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“Back 2 School”: 1500 Gujjar-Bakkarwal out-of-school students enrolled in govt schools at Kishtwar

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Kishtwar: Once grappling with a significant number of Out-of-School Children (OoSC), particularly from the Scheduled Tribe community, the success of the first phase of the Back to School initiative has played a pivotal role in elevating the literacy rate among the ST population in the district Kishtwar.

In 2021, a survey conducted by SAMAGRA Shiksha Jammu and Kashmir identified thousands of OoSC across J&K UT, including 2,469 OoSC in district Kishtwar, marking the highest number in the Jammu Division. This was a problem that demanded urgent attention from the authorities, The district administration in Kishtwar took proactive steps to bring back all the OoSC to school.

It is pertinent to mention that the term “Out of School Children” is a collective term encompassing dropouts, students who have left their education midway, and those who have never enrolled and never experienced formal education.

In December 2022, verification of 2469 Out-of-School Children (OoSC) in Kishtwar was conducted, revealing that approximately 1600 students in the age group of 6-14 years were not attending school. The Gujjar and Bakkarwal populations were more susceptible to low enrollment due to relatively poor socio-economic conditions, migratory nature, dependence on livestock, and less emphasis on higher education because of early marriage etc.

To enrol these students, the Back to School initiative was launched. The first step involved convincing parents and galvanizing public opinion through Gram Sabhas presided over by senior officers, including the Deputy Commissioner Kishtwar, ADDC, ADC, SDMs, and Tehsildars.

A 3-month Bridge Course, initiated with the help of DIET Kishtwar in January 2023, prepared these students to join schools. Following the completion of the Bridge Course, admissions for 1376 Out-of-School Students were done in various Government Schools, with 95 percent belonging to the ST Gujjar and Bakarwal population.

Sustainability is crucial in such initiatives, and for this, community support was mobilised. A Tribal Samaj Sudhar Committee, comprising Gujjar and Bakerwal volunteers, encouraged parents to re-enrol their kids in schools and monitored already enrolled students.

Additionally, School Management Committees were restructured in collaboration with the India Education Collective NGO. In these restructured committees, parents took on the role of Chairman and became active partners with the Education Department for School Improvement.

A visible result of these activated School Management Committees was the “My School My Pride” campaign, a bottom-up initiative culminating on January 26, Republic Day 2024. Parents in 50 percent of schools donated their money for Building as Learning Aid (BaLA) paintings, minor repairs, and kitchen gardens in their respective schools. Well-performing SMCs were awarded during the Republic Day Ceremony 2024.

The School Education Department Kishtwar, led by CEO Kishtwar Prahlad Bhagat, played a proactive role and launched commendable incentives for Out-of-School students, including additional Dhok seasonal centres, winter ST centres, stipends, and zonal level libraries in schools.

Overall, due to the Back to School initiative, major indicators in Kishtwar district have improved. The Gross Enrollment Ratio has jumped from 89% to 97.49%, while the dropout rate has decreased from 11% to 2.5 percent.

The total number of Out-of-School Students has been reduced from 1600 to only 57 in the district, with an improved transition rate of 98%. Since Gujjar and Bakerwal are nomadic groups, the number of seasonal units increased from 79 to 121 in 2023. Additionally, 80 new winter ST centres were opened, and a stipend of Rs 500 is provided to each ST student as an incentive.

In Back to School 2.0, an additional 200 OoSC have been identified for enrollment in schools in January 2024 for 100 percent Saturation.

The Back to School initiative is a success story that can be replicated in all backward and remote areas. It requires active participation and collective efforts from the district administration, education department, scheduled tribe community, and, most importantly, parents of out-of-school children.

What was once a bleak scenario for out-of-school children, where hope for education had dwindled, has been dramatically transformed. The appreciation and unwavering dedication of DC Kishtwar and a coalition of stakeholders have successfully reintegrated these children into the mainstream of education.

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