Madhulika is the child of migrant workers from the plains, who work on the road projects in Kinnaur district. She attends the bi-weekly classes that Pragya’s Mobile Education Units (MEUs) run in Kinnaur (Himachal Pradesh) and Chamoli (Uttarakhand) districts of India. Shy and quiet, she sat in a corner of the van with the educational toys, while her classmates raucously joined in repeating the alphabet or the numerical tables. The teacher noticed Madhulika’s extreme diffidence, and encouraged her to speak up more, but she was content to sit with her toys in the van, as the teacher carried on with the lessons.
Children like Madhulika, between the ages of 6 and 14, are guaranteed access to education under the Right to Education Act (RtE), a landmark legislation that was passed in 2009. There is little done to account for the quality of education imparted or the lack of access to schools, especially for the children of migrant workers and labourers, who end up dropping out of the education system altogether. Pragya’s Mobile Education Units, or ‘School on Wheels’ is an initiative that brings basic education to the doorsteps of underserved communities, providing them with basic literacy and education that follows the national curriculum. The Mobile Education Units serve the children who have dropped out from the education system, encouraging enrollment in the local schools, and help bridge the gap in the education system.
Two weeks in, while her classmates confidently intone the alphabets and numbers, Madhulika still does not speak. After repeated coaxing by the teacher, she makes the long and daunting trip to the blackboard. To everyone’s surprise, Madhulika is able to identify all the alphabets and numbers on the board. The presence of a suitable learning environment ensured that Madhulika was learning and absorbing the instruction around her, even if her silence indicated otherwise. The challenge is to provide children with an opportunity for basic education. It is, after all, their fundamental right.