There’s an old, heart-wrenching saying in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra: “Here, farmers take birth in debt and die in the same condition”. Vidarbha in eastern Maharashtra is the cotton belt of India. Even though the region produces much of India’s cotton, the farmers here are exploited and poor and most of them live under heavy debts all their lives. The pitiable conditions of many cotton farmers compel them to push their children to working in cotton fields.

Children work in these cotton fields in deplorable conditions, often losing out on several months of schooling. Eventually, many of them just drop out of schools and their educational journey comes to an abrupt halt.

Save the Children funded by IKEA Foundation is working in 986 villages in the Vidarbha region for preventing child labour in cotton fields. We are working to facilitate children’s transition from no school to conventional school system by setting up informal “bridge schools”. We talk with the community members to make them realize why child labour is something totally uncalled for and why the children should be in a classroom instead of slogging in a cotton field.

As a part of this programme, we have introduced the concept of BLES – Building a Learning Environment in School. An innovative approach has been adopted to make learning fun for these marginalized children. Village school buildings, drab structures made of brick and mortar, are being used to impart learning to the marginalized children pulled out of child labour. With the aim of making learning fun and enjoyable and breaking the humdrum monotony of the black and white textbooks, school buildings are being worked upon to impart learning to marginalized children who otherwise find it challenging to learn through books.

With bare minimum investment, several unattractive school buildings in the villages have been transformed into bright and cheerful spaces for children. Their walls are adorned with colours and paint to depict different learning concepts.

For example, in a school in the Buldana district, every inch of school building – walls, floors, pillars, staircases, etc – have been coloured which has made it a major learning tool. The floors are being painted with brightly coloured numbers.

In Amravati, the concept of snakes and ladders has been innovatively used to demonstrate development tools. On the walls of school, the game of snakes and ladders has been depicted in such a way that ladders represent success while on being bitten by a snake, a child is shown tumbling down due to diseases caused by unhygienic surroundings and dirty hands.

The concept of BLES has been welcomed by both the teachers and students. While it encourages teachers to innovate further and develop child-friendly teachings practices, children find learning fun and interesting.

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