Bright Sparks School was founded in 2001 by Gail Edwards and Nimrat Kaur. They were working in Mohali (a city in the Punjab, India) and were moved by the sight of the local slum children labouring and not receiving any schooling. What started as a small initiative to educate a handful of children has turned into a fully-fledged school with over 100 students attending, as well as a waiting list of children wanting to join the school.
Each of the students who attend Bright Sparks School come from the poorest families in Mohali, where there are pressures for the children to work to help feed their families. This barrier to education is particularly high for little girls, whose schooling is often ignored completely and are commonly destined for marriage in their early teens. However, Bright Sparks is changing things in Mohali. In the slum we work in parents are now waking up to the value of education and are keen to send their children to our school.
This document will give you an overview of the research I conducted between April and June 2014 whilst I was based at the school. It looks at the Bright Spark cause, the students and their families and the challenges the school faces. We have a huge opportunity to improve the facilities and resources available to the students to make an even more profound impact upon their lives. With the help of our generous supporters we hope to create a more sustainable future for Bright Sparks School and the children.
Bright Sparks Families
Bright Sparks students are typically from rural migrant families from the poorer rural states of India, such as Utter Pradesh and Bihar. The parents move their families to Mohali to seek employment. They are illiterate and are mostly unskilled flexible workers. The typical types of job for a Bright Sparks father is labouring, gardening, vegetable or fruit selling and painting. Bright Sparks mothers typically work as domestic workers, labourers, gardeners, fruit or vegetable sellers, or are housewives.
Many of the families belong to government recognised ‘scheduled castes’, the lowest castes in Hindu society, such as the Pasi, Thukur, Paswan castes. The position of the Bright Sparks parents demonstrate the entrenched lack of social mobility for the poorest, uneducated sections of society, despite government efforts via welfare schemes to lift them from poverty.
The average family income averages at R3000-R4000 per month, £30-£40 a month, or around £1 a day to support the entire family. The families of Bright Sparks students are large, on average around four to five children per family, but it is not uncommon for one family to have six, seven or even eight children. Daughters are married off young, from as young as 13 to 16 years old, which often requires the girl to return to rural life and live with her new husband’s family in the village. The laws against child marriage (Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006 makes marriage illegal for girls below age 18 and boys below age 21) are openly flouted since no one informs the police of the weddings of minors and there are seldom objections from the priests officiating the ceremonies.
Though there are laws in India against child labour it is still a widespread issue in the Punjab and more generally across the country. India is home to the largest amount of child labourers in the world as a result of the extreme poverty and lack of social security of families, like those of the Bright Sparks students.
There are many examples of Bright Sparks students who work outside of school to contribute towards their family income. Many of the older girls at Mohali Public School and in the top class at Bright Sparks work an hour a day and on Sundays as domestic workers. Many of the boys work after school or go and join their fathers and help them selling fruits and vegetables, up to as late as 11 o’clock at night on a weekday.
Jaiprakash (aged 12) in the top class at Bright Sparks goes to work with his brother (aged 14) after school, either cleaning homes or selling fruits. Whilst, Surajpal (aged 13) in the same class, works after school in a small chappati shop cleaning dishes.
For other children there is work inside the home for them afterschool. Rather then playing with friends, they wash the dishes, wash clothes, clean the floors and fill up water for the family when they go home after school. Since their parents are usually at work in the afternoon Bright Sparks students take care of the household work and also look after their younger siblings.
The students of Bright Sparks live in the Jagatpura colony. A dirt road takes you through the slum with small homemade houses constructed of congregated iron, bricks, wood and tarpaulin sheets either side of it. A river of sewage water and covered with plastic bags and household waste divides the area. There are water taps that children fill large water bottles from, since there is no running water in their homes, and taps that children and adults openly bathe under. Open public toilets with no drainage stand alone, some use these whilst others opt to publicly defecate in the river.
The colony is made up of illegal settlements that are vulnerable to being demolished by the government at any time. The children of Jagatpura colony are brought up in extreme poverty by parents who have never had the opportunity of education. They live in small, unquestionably unsanitary homes. On top of this, a large numbers of students are engaged in child labour in order to help their parents make ends meet.
Bright Sparks gives the children a potential way out, an opportunity to learn and progress, so they can earn a higher income when they are old enough and transform their lives. We have already seen this with some of our Bright Sparks graduates.
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