Bal Panchayats : Children Empowering Other Children
Via India Together
Since 1994, SEDT has succeeded in drawing some 11,000 dropouts in 220 villages in nine tehsils of the impoverished Parbhani district of Maharashtra back to school through unique village-level children’s organisations called Bal Panchayats.
Realising that any work in education in the area was impossible without the help of the children, SEDT decided to organise the children into village-level groups. In 2000, the first such groups were created in 13 villages. Called ‘Bal Panchayats’, these groups of 12-30 children were trained initially to identify children who had dropped out of school and to convince the parents of these children to send them back to school.
The Bal Panchayats use a number of different strategies to convince parents to send children back to school. In Lohra village in Manwat tehsil for instance, Ayodhya Khating and her panchayat started a tradition they call the bomb pheri (‘bomb’ in Marathi means ‘shouting’), a session of shouting slogans against child labour in front of the houses of dropouts. “Two dropouts in my village returned to school after we did this.”
But in most cases, such extreme measures have not been required. Meeting parents and talking to them is enough. Says Deepak Tandale of Tandulwadi in Gangakhed tehsil, “There were six child labourers in our village. We asked them if they wanted to go to school. When they said yes, we met their families and convinced them to send their children to school. Our village was the first to be free of child labour in the entire district.”
This pleading by children, say observers, has a definite psychological edge over other measures. According to the principal of a school in Pohetakli, in Pathri tehsil, “Parents may not be willing to listen to teachers, who, after all, do not belong to the village. But if the child’s own friends plead for him, the impact is much stronger.”
But drawing the children back to school is just half the job. The other, more crucial job is to make the school worth going to. “In any setting, it is virtually impossible for parents or anyone else to find out exactly what is going on in school without the help of the children actually going to school. In rural areas, the cooperation of children is all the more important because parents do not take any interest in school activities at all.”