Nachiket Mor is today championing the concept of residential bridge schools for dropouts, writes Sreelatha Menon.
Why do half the girls who join school drop out by the time they are in Class VI?
The reasons are many. For instance, a woman migrant worker from Murshidabad who migrated to Delhi said she stopped going to school because her teachers were harsh and she was too terrified.
Though the law gives children a right to education, this does not seem to be working. Some might say schools are uninspiring, uncaring or have an undemocratic atmosphere.
But the primary causes are linked to social problems: Children need to work to assist their families and migrate with parents. And once they are 12 or 15, it is too late to go back. What happens to their rights?
Nachiket Mor, a banker who quit banking and plunged into the social sector as president of ICICI Foundation, is today the spokesperson of a unique effort to give a second chance to millions of children, mostly girls, who have dropped out of school.
According to Neupa (National University of Educational Planning and Administration) statistics for 2008-09, if 12.4 million girls were enrolled in Class I to V, only 6.3 million went to the next level.
Mor is championing an experiment that was successful for more than a decade in two blocks of Hardoi in Uttar Pradesh, and was executed by an NGO called CARE.
Mor is heading their board and is putting his weight behind this initiative, called Udaan, or flight. It is indeed a flight of sorts - fast, brief and an escape from the situation these children are stuck in.
Here is what Mor advocates through Udaan: A bridge-building course for out-of-school children and dropouts that allows them to cover Classes I to V, the most dreaded part of schooling for many children in 11 months.
The children are between 12 and 14 years old and, each year, in just two blocks of Hardoi, Udaan manages to find 100 children who have either never been to school or have dropped out.
In Hardoi, CARE, in association with Sarvodaya Ashram, another NGO, is running a school which takes 100 children every year. It caters to 60 villages in two blocks: Ahori and Tadiyawa.
CARE has started another school in Kushalda village in Orissa's Baripada district. The first batch recently appeared for government school board examinations and 90 per cent of the children could make it to Class VI and were admitted to mainstream schools.
The 1,100-odd children who have attended the course in Hardoi also saw over 95 per cent success rate when they appeared in mainstream board examinations. Mor says many of them have since attended college and passed their graduation examinations. Five girls from the 1999 batch, the very first one, are graduates today, he says.
The CARE formula also familiarises girls with post offices and banks and exposes them to sports, including cricket and football, besides cycling - a practical lesson that helps them continue schooling once they leave Udaan.
The government has a similar programme for children to rescue them from child labour. More than 1,000 National Child Labour Project schools operate across the country. The difference is that the Udaan schools are residential.
The big question is why the Right to Education is silent on dropouts. The education system is like a sieve that is emptying even as it is being filled. Mor says unless this leakage is addressed, the job will be unfinished. He says NGOs cannot take such initiatives to scale and it is for the government to see their various models and use them.