme provides for a minimum reservation of 75 per cent of the seats for girls belonging to SC, ST, SEBC or minority communities and priority for the remaining 25 per cent, is given to girls from families below poverty line.

Bringing out-of-school girls into schooling

Nearly all the girls belong to the orthodox Rathwa community

“In 2009, there were 66 girls from this area who were studying at this KGBV. Now, we have 116, of which 115 belong to the conservative Rathwa tribe. Just the fact that there is a KGBV here has given many out-of-school children the opportunity to go to school,” says Damo, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Home Science from Vallabh Vidyanagar. The girls study in Standards V to VIII and are between 10-14 years of age. Before the KGBV was set up, many of them had been forced to work as migrant laborers in farms to supplement their families’ incomes. “My parents work in farms. Whenever they would find some work, they would make me leave school and take me along to labor too. Then, when this KGBV opened, they decided to put me here so that I could continue my education while they would work in Kutch,” says 14-year-old Kajal Rathwa who studies in Standard VII. 

Blending activity with learning


With the help of teaching learning materials, the seven balmitra (including one who is physically disabled) conduct four classes in the three classrooms and the small hallway. Each class has about 25 students. They teach the girls Mathematics, Gujarati, English, Hindi, Science, Social Sciences and vocational crafts such as bead-work. The children find Mathematics particularly difficult. “To help them understand the subject, we teach them addition and subtraction with the help of stones and matchsticks,” notes Dharmishtha Rathwa, a 21-year-old balmitra. The children also perform action songs and dramas during special days and festivals. 
The teachers, most of them in their 20s, attend refresher training programs organized by the Mahila Samakhya every month. They keep the children’s portfolios and show them to the parents during the monthly parent meetings, which, encouragingly, nearly 50 per cent of the students’ parents attend. 

Monitoring the girls’ health

The children learn Math, Gujarati, English, Hindi, Science and Social Sciences

The Mahila Samakhya arranges for health camps for the girls every three months. Their weights, heights and nutrition are monitored. Girls are also screened for sickle cell anemia, which is prevalent among these tribal populations. The KGBV also stocks medicines and first-aid tools. Healthcare facilities are few though. For medical emergencies, the staff have to go to the hospital at Kalarani, a few kilometers away. Damo says  that they rely a lot on the state’s 108 ambulance service in this remote area. 

Cramped for space?

The teachers, like the students, stay in the classrooms — their things distributed among the trunks which line the wall under the bunk beds. Additional rooms are needed, says Damo. “The new building has been under construction for two years now and is not going to be finished anytime soon,” she complains. Whenever it will be completed, the KGBV will have two more classrooms and two more rooms they can use for living in. Right now, the 120-odd people residing there have to divide their time and water use efficiently when they use the four toilets. 

Logistical issues

Water too is scarce in the tribal clusters of Pavi Jetpur. “The borewell is not clean. We have an immersible motor in the other well. But we get water only we have electricity,” says Damo adding that they are forced to shell out Rs 300 for each tanker almost every other day. 

The smoke emanates from a woodfire, as a couple of women bake huge makai (corn) rotlas (flatbread) in the enclosed kitchen-cum-storage space adjacent to a classroom. The shelves are lined with grain and pulses, which come every fortnight. The gas cylinders however remain unused. “Having never cooked on gas before, we fear that they may leak or explode,” says Damo sheepishly.

Even with a broken compound wall and not-so-friendly interiors, the KGBV beckons the girls towards a brighter future, especially those who have not previously had access to education. Instead of marrying off their pre-teen girls or forcing them to become laborers, more tribals are now getting them admitted in this residential school. The change is small but significant. 

There are four KGBVs in Vadodara district — at Mogra village in Kawant, Panchamba village in Naswadi, Bordha in Pavi Jetpur and Jojh in Chhota Udepur. The creation of more such institutions, while keeping in mind the logistical disadvantages such schools are faced with and tackling those issues head-on, may help change the mindset and attitudes of girls who would otherwise be pushed into child labor or married off early.

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