Interview with Rajesh Prabhakar Patil, district magistrate, Mayurbhanj
Taru Bhatia | September 26, 2016
Odisha’s largest district, Mayurbhanj, is set to be free from child labour very soon. District magistrate Rajesh Prabhakar Patil, an IAS officer of 2005 batch, talked to Taru Bhatia about how the ‘Mu Bi Padhibi’ campaign has been instrumental in fighting child labour.
How was the ‘Mu Bi Padhibi’ campaign initiated in your district?
I sat with my team – all the stakeholders including civil society people, some political people and teachers, and together we prepared a blueprint and visualised problems to find out their solutions. Then during the process of execution we encountered many other problems. We addressed them subsequently. The best part [of the campaign] was involvement of all stakeholders. This campaign is owned by the people.
Did you face any resistance from tribals when you tried to bring their children to mainstream education?
Tribal people believe that education is important even though they want to preserve their culture. They want good education, want to be well off and get good jobs. I don’t think today there is any tribal notion that a child should not go to a school. But there are other issues like inaccessibility to schools and family issues like addiction to drugs or liquor. Then there is a problem of poverty as well. Sometimes their language poses a big barrier. There are 62 types of tribes in Odisha and around 52 of them are in Mayurbhanj. And almost each tribe speaks a different language, which is different from Odia.
Central Odisha is a huge forest – one of the dense forests of India. There are many villages in and around this area. This creates a problem of access. And, therefore, the government’s norm of opening a school doesn’t benefit them. The nearest school would be three-four km away. Teachers might not travel this distance. Monitoring is a challenge.
Since language has been a barrier, was it difficult for a tribal child to interact with teachers?
We have shiksha sathi, who acts as an interpreter between tribal students and teachers from class one and two. Eventually, they are taught Odia language – most tribals do not know Odia. We have 176 shiksha sathis. The Odisha government has also recruited multi-lingual education [MLE] teachers.
Is the ‘Mu Bi Padhibi’ model one-of-its-kind in the country?
As far as Odisha is concerned, I don’t think there is any other district with such a model. Children at rescue centres are sent for counselling where they also receive vocational training for up to two years. They automatically become entitled for jobs of skilled technicians, a model we wish for. They may not get educated till graduation or post-graduation, but at least they will come out as informed and enlightened citizens of India. The government of Odisha has accepted our model. 29 other districts will be given instructions to adopt this model.
Do you think it can be replicated?
Mayurbhanj is one of the biggest districts of India. If it can be implemented here, then it can be executed in any district of India.
What steps have been taken to improve the quality of teaching?
We sent out a team to Satara district in Maharashtra, which included teachers, block level officers, headmasters and even school management committee and cluster coordinators. They went there to understand the teaching and learning process of that district. After that they would implement the same experiment here in Mayurbhanj. The experiment is running in five blocks currently to improve quality of education. We will soon expand it to other blocks.
Also, we have prepared a minimum competency chart from class 1 to 5 with the help from district institute of teachers’ education [DITE], under the state council for education and training. It will act as a guide for teachers and parents. This way parents would also know what a child should learn in class.
What challenges do you foresee after the process of implementation?
The challenge now is to ensure that children pursue further education after class 10. We are trying to find out a solution so that we can do something for them. We want to place this issue before the state government because there is a need to have some kind of policy intervention. International Labour Organisation [ILO], a United Nations agency dealing with labour issues, has also come to our district and studied the project. We have requested ILO and other agencies to take up this issue to higher authorities.
(The interview appears in the September 16-30, 2016 issue)
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