Source: Annual Report 2013

The India strategy of the Bernard van Leer Foundation consists of two main parts. The first part focuses on the situation of the 1.4 million tribal children under 6 years old growing up in the state of Odisha. The second part concerns 7.6 million young children under the age of 8 growing up in urban slums across the country.

These two populations are the main target groups of the BvLF strategy in India, although our work will concentrate on smaller geographical areas within these very large populations. The two goals in India are:

Increased access to quality multilingual pre-school education services for 3-5 year old tribal children in Odisha  

Out of the 8 million tribal people in the state of Odisha, 1.4 million are children 0-6 years of age. Among the tribal population in Odisha, literacy rates are 37%, compared to 63% for the state and 65% for the country. Although 77% of tribal children attend a centre run by the government’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), more centres are needed. Where centres do operate, there are problems of poorly trained teachers who are regularly absent, unsafe physical infrastructure, and discriminatory attitudes towards tribal children and their parents. The young tribal children do not speak Odia-the official state language, and the absence of tribal languages in ICDS centres is one of the main barriers to improving learning outcomes. Only 4 to 5 per cent of centres use the children’s mother tongue as a language of instruction. The Foundation has been supporting the creation of multilingual pre-schools in Odisha - as showcased in this two-minute video - since 2009. The Foundation’s support to indigenous groups and NGOs have resulted in the state and national government’s inclusion of mother tongue based multilingual preschool in its early childhood education and care policy.

India makes progress on mother tongue-based preschool

A new national policy on early childhood care and education (ECCE) was approved in September 2013 by India’s union cabinet, supporting mother tongue-based early childhood education. The Foundation and partners in India have been advocating for several years that children in disadvantaged tribal areas are more likely to develop a love of learning and persevere with primary school if their first experience of preschool is in a language with which they are familiar.

Implementation continued in 2013 of the state of Odisha’s July 2012 decision to have mother-tongue teaching in all preschools in tribal areas, a major success of Foundation partners’ advocacy efforts. The government developed preschool curricula in 10 tribal languages in 2013, and we supported the development of a further four languages. Tribal teachers are being hired and learning materials developed. When fully implemented, this decision is expected to benefit a million 3–5 year olds.

In October 2013, the government of Kerala invited our partner PREM to provide technical support for starting mother tongue-based early learning centres in 100 villages, covering nearly 2,000 tribal children. This invitation resulted directly from PREM’s demonstration project in Odisha showing the efficacy of mother tongue-based preschool.

Ensuring safe and healthy living conditions for young children in urban poverty

Every eighth urban child under six years of age lives in slums, according to ‘Slums in India – A statistical compendium 2011' published by the Union government. This is nearly 8 million children. However, there is a major movement to change conditions through programmes like the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) – nationally funded urban renewal initiatives with plans to invest 15 billion Euros between 2012 and 2017 in cities where urbanization and urban poverty are most dramatic. The Foundation strategy it to make these and other investment in urban development count for young children in slums by influencing policy through: i) demonstration projects in up to four-second tier cities; ii) advocacy to drive resources towards improving the safety and healthy living conditions for young children; and iii) technical assistance to architects, planners and practitioners including the dissemination of successful experiences.

Child-friendly slum development promised

The Mayor of Bhubaneswar, a city with a population of over 800,000 in the Indian state of Odisha, announced in September 2013 that two slums will be redeveloped in a child-friendly way, in line with the recommendations of the Foundation-backed Humara Bachpan (‘Childhood Matters’) campaign.

The mayor, Mr Ananta Narayan Jena, made the announcement after Humara Bachpan arranged for him to hear first-hand from children about the issues they face living in slums. In these ‘Meet the Mayor’ sessions, over 100 children from 15 of the city’s slums shared their problems related to issues such as housing, water, garbage and lack of safe play areas.

Almost a quarter of Odisha’s population lives in urban slums. Similar events have taken place in Berhampur, Odisha (population 350,000) and Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh (population 6.8 million).

Brick kiln workers move into healthier housing

When Aide et Action began to engage with migrants who work in the brick kilns of Jinnaram village, Andhra Pradesh, the workers’ housing was cramped and unventilated. Aide et Action persuaded the owner of the brickworks to collaborate with a local architect to build improved housing for the workers and their children.

In February 2013, new housing was designed with separate sleeping areas for adults and children, and separate spaces for storage and cooking. Locally available clay bricks and a tin roof were used for construction, with cavity walls to help make dwelling spaces cooler, and ventilation shafts in between the cavity walls to radiate heat out. The design incorporated shared toilets and a learning centre for children during the daytime.

Feedback is already positive. Padma, a parent, notes:
During summer, we used to sleep outside and my kids inside the hut. When it rained, we all used to huddle inside and worry about whether the wind would blow away the tarpaulin roof. Now our living space is much better.

Studies are underway to validate short-term anecdotal evidence from parents that the improved housing conditions have led to a lower incidence of common childhood illnesses such as respiratory infections, as well as a reduction in child accidents.

Programme strategy

See the summary of our India strategy (pdf) for an outline of how we are approaching the goals summarised on this page. There is also a shorter, two-page handout.


Do you have comments on our goals in India? Please contact our India Representative, Dharitri Patnaik:

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