Every Mumbai child in school
Mumbai is on the verge of claiming that every child 3-10 years old now has access to appropriate education, thanks to the efforts of the Municipal Corporation and Pratham, a charitable trust which brings together the government, corporate sector and voluntary sector to educate all children.
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February 2000: The United Nations International Children's Educational Fund (UNICEF) initiated Pratham in 1993-94 with a view that it should become a city-wide mission for achievement of universal primary education in Mumbai by the year 2000. The goal was to get every slum child in Mumbai within the ages of 3-5 into pre-primary school, every 6-10 year old in a formal school and reduce the drop out rates of students. The Pratham Trust was first chaired by Mr. S. P. Godrej and is now led by Mr. N. Vaghul, the Chairman of ICICI, who championed the cause and provided the right platform to launch this movement on the a mass scale.

One of the major achievements of Pratham is in providing preschool education to over 50,000 deprived children in slums through about 2800 balwadis last year. In 1999-2000 over 60,000 children will be served through nearly 3500 balwadis. The Pratham balwadi model is very cost efficient at Rs.6, 000 per annum per balwadi. Instructors, who are trained by Pratham, are picked from local young women. The community provides space in public places, homes, or places of worship free of cost. Parents contribute to the instructors income by way of fees although no child is turned away for non-payment.

Pratham has also created a program of bridge courses for 6-10 year old children who have dropped out or never enrolled in a school. The younger children are prepared for school in a two-month “ school readiness” course and the older children are given a six month course to integrate them into grade III of the formal school. In June 1999, over 2500 such children were brought back to school and as of August, 500 bridge courses are working with about 8,000 children.

The problem of poor attainment of enrolled children is being addressed through the balsakhi- remedial learning program. A local young woman works with schoolteachers in the classroom or outside to improve their literacy and numerical skills. In Mumbai schools, nearly 35% of the children do not have basic alphabet or number recognition skills by the 4th grade. The balsakhi also works with children enrolled through bridge courses and their parents so that the child is retained in a formal school. By the end of September 1999, nearly 1500 balsakhis will work with about 600 children each in 1254 municipal schools. Thus over 90,000 children will be helped.

The balwadi program of Pratham in Mumbai has been funded so far through corporate donations and funds provided by non-resident Indians in Houston and NY/NJ areas. The Government of India has provided a grant of Rs. 14.5 million for the work with children in the higher age group in 1999-2000. Pratham is one of the few organizations in which overheads are met by corporate bodies such as ICICI Ltd., and HPCL Ltd. The donor funds are used practically entirely for the purpose they are intended.

U.S.-based volunteers and their observations: PrathamUSA has been formed to further the noble mission of its mother organization in India. PrathamUSA was started with the intention of broadening the scope of active participation outside India. We recently launched our new website at www.prathamusa.org in order to update people on our efforts.

On 8th September 1999, three key members of PrathamUSA - Kavita Kulkarni, Manjiree Jog and Viral Acharya, along with Manjiree's parents - visited some of the Pratham sites in Mumbai along with Pratham volunteers. In particular, they visited a bridge course for about 15 students being conducted in a Municipal School at Goregaon West, and continued with visits to two newly formed balwadis in slum areas of Aarey Colony, Goregoan East.

They observe, "It was very heartening to see such pockets of the city being reached out to. The students in the bridge course were all adding, subtracting, multiplying - with lot of enthusiasm - and as we walked through the narrow aisles separating huts in Aarey Colony sites, a student who after talking to Pratham volunteers enrolled for the bridge course excitedly got the parents of children in balwadis to see us. The small children in balwadis, about 12-15 in each, recited the works of poetry they had learned, even while they were relishing their meal from "dabbas". Parents also seemed keen to see the progress of their children, and in fact one of the balwadis was being run in a family's room there. We then continued our visit to the Computer Assisted Learning Center in a Municipal School at Malad, where we saw games for learning mathematics and languages, on-line. All in all, it was a great day, in the suburbs of Mumbai, amidst the network of basic educational units created by Pratham."

Kavita adds, "I was particularly touched by the affectionate way the children called out to the Pratham activists. They seemed eager and happy to see them, which clearly showed the care and help they had received from these young Pratham activists. Even in the bridge course, the children seemed really happy to be there, and ultimately, that is what matters."

Beyond Mumbai: As Pratham marches towards its goal of achieving primary education for all slum children in Mumbai by the end of year 2000, plans have already been initiated for expansion to new rural and urban areas which include Ahmedabad, Bangalore, New Delhi, Pune, Surat and Vadodara. In Vadodra, the balsakhi program has already succeeded in bringing back to school over 400 children. In Delhi 1000 balwadis will be opened by October 2000. Pilot studies are ongoing in parts of rural Maharashtra as well. In order to improve its distribution network all over the country, Pratham has formed a National Alliance with various organizations such as the MV Foundation of Andhra Pradesh, the Aga Khan Foundation and CRY among others to explore possible synergies. More recently the Roundtable Organization has joined hands with Pratham for fundraising and Project management. An exciting new dimension has been the initiative for computer-assisted literacy programs in the municipal schools of Mumbai.

Pratham believes that the concept of a citizens-based initiative to educate children in collaboration with the existing system can make governmental investment more productive. The Pratham concept works not because of the money spent but because of the efforts of young men and women who are motivated to educate children in their neighborhood, their city, and their nation.

In the social sector, particularly with regard to the universalization of primary education, government's efforts need to be supplemented by non-governmental organizations. In a unique style of functioning, Pratham has shown that a triangular partnership between corporate support, government coordination and energetic volunteer work can achieve a great deal in a relatively short time. There is something for everyone to do so that the dream of every child in school becomes a reality before the end of the first decade of the new millennium.

India Together
February 2000

U.S-based volunteers of Pratham contributed to this story. To learn more about the efforts of this organization, please contact Viral V. Acharya, who is a doctoral student in Finance at the Stern School at New York University, or visit the organization on the internet using links on this page.