September 27, 2010

THE RTE ACT: What do we know so far?

This is the first of a series of blog posts on the RTE Act that will discuss developments around the Act and the related challenges.

The RTE act is considered one of the major milestones in development in India in recent times alongside the Right to Information Act. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) came into force in April 2010 in India. The Act ensures the government and community are legally obligated to offer free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14 years of age, making elementary education a fundamental right of every child in India.

The efforts to improve primary education in India have been growing in the last 10 years. Different national and state level policies have focused on primary education. These include the ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’ and the State level initiatives and the mid-day meal schemes. In five years between 2000 and 2005, India increased primary school enrolment overall by 13.7 per cent. However; there were an estimated eight million 6- to 14-year-olds in India out-of-school in 2009 as per UNICEF.

A lot has been written and debated in the media about the RTE Act, its merits, its inadequacies, the opposition to the Act or specific provisions, the challenges or uncertainty of implementation by the government. It’s important that we, as those working in the area of child/youth rights and development try to understand fully the RTE Act and its implications. Although the legislation places the responsibility on the government, ensuring its compliance also rests with each of us and our communities.

Photograph courtesy Indianewscast
  • Free and compulsory education to all children of India in between 6 and 14 years of age.
  • By free, it means no direct (school fees) or indirect costs (uniforms, textbooks, mid-day meals, transportation) till elementary education is completed.
  • No child shall be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until completion of elementary education.
  • If a child above six years of age has not been admitted in any school or though admitted, could not complete his or her elementary education, then, he or she shall be admitted in a class appropriate to his or her age.
  • All private schools to reserve 25% of seats to children from poor families to Class One.
  • Prohibit all unrecognised schools from practice.
  • Prohibit donation or capitation fees; no interview of the child or parent for admission.
  • Provision for special training of school drop-outs to bring them up to par with students of the same age.
  • An amendment was made to include provisions for children with disabilities until 18 years of age.
  • Provisions for improvement in quality of education in government schools including need for adequate professional degree for teachers within five years; infrastructure improvements in three years; and
    improvement in teacher-student ratio.
  • Financial burden for implementation will be shared between state and central government.
  • Will apply to all of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • The Act sets up an autonomous body, the National Council for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to monitor the implementation of the Act.
  • Schools shall constitute School Management Committees (SMCs) comprising local authority officials, parents, guardians and teachers to monitor the utilisation of government grants and the school environment.
  • RTE also mandates the inclusion of 50 per cent women and parents of children from disadvantaged groups in SMCs.
For more on the features of the RTE Act, do visit
Ministry of Human Resource Development
India Development Gateway
The Right To Education: Frequently Asked Questions

  • Compiled by Jeeno P. Jacob, Programme Anchor — Dream Mentoring Programme | Dream A Dream

September 26, 2010


 1. "Healthy Enabling and the Good Enough Relationship" discusses a couple of scenarios in relationships, how we 'enable' or 'rescue' or 'dis-empower' the other person as parents or partners:

"... Healthy enabling would consist of openly acknowledging that fact, and working together to develop transparent strategies for correcting the situation that do not disempower or control the person, allowing them to work it out on their own, while simultaneously lending passive support. 
"The unhealthy enabling found in 'good' relationships, on the other hand, is not about allowing, but about rescuing. It is an active response to negative circumstances that fosters the conditions for those circumstances to recur.
"If your 22-year-old son gets tagged with his second DUI [Driving Under the Influence, the American legal term for drunken driving], do you hire a lawyer to get him off the hook by using his (alleged) post-Iraq PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] as a foil, or do you let him confront the natural and logical consequences of his actions and walk through the process of his accepting responsibility for those actions with him? Unhealthy enabling would suggest the first option, while healthy enabling would suggest the second."

2. In "Parenting style influences teen drinking patterns, researchers say", the Los Angeles Times reported that a survey by researchers at Brigham Young University, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, showed links between drinking habits of adolescents and their relationship with their parents. An excerpt:

"... They found the kids least prone to heavy drinking who had parents who scored high on accountability (knowing where their kids were and with whom) and warmth. Having so-called "indulgent" parents, who were low on accountability and high on warmth, nearly tripled the risk of the teen participating in heavy drinking. The study also found that "strict" parents — high on accountability and low on warmth — more than doubled their teen's risk of heavy drinking. These results were apparent even when researchers controlled for other influences, such as peer pressure, religious and economic background."

3. A research paper by Dr. Zainab Fotowwat Zadeh and Sonia Mairaj Malik of Pakistan's Bahria University showed how specific elements of drawings of children reveal emotions and that it can be a medium to regulate emotion. "Expression of Aggressive Tendencies in the Drawings of Children and Youth Who Survived the Northern Pakistan Earthquake" was published in the European Journal of Psychology. The study focused on the presence of aggressive tendencies in the drawings of children who survived the quake from Sahara Children Academy (Mallot Tehsil) and Surbuland at District Bagh. An excerpt:

"The results displayed in Table 1 and 2 indicate the presence of aggressive tendencies among these children with straight lines as the most frequently occurring indicator among both genders. The presence of aggressive indicators in these drawings thus verifies the association of reactive aggression indicators in the drawings of children with the history of trauma. The impact of environment and natural disasters is clearly seen among these children as their drawings revealed their anger. Emotional indicators, long arms, and powerful hands as well as teeth occurred significantly more often in the drawings of the aggressive children than in the drawings of the shy children.
"...on the basis of the findings of the present study it can be safely concluded that drawing is a powerful tool to measure aggressive tendencies in youth who have difficulty expressing their feelings in words, or who may have problems expressing themselves either due to language barriers or due to any other inhibitions related to cultural norms for both the genders."

4. The findings of a research paper by Shahe S. Kazarian from the American University of Beirut, Lamia Moghnie from the University of Michigan, and Rod A. Martin from the University of Western Ontario, were consistent with the view that parental warmth and rejection might contribute to the development of particular styles of humour, which in turn may contribute to later happiness and well-being. An excerpt from "Perceived Parental Warmth and Rejection in Childhood as Predictors of Humour Styles and Subjective Happiness":

"Taken together, these studies suggest that positive and negative humour styles may play an important role in the link between the individual’s core self-concept, developing in the context of early parenting experiences, and later well-being. Individuals who experience warm and accepting parenting and develop more positive self-standards and adaptive self-schemas may consequently develop more beneficial and less detrimental humour styles, which in turn may further enhance social relationships, increasing self-esteem and general well-being.

"In contrast, early experiences of more rejecting parenting and development of more self-critical and maladaptive core schemas may lead to development of more detrimental and less adaptive humour styles, which in turn result in less positive relationships, increased depression, and lower happiness, self-esteem, and well-being. Overall, then, these findings contribute to a growing body of evidence suggesting that humour styles may be one pathway by which early parenting experiences and self-concept development may influence later well-being."

5. A research paper by Kim R. Edwards and Prof. Rod A. Martin from the University of Western Ontario shows there is a distinction between ability to create humour and using humour in every situations and that there is a greater link between the latter than the former to psychological well-being. An excerpt from "Humour Creation Ability and Mental Health: Are Funny People More Psychologically Healthy?":

"The results indicated that neither the CCT nor the FSHCT was significantly correlated with any of the psychological health measures, suggesting that the ability to create humour (either in response to frustrating situations or in cartoon captions) is not associated with well-being. A possible explanation for this finding is that individuals who have the ability to create humour do not necessarily use this ability in their daily lives in health-enhancing ways (such as in times of stress, interpersonal tension, etc.). It is also possible that humour creation ability may be correlated with other well-being variables that were not explored in the present study.

"... The second major objective of this study was to explore the relationships between humour styles and humour creation ability. We expected that individuals with higher scores on each of the humour styles would be better able to create humour which other people find funny. In support of this prediction, humor creation ability, assessed by the FSHCT, was significantly and positively correlated with all four humour styles. This finding provides further validation for the HSQ, indicating that individuals with high scores on each of the four humour styles tend to be skilled at creating humour, regardless of whether they use their humour in beneficial or deleterious ways....

"... Moreover, this finding provides additional support for the notion that humour creation ability, by itself, is not necessarily advantageous for mental health. Some persons have the ability to be very funny but use their humour in detrimental (e.g., aggressive or self-defeating) rather than beneficial ways (e.g., affiliative or self-enhancing). Consequently, the manner in which individuals use humour in their daily lives is more important to mental health than how funny they are able to be.

"... In summary, the present findings provide additional evidence that the way humour is used is more important for well-being than is the ability to be funny. These findings have important implications for humour-based interventions. For example, our results suggest that such interventions should place less emphasis on training clients in the ability to generate humour, and more emphasis on examining the ways they use it in their daily lives, increasing their use of beneficial humour styles and decreasing their use of detrimental styles. In turn, experimental investigations of such humour-based interventions would be useful for determining the direction of causality in the associations between humour styles and psychological well-being."
  • Compiled by Jeeno P. Jacob, Programme Anchor — Dream Mentoring Programme | Dream A Dream

September 12, 2010

THE CLASS OF 2010: "Validation" and "failure to thrive" are very helpful concepts

IN JANUARY 2010, more than 40 volunteers underwent training to become mentors for the first time. The training sessions, conducted by Dr. Dave Pearson and Dr. Fiona Pearson with their customary aplomb, were held at the Indian Social Institute in Benson Town.

Thirty-four volunteers were later "matched" with children from across four partner NGOs across Bangalore (Adugodi, J.P. Nagar, Roopena Agrahara, and Chamrajpet). The four NGOs are Makkala Jagriti, Vishwas (part of Helpline Charitable Trust), Round Table School, and Auxilium Navajeevana Society.
  • In February 2010, 40 new mentoring relationships were facilitated — this includes former mentors who returned to start new relationships — while 15 previous mentoring relationships are continuing. More than half the mentees are girls, specifically 58%.
  • Today, 33 mentoring relationships are active, while two mentoring relationships were closed. Not unexpectedly, there were some setbacks — there were two child dropouts, three mentor dropouts, and 11 relationships that Dream A Dream is trying to get back on track (this includes children not reachable or potential mentor-child dropouts); alternatively, these relationships will be discontinued.


How beneficial were the training sessions? Ami Naik, a mentor from the Class of 2010, says, “The concept that became most ingrained in my mind was validation — that, as mentors, our job is not to form judgments or solve problems, but rather to listen actively and engage with our mentees so that they feel more comfortable sharing information about their lives."

Another helpful learning, says Ami, is the concept of failure to thrive. "Often, I encountered instances where my mentee would behave in a way I thought a younger child would. However, I recalled Dave and Fiona discussing this failure to thrive and telling us that this is often the result of the circumstances in which many of these children were raised. So I felt more prepared for my mentoring sessions.”

Ami also elaborated on how validation helped her to develop more fruitful conversations with her mentee, particularly in assessing her future career goals. "At first, my mentee discussed her desire to be a software engineer," says Ami. "After her tenth standard exam results were out, she indicated that her goal of being an engineer would not be possible so she thought of joining a tailoring course instead which would allow her to follow her mother’s path into the garment industry. She let on that it had been her original preference anyway."

Through many weeks of conversations using validation, Ami was able to get her mentee to open up and reveal that she had not been really sure about her career path; the goal of becoming a software engineer was more her mother's idea.

Ami adds that she has realised now that there are no easy answers or solutions. "However, validation helped me to develop deeper conversations with my mentee and allowed her to feel that she could open up to me without judgment from my end," says Ami. "I understood the impact I was having on her life by meeting her each week and simply being supportive and listening to her feelings and problems. This became even more apparent when she started calling me every week to determine a time we could meet that day, as opposed to mm having to reach out to her. Our meetings were truly something she looked forward to each week!”

Bhaskar Sharma, a senior mentor from the Class of 2008, has been attending refresher courses for mentoring at Dream A Dream every year since.

“I became more aware of a lot of concepts that I found useful not only in mentoring but in my day-to-day life," says Bhaskar. Notable among these, he says, is validation and child development.

"Also, the sessions drive home the fact that the mentoring sessions will not necessarily solve all the problems of the mentee, that it is useful to have an agreed plan to drive the interactions," he says.

Bhaskar is currently working with his third mentee and in all cases, he says, validation has helped increase the comfort factor between him and the mentee and also encouraged the mentee to open up. "I realised during my work with children through the Dream Mentoring Programme, that even though I felt I had not accomplished anything specific with them, just meeting them or speaking to them over the phone at agreed upon intervals was important to them," he says. "As Dave and Fiona emphasised, just showing up regularly is an achievement."

September 8, 2010


HERE ARE some articles that could be useful to understanding child development, and, as a consequence, to enriching mentor-mentee relationships.


By Krishna Kumar, professor of education at Delhi University
and former Director of NCERT

This article, which appeared in The Hindu, offers some insights into how conflicts between different government development programmes and departments in education can be counter-productive. An excerpt:
“Competing for praise and popularity is as common between Ministries as are turf wars. When officers from different Ministries get the rare opportunity to meet and discuss matters of shared concern, they behave like alert soldiers who are expected to fight for every inch of territory.

“I had an exposure to this phenomenon while working for a Planning Commission sub-committee on vocational education for skill development. Vocational and technical training is a chaotic corner of our education system. Seventeen Ministries are involved in such training but the overall coverage is poor in both numbers and quality.

“The Ministry of Labour controls Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) where secondary level children receive technical training. A small proportion of higher secondary schools also offers vocational courses. Joint courses given by schools and ITIs are unheard of, apparently because the two institutions have separate directorates. This is a common and continuous story. When a Ministry launches a new scheme, it seldom takes into account the schemes under which other Ministries might be addressing the same problem.”


Prevention Action
Although it’s a study pertaining to conditions existing in the UK, it’s possible that some of these findings are universal for children. An excerpt:
“The link between the family context and children’s psychological development is well established. There are known connections between levels of psychological adjustment (particularly in relation to their emotions and behaviour) and factors such as parental mental illness and divorce — as well as inter-parental conflict. However, investigations such as those by Cardiff's School of Psychology are extending the range of the known effects by unpicking the broader family context and examining other aspects of children’s development.

“The findings suggest that children living in households characterized by high levels of inter-parental conflict are indeed at risk of lower attainment at school, and, importantly, that children’s own appraisal of their parents’ conflict and their tendency to blame themselves for what they see happening is the mechanism through which any damage is done. Self-blaming was found to lead to lower academic attainment and, in some cases, to aggressive behaviour.

“Some clear lessons for researchers, practitioners and policy makers are emerging. For example, the finding that the inter-parental relationship has a direct influence on the development of the child is a strong argument for early intervention, particularly in light of the fact that academic success is consistently shown to be an important predictor of adult adjustment.”


By Harsh Mander

This article, which appeared in The Hindu, discusses findings of a recent study titled ‘Planning Families, Planning Gender’ supported by Action Aid India and the International Development Research Centre, Canada. An excerpt:
“The law prohibiting these practices is openly flouted; researchers discovered a close nexus between local government nurses and doctors, and unscrupulous private radiologists and gynaecologists.

“The agents for eliminating daughters are frequently women — midwives, mothers-in-law and even mothers — but the study illustrates that women rarely are empowered to make independent choices. A range of kin, especially elders, and even neighbours, choose if a girl is to be allowed to live.

“Another irony highlighted by the study: the unintended consequences of key government health strategies, such as promoting small families, prenatal care including ultrasound checkups, and legalising abortions.

“The authors explain this puzzle by the socio-cultural practices which prescribe that a girl leaves her parental home after marriage, so that her husband's family gains rights over her productive and care labour and her reproductive capacities. Dowries add to the cost of ‘giving her away'. There is less a son-preference, and more an aversion to daughters, who are a certain economic loss.

“A further paradox is that progressive policies such as inheritance rights for women, and higher age of marriage, make them even more of an economic ‘liability', since expenditure on them and property owned by them will only benefit another family. It is mainly for economic, material reasons that we are taking away the lives of our daughters, which override all other emotional and ethical considerations.”
  • Compiled by Jeeno P. Jacob, Programme Anchor — Dream Mentoring Programme | Dream A Dream

September 5, 2010

DREAM CELEBRATION 2010: It was a very special event with very special people

Dream A Dream celebrated its 11th year with its Annual Stakeholder Meeting — the Dream Celebration — on August 28 at the Seva Sadan Institute in Koramangala.

It was an evening to celebrate and reflect on achievements of the year 2009-10, to discuss the way forward, and also to acknowledge all stakeholders who have helped Dream A Dream. The event was attended by around 200 stakeholders and well-wishers.


“We have realised we can’t create social impact without including and engaging the community: partner NGOs and schools, volunteers, donors, service partners,” Sneha Madiath, head of programmes, told the audience.

Highlighting the importance of the relationships built with partners in different communities, she said, “Dream A Dream is growing. We have worked with 15 partners, three of which have adapted the life skills programmes and are running them on their own.”

Sneha also reported that 2,272 children were reached through different life skill programmes during the year 2009-10. More than half of these children were boys (54%), while more than 2,000 of these children received eight hours of life skill intervention each month.

“Besides our goal of reaching 6,000 children through direct implementation of life skill programmes, we hope to become a capacity building and enabling partner working with more communities and organisations," said Sneha. "We plan to train 200 Life Skill Champions to work with 400 schools to reach approximately 2.4 lakh children by 2013. We hope to establish a model that can be adopted by partners and eventually by the government. So we are currently working on building a comprehensive life skills curriculum and training modules."


Vishal Talreja, executive director of Dream A Dream, then spoke about the challenges ahead and the need to make social change happen now.

"It’s very important not to forget the individual child in the efforts to grow and reach more children,” said Vishal. “How do we ensure the impact of programmes extends to more communities? At the same time, we need to ask ourselves what happens to the child in the midst of these goals and numbers, what happens to the individual child and their individual struggles?"

According to Vishal, the challenges of development today also arise from increased migration of families and their children to cities like Bangalore. More children are entering low income community schools and government schools that are trying to cope with limited resources and the inefficiencies in the education system. "So it becomes critical," said Vishal, "to look at ways to extend the impact of life skill programmes to more areas nationwide.”


Vishal also discussed the gaps in the education system in India. He told the audience that reports commissioned by India's HRD ministry indicate that more young adults remain unemployable despite having an education. "We need to ask ourselves why that’s happening," said Vishal. And he suggested that by encouraging life skills development in children aged six to 18 and hailing from vulnerable backgrounds can enhance employability and help them deal with challenges of daily living. "Since life skills are not an element of the education system, education in its true sense is not complete for these children," asserted Vishal.

He added, “Today it is our responsibility to build employable life skills into the education system in order to enable individuals to live with dignity and respect and be on the same platform as a person from mainstream society. If life skills become a part of the school curriculum it can create a holistic learning environment for a child. If we want to ensure that children move out of the cycle of poverty, we must make the change happen today."

Later, Benazeer Baig, founder of RAZA Educational & Welfare Society, shared her experience with the life skill programmes of Dream A Dream. “Small organisations like ours need support from life skills programmes to sustain our efforts in basic education," she said.

Benazeer also told the audience that by nurturing children’s imagination through arts we can help them work towards their goals in life. "It’s great to see the happy faces of children when they return from life skills programmes, be it adventure, sports, arts, IT, or others," she said. "We have seen an improvement in confidence, in the ability to communicate, and in autonomy among children."