In order to empower some of Gujarat’s most disempowered children, Navsajan has established three primary boarding schools in rural Gujarat: Katariya, Rayka, and Sami. Plans are currently being finalized for the fourth school in on the border of Surendranagar and Rajkot Districts, where discrimination against Dalits in school is particularly vicious, and a fifth school in Ghandinagar District, Kalol Taluka, where the level of education of Dalits is very low, and child marriage is still practiced.
The schools serve hundreds of students, and employ teachers from the local community, trained by Navsarjan. Each school uses Ecosan systems for its water and toilet needs.
The areas around the Katariya, Rayka and Sami schools are rife with discrimination. The Navsarjan primary schools give Dalit children a shot at a real education that they otherwise would not have. About half of the students who come to the primary schools in 5th standard cannot properly read or write—even after five years of government schooling. Though this gap presents a challenge to the teachers (as there is a large difference in educational level within one class), after a few months at the schools, nearly all students can read and write, and they catch up quickly.
The core of the schools’ identity is equality, both in terms of caste and gender. Unity is emphasized instead of division, and there is no activity that boys do that girls are not also encouraged to do. In addition to emphasizing Dalit unity and total gender equality, the schools provide a quality education to children who would otherwise either be enrolled in poor-quality government schools, or have dropped out; many of the students come from schools in which they experienced discrimination for being Dalits.
The long term goals for setting up model schools by Navsarjan are:
- After 10 years, the children will become the leaders of the Dalit movement.
- The children will not feel that they were born as a lower caste. The girl children will demand higher education from their parents instead of getting married at a young age.
- The boy children will not feel embarrassed to do tasks like sweeping, washing clothes, preparing chapatti (Indian bread) or cutting vegetables.
- The children will demystify the myths based on caste and gender discrimination.
- The children will confidently demand their rights at school and in the villages.
- The children will sing the songs of Dalit empowerment, and read and internalize the ideology of Dr. Ambedkar, the Dalit leader and framer of the Indian Constitution.
- The children will ensure gender equity within their families and dignity for their mothers.
- The children will strive to ensure the eradication of all forms of discrimination based on caste and gender.