Children and Education
Children and education has become the main thrust area of our society, with special emphasis on the girl child. Our aim is to ensure literacy, improve confidence, self esteem and Tribal identity and help those who wish to enter the mainstream to do so.
Many of the issues faced by the Tribal community stem from lack of ability to cope with change and low levels of education which are linked with poverty, lack of self-esteem, marginalisation and exploitation. They often miss out on welfare and other schemes because of lack of awareness of them or lack the skills or tenacity to apply. Often poor ability to plan for the future and save money also contributes.
There is a vast gap between educational levels of Tribal and non-Tribal children. Around 90% of non-Tribal children, including relatively newly arrived Tamil repatriates from Sri Lanka, complete 10 years of schooling. This contrasts sharply with Tribal children, of whom less than around 20% pass 10th standard and many drop out much earlier.The low educational status of Tribal children in Pandalur Taluk is reflected in literacy statistics. Whereas Nilgiris District as a whole has a literacy rate of 85.2%, that of Pandalur Taluk is only 78.89%. Government has estimated that there are 186 children who have discontinued school, but we could easily identify over 400. NWTWS surveyed 631 children in 40 villages who were born between 1998 and 2010.
Out of these 631 children (328 boys and 303 girls), all were eligible to be studying between 1st and 12th standard but only 392 or 62% were in school. The percentage for BOYS was 64% and for GIRLS 60%.
Reasons for dropping out of school have been identified by years of observation and field work. These include late admission, irregular attendance, unfamiliarity with the language of instruction, lack of role models and parental motivation, shy and timid nature, high demand for labour of workers of any age, the need to care for younger siblings and livestock, poor health, dysfunctional families, (often coupled with alcohol abuse), etc. The influence of these factors is vastly enhanced by poor access from isolated villages , heavy monsoon rains, conflict with wildlife etc. Where there are schools in isolated areas, poor teacher attendance is a common problem. The government Tribal residential schools have a poor record of meeting the need.
Evolution of NWTWS work with children.
From 1980, when very few Tribal children went to school, uniforms were provided as a practical encouragement and school attendance was monitored. Later bags and umbrellas were also supplied.
Formal work with children was started in 2000 with a nursery school cum drop in centre. In 2006 a school enrolment programme was implemented to monitor and motivate Tribal children and their guardians in 50 hamlets for regular school going. The work was further intensified from 2010 and over the past four years 312 children (184 Boys and 128 Girls were re-admitted to regular schools after having dropped out).
150 children were trained as children role models. In this innovative programme the volunteers encourage school attendance and the return to school for recent drop-outs. Other activities included school awareness programmes, workshops to train teachers in techniques for teaching slow learners, football competitions, child rights and child protection rallies, street theatre, cultural events and camps for role model children. The government education department started to recognise NWTWS through these activities.
The Right to Education Act provides for eight years of free and compulsory education for all and Central Government has set up a scheme called Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). One of the SSA schemes was “Residential Special Training Centre” or RSTC. Because of NWTWS’s good reputation and standing with the education department we were invited to start an RSTC centre. This started in 2013 and admitted Tribal children of 8-14 years of age for one or two years, providing coaching to enable them to join mainstream schools at the correct class for their age. As well as education and coaching, all children were provided with nutritious food, recreational activities like sports, drama and outside visits during their stay. The children were very happy and did well, however when they went home and were expected to go to the local school, despite our input, the results were disappointing.
RSTC was closed in 2016 and replaced by an SSA Access Residential School. This is for children up to 8th standard. The government provides the building, salaries for teachers and running costs, (though we have augmented some low salaries and in addition pay for extra wardens who co ordinate out of school activities), and the management and implementation is by NWTWS. We now have almost a hundred children in the school and every effort is made to ensure they are well cared for in every way. Natural talent is encouraged with a multitude of out of school activities , sports, drama, singing, dancing, art, craft, sewing, computers, educational trips and visits, seminars, talks by Tribal elders, role models, etc etc. to keep them fully occupied, interested and their distinct culture is preserved. All the children have Post Office accounts to encourage the saving habit. Regular meetings are held with and for parents and Tribal elders.
The Hostel learning Programme
With the first graduates from RSTC, is became apparent that a number of children were not willing to go home to continue their education and would have dropped out again. They expressed the desire to stay with us. There were a number of reasons for this, including dysfunctional homes and living a long way from school, as well as the obvious benefits of our out of school programmes, including extra tuition and coaching by outside staff, regular nourishing food and good bathing facilities, (especially appreciated by the girls). In order that they could continue their studies effectively, in a safe conducive atmosphere a hostel was started for both boys and girls. We currently have 40 students, some going to the local school studying from 9th to 12th, some going to tuition classes to resit 10th exams and others going to vocational training.
They also hold camps for documentation (ration cards , Aadhar cards etc) and bringing to light other issues
Activities for School, Hostel and Village children include Children’s Clubs, football coaching, tournaments involving 10 Tribal schools, dance competitions, role model and leadership training camps, Independence Day celebrations, performance in the villages and at local festivals, as well as educational trips to Chennai , Mysore, Kozhikode and Namakkal. We have a Children's Health Education Team which does street theatre in the Tribal dialects to increase awareness of illness such as TB.
All this would not be possible without intensive fieldwork. Our Child Care Coordinator and Assistant, both Tribals, recruit students for School and Hostel, encourage admissions to Government schools, monitor attendance follow up late returnees and liase with parents and school staff . They also hold camps for documentation (ration cards ,Aadhar cards etc) and bringing to light other issues. Our male and female Hostel wardens, as well as parenting the children and arranging out of school activities, also help fieldwork on a part time basis.