No child should be forced to drop out of school before finishing their education.
But in India, Sakthi Ramesh, 12, was just one in 47 million who have been forced to do exactly that.
Ramesh grew up in poverty in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and was forced to drop out of school at the age of eight to beg and sell beads on the streets, the Times of India reports.
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The decision to drop out could have permanently dimmed Ramesh’s prospects for a bright future if not for a special education program designed to bring dropouts back into the school system; a program that now counts Ramesh among its most vocal advocates.
Ramesh was nominated last month for the prestigious International Peace Prize for Children for his work getting 25 other kids in his community to enroll in his educational program, increasing their chances for getting out of poverty in the future, according to The News Minute.
He is the youngest of 169 nominees for the prize, which was once awarded to educational rights icon Malala Yousafzai. The winner will be announced in December of this year.
#TamilNadu's #Sakthi has been nominated for #InternationalChildrensPeacePrize that was also won by #MalalaYousufzaihttps://t.co/unPcVYHJ3M— Asianet Newsable (@ANN_Newsable) October 17, 2017
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So, what led Ramesh to get off the streets and back into the classroom four years ago?
A series of interventions — from the government, an NGO called Hand in Hand, and a nudge from the boy’s uncle — all led him there.
In 2014, the community where Ramesh lived was identified by the government as “marginalised,” according to India’s Financial Express. As part of the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (Education for All) program, which aims to include dropouts in the educational system, Hand in Hand sent workers to some of the country’s more rural areas to recruit students to enroll in special government schools called Residential Special Training Centres.
Still, many families refused to send their children to the centers, according to The News Minute article.
This 12-yr-old inspired 25 kids from his tribe to join school and is up for an int’l award writes @priyankathiruhttps://t.co/ffrrM1QmQZpic.twitter.com/Gjqcgim948— TheNewsMinute (@thenewsminute) October 16, 2017
This was not the case for Ramesh.
"I was playing with the boys when my uncle came and made me join the Bharathiyar school," Ramesh said.
At first the transition was challenging, but eventually Ramesh saw the benefits of getting an education and began to persuade other students to join the program by going door-to-door.
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“Sakthi not only transformed his life, but he also brought great change in his community,” Dr Kalpana Shankar, the co-founder of the organization that awards the International Children’s Peace Prize told the Times of India.
And he’s not stopping there.
"The way I made 25 people join, I want more to come,” he said. “The children I brought will go back to their hometowns and bring their relatives and friends. Twenty five should become 30, 30 should become 40, and so on. They will all bring more people.”
Many other students in India still face the same educational constraints Ramesh once did. In India, six million students between the ages of six and 13 are not in school, according to the Ministry of Human Resource Development.
By 10th grade, nearly half of all students have dropped out of school.
Around the world, 121 million students are out of primary and lower secondary school, according to the Global Partnership for Education. Global Citizen campaigns on increasing access to education for children around the world. You can take action here.