In 5 months, Delhi government school attendance tracking system helps 1,600 children
An “early warning system” identifying children in potential distress by tracking their school attendance is helping authorities in the capital to intervene and identify solutions to keep them in school.
From the introduction of the system in September 2021 to February 2022, 1,600 children have been brought back to school – at least for the immediate time – after interventions via this tracking, according to records kept by the Delhi Commission for Welfare. Rights of the Child (DCPCR).
The system works on the idea that there are a few reasons that are largely responsible for prolonged absence from school – child labor, begging, drug abuse, parental incarceration, parental death, disability, medical issues and involvement in crime.
The “Early Warning System” – designed by the Department of Education’s IT department and the DCPCR – is linked to school attendance registers. If a child is absent for a day, it sends an automated message to the child’s guardian indicating that the child was absent and “We hope everything is fine”. If the child continues to be absent for up to four more consecutive days, automated messages are sent each day with increasing concern, ranging from “We miss your child” to “We are worried about your child”. On the fifth or sixth day, the guardian will receive an IVRS message giving them a helpline number to call if they or the child are in distress. If there is no response, an operator will call them the next day to find out. Different interventions come into play depending on the nature of the distress in which the child may find himself.
According to DCPCR Chairman Anurag Kundu, four of the successful interventions involved cases where families were preparing to marry off their daughters – aged between 15 and 17. These parents were advised to put these plans on hold until the girls finish school.
Among teenagers, the most common reason for absenteeism is that they are working. “Working cases are the most difficult because we struggle with what we can do in those cases. Encouraging and advising is great, but families need that income at the end of the day… The death of a parent was also a big cause and it is closely linked to child labour,” said Kundu.
Of the interventions through February, 109 cases involved children who had started homeschooling but failed to show up and 96 involved children whose guardians were unaware that schools had reopened for this child’s class.
Some of the cases had surprisingly simple solutions. “In one case, when the operator called, the parent was upset and said that her daughter was studying at a co-educational school and she was the only girl in her section, which was an uncomfortable experience for her. We have contacted the headmaster of the school and asked how such a situation was created and requested that a few girls from another section be transferred to that one.It was a simple solution but the merit is not in the solutions but in decoding these micro-problems. That’s the challenge,” Kundu said.
This system has so far operated within the limits of the limited opening of schools with optional physical presence. With the resumption of completely offline schooling from April 1, the program has also entered into full swing and will be expanded to 25 full-time telephone operators from May 1. Another limitation has been in what is supposed to be the final stage of responses, which is a home visit in case a family is not reachable by phone by an operator. These are supposed to be carried out by members of the school management committee and volunteer parents called school mitras, but this action has not yet started.