People move around India all the time. Around 9 million move to live in another state every year while the rates of those migrating within their state have doubled over just 10 years. If you were an education minister tasked with making sure schools are flexible enough to deal with this, what would you do?
UNESCO has published a global report on migration and displacement. Entitled ‘Building bridges’ not walls’, it looks at countries’ achievements and bottlenecks in helping migrant and displaced children benefit from a quality education. People have always moved away from their homes, in search of better education opportunities, for work. In India, education was the main reason young men gave for moving within the country.
A lot has been done to help internal migrants. In 2009, the Right to Education Act made it mandatory for local authorities to admit migrant children. National-level guidelines allow for flexible admission of children, for providing transport and volunteers to support mobile education, and creating seasonal hostels. The guidelines are designed to improve coordination between sending and receiving districts and states. And because central directives may not cover all bases, many states also did their part. Gujarat introduced seasonal boarding schools and started an online child tracking system. In Maharashtra, village authorities worked with local volunteers to provide after-school psychosocial support to children left behind by seasonal migrating parents and Tamil Nadu provides textbooks in other languages.
Some of the children most in need of new solutions are the children of seasonal workers. In 2013, 10 million children lived in rural households with a family member who was a seasonal worker. This movement is common within the construction industry: A survey of 3,000 brick kiln workers in Punjab found that 60 per cent were inter-state migrants.
The Global Education Monitoring Report shines a light on these children. Eight out of 10 migrant children in worksites across seven Indian cities did not have access to education. Among young people who have grown up in a rural household with a seasonal migrant, 28 per cent identified as illiterate or had an incomplete primary education. The report shows that up to 40 per cent of children from seasonal migrant households are likely to end up in work rather than school.
One reason for this is that the interventions designed by states are aimed at helping children who are in their home communities, but they do not actively address the challenges faced by those who are on the move. There are other challenges. Despite efforts, a pilot programme used on brick kiln sites in Rajasthan to track the progress of out of school children did not improve learning in any substantial way. Teachers on the sites reported culture, language, lifestyle, cleanliness and clothing as major barriers between them and the kiln labour community.
While analysing migration and its links to education, it is hard to ignore one of its most visible results on Indian cities: The growth of slums. But policymakers seem to turn a blind eye to them. Our estimates are that an additional 80 million children will live in slums around the world by 2030.
It was positive to see the 2016 India Habitat III national report commit the government to universal provision of basic services including education. Yet, research from the same year showed that urban planners were not being trained to understand the needs of slum dwellers. Our research shows there is only one urban planner for every 1,00,000 people in India, while there are 38 for the same number of people in the UK.
With shifting goalposts, the task of education ministers is not enviable. But I believe that our work over this past year can help. It is time for states to address the education needs of children and youth who have already migrated. The government must face up to the permanence of informal settlements. Like it or not, education is on the move.