KISHTWAR, FEBRUARY 01: Once grappling with a significant number of Out-of-School Children (OoSC), the success of the first phase of the Back to School initiative has played a pivotal role in elevating the literacy rate among the Scheduled Tribe community in the district Kishtwar.
In 2021, a survey conducted by SAMAGRA Shiksha Jammu and Kashmir identified thousands of OoSC across J&K UT, including 2,469 in district Kishtwar, marking the highest number in the Jammu Division. As the problem demanded urgent attention, the district administration Kishtwar took proactive steps to bring back all the OoSC to school.
It is pertinent to mention that the term “Out of School Children” is a collective term encompassing dropouts, students who have left their education midway, and those who have never been enrolled and not at all experienced formal education.
In December 2022, verification of 2469 Out-of-School Children (OoSC) revealed that approximately 1600 students in the age group of 6-14 years were not attending school. The Gujjar and Bakarwal population were more susceptible to low enrollment due to relatively poor socio-economic conditions, migratory nature, dependence on livestock, and less emphasis on higher education because of early marriage etc.
To enroll these students, the Back to School initiative was launched. The first step involved convincing parents and galvanizing public opinion through Gram Sabhas presided over by senior officers, including the Deputy Commissioner, ADDC, ADC, SDMs, and Tehsildars.
A 3-month Bridge Course, initiated with the help of DIET Kishtwar in January 2023, prepared these students to join schools. Following the completion of the Bridge Course, admissions for 1376 Out-of-School Students were done in various Government Schools, with 95 percent belonging to the ST Gujjar and Bakarwal population.
Sustainability is crucial in such initiatives, and for this, community support was mobilized. A Tribal Samaj Sudhar Committee, comprising Gujjar and Bakerwal volunteers, encouraged parents to re-enroll their kids in schools and monitored already enrolled students.
A visible result of these activated School Management Committees was the “My School My Pride” campaign, a bottom-up initiative culminating on January 26, Republic Day 2024. Parents in 50 percent of schools donated their money for Building as Learning Aid (BaLA) paintings, minor repairs, and kitchen gardens in respective schools. Well-performing SMCs were awarded during the Republic Day Ceremony 2024.
The School Education Department, led by CEO Prahlad Bhagat, played a proactive role and launched commendable incentives for Out-of-School students, including additional Dhok seasonal centers, winter ST centers, stipends, and zonal level libraries in schools.
Overall, due to the Back to School initiative, major indicators in Kishtwar district have improved. The Gross Enrollment Ratio has jumped from 89% to 97.49%, while the dropout rate has decreased from 11% to 2.5 percent.
The total number of Out-of-School Students has been reduced from 1600 to only 57 in the district, with an improved transition rate of 98%. Since Gujjar and Bakerwal are nomadic groups, the number of seasonal units increased from 79 to 121 in 2023. Additionally, 80 new winter ST centers were opened, and a stipend of Rs 500 is provided to each ST student as an incentive.