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The Coolie Sangha has, over the past 40 years, supported a total of 66,342 children from small and middle peasant families to attend government schools. 41,874 (63%) of them have finished their high school or college. 24,468 (37%) either dropped out without finishing their schooling or their families discontinued membership in the village CSUs.
In the current school year, as on 10 August 2020, the Coolie Sangha supports 9,356 children from 342 villages with scholarship and supplementary education to attend government schools. 90% of school-age children (i.e. 5-16 year age group) from functioning CSUs are in school.
Every evening Balakendras (children's centres) where children learn and play in a nurturing environment are conducted in every village. These include indoor and outdoor games, drawing, colouring, painting, nature walks, picnics, tours, science camps, songs, skits, plays, etc. ADATS conducts monthly training sessions for Balakendra Teachers and guide them to implement a core curriculum. As a result of these activities conducted on an intense and everyday basis, Coolie Sangha children enjoy a positive visibility that they never had before, forcing everyone to reflect on their existence and take positions with regard to their development.
Cohesive groups, mentored by Balakendra Teachers, set boundaries and instil positive values in school children so that they together explore life choices in today's world, upholding egalitarian, secular and democratic principles.
Mahila Meetings monitor supported children's school attendance, take an active interest in the village schools (often times censuring truant government school teachers), and oversee the performance of Balakendra Teachers.
Mahila Meetings use their Sangha Funds to buy play material for the children, pay for extra tuition, etc. They make lists of children they would like to support, assess each Member family's ability to pay for their child's education and decide how much extra they need to give. Moneys used for scholarship support is from their respective Sangha Funds. Though mostly illiterate and neoliterate, Coolie women have shown that they are able to handle large sums of moneys quite efficiently.
Being a community based and (largely) self-financed programme, Attrition (the gradual reduction in numbers over the years) is higher than in most conventional children's programmes and hovers around 30%. This wearing down/exhaustion/ reduction takes place through 4 factors — school completion, school dropout, membership cancellation, and village CSU dropout. A conventional programme would not have to contend with the last 2 factors.
Conventional programmes reach an attrition rate of about 29% after 8-10 years. We do so in 4 years. But the figure does not continue to climb at the same rate. Parents get serious once their children reach higher classes and attrition settles at about 31%. But in terms of retaining the girl child, we beat most conventional programmes. They are lucky to have 30% girls in high school. We have regularly and continually maintained a perfect sex ratio of 50%.
These funded programmes were far more structured and technically proficient, with technical assistance from the Government of Karnataka's Education Department. They had far more child focused activities that included monthly training and skill upgradation for Balakendra Teachers, in-house coaching for children appearing for their X Std. Board Examinations, better organised/funded play time in the Balakendras, exposure trips and picnics, Gram Panchayat and Taluk level sports, annual health check-up and follow-up, summer camps, science camps, life skill training, IT Courses, etc.
But they did not cover all the Coolie Sangha supported children and the overwhelming majority are in a fully self-financed programme where activities are less intense.
ADATS did not properly gauge capabilities in the Coolie Sangha. We presumed that since they had sufficient Sangha Funds, as well as 35 years of experience in running their Children's Programme, the Mahila Meetings would be able to continue on their own. Meanwhile, Sate allocations to village schools had also substantially increased.
With limited knowledge and capability, the Coolie Sangha was not able to conceptualise an education that was pertinent to current times and needs. Their teaching cadre was dismantled and every evening Balakendra activities stopped. School going children no longer had a nurturing environment to learn and play. Pedagogic value was lost without trained Balakendra Teachers using creative techniques.
Member Coolie families attempted to educate their children on their own and failed. For 3 years, their Children's Programme got reduced to a “one-day activity” where scholarship amounts, a bun and a banana were distributed to thousands of children at each taluk headquarter, once every year. The emphasis shifted from Retention & Performance to mere Enrolment.
In 2018, the Mahila Meetings decided that they needed to enhance their child related activities with critical analysis of the current political economy, leadership, direction, resources and professional expertise provided by ADATS to develop pertinent and effective interventions that identify and fill gaps in their children's education.
In May 2019 the Coolie Sangha adopted a 5 year Strategic Plan for the 2019-20 to 2024-25 school years.
Please see Strategic Plan - Coolie Children.
For the past two years, ADATS has been trying to get them funding for this children's programme. But without waiting for external grants, each village CSU contributed ₹ 35,000 from their Sangha Funds to restart the rejuvenated Children's programme. With ₹ 88 lakh, they could meet 40% of what they need for the 2018-19 school year.
Mahila Meetings reappointed Balakendra Teachers. Along with VHWs they met on a fixed day every month, taluk-wise, to review, receive basic Montessori skills, discuss current health issues, receive basic medicine, etc. Since we do not as yet have resources to appoint specialised support staff, these training were fairly basic and limited.
In the 2019-20 school year they once again spent ₹ 94.23 lakh from their Sangha Funds and continued the children's programme.
The 1920-21 school year, however, is in shambles due to the COVID-19 pandemic. ADATS Field Staff and Balakendra Teachers are still working out how best to ensure that children continue receiving an education in these difficult times.