SAMPARK: REACHING OUT THROUGH SCHOOL STUDENT HELPLINE IN ODISHA
9th Jul, 2020
Sampark was started by the Department of School and Mass Education in Odisha. The helpline service was initiated to provide relief to the students in distress through timely action. It allows any individual or students (between the classes of I and IX) to call up the toll-free number 1800 345 6722 to seek information or voice concerns, views, and ideas on school education. The project is innovative as it covers almost all issues ranging from sexual abuse to education and the management system. Importantly, the identity of the caller is kept confidential.
The Need for such a Project
Avenues of redressal were limited to increased cases of dropouts, cases of negligence and violation of rules, or the non-availability of entitlements as per the mandate of the RTE Act. Similarly, issues related to the needs of special and disadvantaged children, complaints of corporal punishment, and incidents of sexual abuse of students needed redressal. It was primarily because no direct contact mechanism existed between the officials and citizens to address their complaints that issues seldom reached higher authorities, and suitable action was rarely taken.
Objectives of the Project
- The specific objectives of the helpline are
- To listen to the concerns of students
- Ensure a safe and child-friendly environment that is free from punishment and exploitation
- To understand the perspective of students on the school education and management system.
- Besides, the helpline has also been sensitising parents, students, and teachers about their rights and duties under the RTE Act. This has also resulted in highlighting issues of concern in schooling and education that require urgent attention of the state.
- Implementation Agency
- The school student’s helpline is operated by the Grievance Redressal Cell of School and Mass Education Department, at Odisha Primary Education Programme Authority, Bhubaneswar.
- Funding Agency
- The programme is funded by the School and Mass Education Department, Government of Odisha under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA).
- The programme covers all the students going to school of age 6-16 years; (classes I – X) and who are in or out of school, parents, guardians, community members, and teachers.
- The student helpline is based on the principle of freedom of expression where any student whose right to education is violated or who wants to share a suggestion or lodge a complaint can dial the toll-free number. Students can also send an e-mail to place their concerns before the authorities.
- The helpline has a well-defined functioning grievance redressal mechanism. The cell has a designated person who listens to phone calls and enters call details in a register. The identity of the caller is kept confidential. The information obtained is written down in a register for record-keeping. The information is then entered into the computerised database under a suitable category. Letters received through the helpline are also scanned and sent through an e-mail to the concerned authority for further investigation and verification within a deadline.
- The case is then investigated by the concerned officer or Headmaster, Block Resource Person, or District Project Coordinator, depending upon the nature of the case. Cases that need urgent attention are given priority and are presented to the Commissioner-cum-Secretary for immediate redressal and action.
- The Sampark student helpline is the only helpline in Odisha to help children in distress by counseling and by providing accurate information over telephone about their rights and entitlements. The helpline has:
- Brought accountability in the education system
- Reduced teacher absenteeism
- Sensitised school authorities to issues concerning children’s rights
- Facilitated the provision of solutions to children in distress
- Increased mobilisation among field officers
- Established an effective redressal and feedback mechanism
- The school student helpline has been able to open a channel of communication between the students and education authorities. The helpline has proved effective in reducing the incidence of corporal punishment.
- Special provisions have been made for complaints relating to sexual harassment by employing women employees to address grievances from girl students and help them out with other concerns.
- After the installation of the helpline, significant improvement in the teacher-student relationship has been observed in schools.
- The project implementers faced challenges during the initial stage, but with time they overcame these to enhance the effectiveness of the helpline. Some of the challenges that the helpline faced include the:
- Use of unparliamentary language by callers
- Misuse of the helpline by people making false calls and arguing with call attendants.
- Scores of cases have been found to be false after verification, resulting in loss of government resources.
- Due to the growing number of cases, field-level officers are overburdened with the inquiry and reporting of cases.
- Some of the callers expect higher authorities, such as state-level officers, to resolve their matters which may not be possible in each case.
- On the other hand, some challenges have to be dealt with care such as cases of sexual abuse or corporal punishment. At the same time, collecting accurate details and verification from people is difficult as officials face resentment and opposition in such situations.
- A lot of the above challenges were dealt with through training and capacity building of teachers and counselors who have to attend the calls and resolve cases. They are trained to be patient and deal with complainants in a very friendly manner, and assure them of a speedy and appropriate resolution of cases.
The Sampark helpline provides a unique service as it provides children with a mechanism to express their concerns over email and through telephone in anonymity. In Odisha, the helpline has managed to create a positive impact on students and parents by restoring their faith in the school education system. Active feedback and redressal mechanisms by government officials have played an important role in this. The helpline has made a mark beyond the education system as well, by raising the issues of students for open discussion in the community. The helpline has been introduced across the state, in all schools including private and government run schools. Other states can also adopt this approach of providing help to students and their parents as well as providing them with a chance to participate in improving the school education system.