SLA believes that education is paramount and aims to give as high a standard of education as possible to each of the children in our care. This is, we believe, the best hope these children have to break the bonds of caste and grow up to be independent, self-sufficient Indian citizens.
Under Indian law all children have the right to an education. The traditional caste system, however, regards Dalit children as unfit for education, their rightful place being working the fields not learning in the classroom. Educated Dalits would pose a threat to traditional village hierarchies.
The result of this discrimination and the demand for children's labour is that the vast majority of Dalit children drop out before reaching secondary school. In 2001, a paltry 3.4% of Dalit men and only 1% of Dalit women over the age of 15 had post-secondary education of any kind, reported the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.
In the East Godavari district where SLA works, according to the state government, 59.7% of boys and 60.6% of girls drop out of school before the end of 10th class, classifying them as illiterate in the eyes of the government.
The proportions are much higher for Dalit children, and in East Godavari there is an unusually high concentration of Dalits and tribal peoples (Adivasis). Government researchers for the joint Indian-United Nations 'Janshala' community schooling project found in 1999 an appalling literacy rate of just "17% for males and 4% for females".
Our ethos is that every child, no matter how poor their background, no matter what their colour, creed or caste, has the potential and the right to pursue their dreams through education and self-improvement.