Literacy levels in rural India suffer due to migration, finds UNESCO study

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Literacy levels in rural India suffer due to migration, finds UNESCO study


  1. The new 2019 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report by UNESCO, entitled ‘Building bridges not walls’, draws attention to the impact of internal migration on education, highlighting the steps India has taken to address it, and the challenges that remain.

Important Facts:

  1. About the report:
  • The 2019 GEM Report continues its assessment of progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) on education and its ten targets, as well as other related education targets in the SDG agenda.
  • Its main focus is on the theme of migration and displacement.
  1. Findings of the report:
  • India is home to some of the world’s largest internal population movements, alongside China.
  • In the period between 2001 and 2011, inter-state migration rates doubled in India. Further, an estimated 9 million people migrated between states annually from 2011 to 2016.
  • In 2013, 10.7 million children aged between 6 and 14 lived in rural households with a family member who was a seasonal worker.
  • Education: About 28% of youth aged 15 to 19 in these households were illiterate or had not completed primary school, compared to 18% of the cohort overall,” says the report.
  • It also warns of the negative impact on education for children who are left behind as their parents migrate: “Test scores were lower among left-behind children aged 5-8.”
  • Exploitation: “About 80% of seasonal migrant children in seven cities lacked access to education near work sites and upto 40% of children from seasonal migrant households are likely to end up in work, rather than school, facing exploitation and abuse.
  • The report shows there is only one urban planner for every 1,00,000 people in India, while there are 38 for every 1, 00,000 in the United Kingdom.
  1. Examples:
  • The report says that the construction sector absorbs the majority of short-term migrants.
  • “A survey in Punjab state of 3,000 brick kiln workers in 2015-16 found that 60% were inter-State migrants.
  • Between 65% and 80% of all children aged five to 14 living at the kilns worked there seven to nine hours per day. About 77% of kiln workers reported lack of access to early childhood or primary education for their children,” it says.
  • “18% of the students displaced by a riverfront project in Ahmedabad dropped out and an additional 11% had lower attendance,” it says, citing an example.
  1. Challenges:
  • The Report notes that most interventions are focused on keeping children in home communities instead of actively addressing the challenges faced by those who are already on the move.
  • Failed initiative: “A pilot programme used on brick kiln sites from 2010-2011 in Rajasthan to track the progress of out-of-school children did not improve learning in any substantial way.
  • Teachers on the sites cited culture, language, lifestyle, cleanliness and clothing as major barriers between them and the kiln labour community. Teacher and student absenteeism were rampant.”
  • Another major education challenge presented by large scale internal migration is the growth of slums and informal settlements, where schools are often scarce.
  • Globally, the Report estimates that there will be an additional 80 million children living in slums by 2030. In Mumbai, between 100 and 300 families were arriving looking for work every day.
  • Slum dwellers’ education needs are often severely impacted by eviction and resettlement: 18% of the students displaced by a riverfront project in Ahmedabad dropped out and an additional 11% had lower attendance.
  • The urban planners were not being trained to understand the particular needs of slum dwellers. The Report shows there is only 1 urban planner for every 100,000 people in India, while there are 38 for every 100,000 in the United Kingdom.
  • Registration and documentation requirements for migrants set up to reduce migratory flows make it harder to enter schools as well. Eligibility for benefits, including for education, under the Mumbai Slum Areas Act required proof of residence, which many did not have.
  1. Addressing the issue
  • The report, however, acknowledges that India has taken steps to address the issue.
  • “The Right to Education Act in 2009 made it mandatory for local authorities to admit migrant children.
  • National-level guidelines were issued, allowing for flexible admission of children, providing transport and volunteers to support with mobile education, create seasonal hostels and aiming to improve coordination between sending and receiving districts and states,” it says.
  • The GEM Report also notes how Indian states have responded to the issue.
  • Gujarat introduced seasonal boarding schools to provide migrant children with education and collaborated with non-government organizations (NGOs) to begin online tracking of the children on the move.
  • In Maharashtra, village authorities called upon local volunteers to provide after-school psychosocial support to children who had been left behind by seasonal migrating parents.
  • Tamil Nadu provides textbooks in other languages to migrant children.
  • Odisha assumed responsibility of seasonal hostels run by NGOs and works with Andhra Pradesh to improve migrant well-being.


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