Eklayva schools’ political potential and influence in tribal communities

Amidst the thick slopes of Mankadanacha in Keonjhar, the Eklavya Model Residential School (EMRS) exteriors require painting. Corners of its pastel pink walls are flaking, and parts of its brown steel windows are rusting. The courtyard in front of the main building is overgrown with vegetation, and there are buckets of phenyl in the restrooms to prevent odours. Rajesh Pradhan, a physics instructor, is aware of the need for maintenance, but he has more pressing concerns.

Early in February, with two weeks remaining till the CBSE Class 12 board examinations, he frantically doodles and scribbles on a digital board in front of sixty tribal pupils. The CBSE examinations began on February 15th.

The children are attentively following the lesson on a smart board that was erected one academic year ago. It is white, and Pradhan uses BSNL broadband to draw, write, and display images. “The interactive whiteboard has helped me visually communicate concepts.” I no longer struggle to answer their inquiries and can utilise the internet to demonstrate videos of complex ideas. It has completely altered my teaching style,” he says.

The school in Ranki village began operating in 2001 under the EMRS programme initiated by the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1997-98. Every day, from 9.30am to 4pm, 416 boys and girls in grades 6 to 12 arrive at the main school building on the 20-acre site from their respective dormitories. Significantly, everything is free for pupils who would have otherwise had to walk to government schools, stay in hostels managed by the state tribal department, or pay for a private education. “After kids are admitted to school, books, clothing, and tuition are provided at no cost. There is nothing they must purchase until Class 12 graduation. Principal Sunit Kumari Pattanayak of the Eklavya school in Ranki said, “Since our school is free and has a higher grade of education and facilities, many tribal children from the surrounding area want to enrol in our school.”

The literacy rate among tribals in India was 59% as of the 2011 Census, up from 47.1% in 2001 but significantly lower than the national average of 73%. According to the Tribal Development Report 2022, published by the Bharat Rural Livelihood Foundation, an independent body under the ministry of rural development, 48.2% of tribal children drop out of school before completing Class 8, and 62.4% by Class 10.

This may explain the government’s drive for Eklavya schools in the Union Budget announced on February 1 by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Shortly following the Budget announcement, HT travelled to an EMRS school in the tribal region of Keonjhar to investigate the condition of these schools, the reasons why they help solve fundamental issues, and the politics underlying this choice.

The government push

In her address, Sitharaman stated that over the course of the next three years, 38,800 teachers and support staff will be recruited for 740 Eklavya schools, which will serve 350,000 pupils. Whereas 2,000 crore was given for the project in 2022-23 and 2021-22, this amount has nearly tripled with 5,943 crore allocated for 2023-2024.

According to the website of the Union ministry of tribal affairs, Eklavya schools strive to provide rural tribal students with a quality middle and high school education. By 2022, every block in the country with a tribal population of at least 20,000 and greater than 50 percent was to have an Eklavya Model Residential School. According to the 2011 Census, 684 blocks, talukas, or tehsils meet these requirements.

Ministry-published data indicates that these objectives have not yet been met. To date, the Centre has approved 690 Eklavya schools, of which 410 are operational and the remainder are under construction. There are 113,000 students in these 401 schools; 56,107 are male and 57,168 are female. In Odisha, 32 Eklavya schools out of 104 sanctioned schools serve 8,495 pupils.

At the national level, these schools are administered by the National Education Society for Tribal Students, an autonomous organisation operating under the ministry of tribal affairs, however at the state level, they are administered by autonomous societies. In Odisha, the Odisha Model Tribal Educational Society, a registered society funded by the SC/ST development department, approves the monthly expenditure of these schools, examines the performance of teaching and non-teaching staff, and reviews campus development.

A day at school

The day begins early at the Eklavya Model Residential School in Ranki, which is 215 kilometres from the state capital Bhubaneswar and 5 kilometres from the Keonjhar district headquarters. The hostels have two types of rooms, one with four beds for Class 12 students and dormitories with 24 beds for the remaining classes. Breakfast consists of upma, puffed rice, or idli with chickpea curry. Students leave their dorms at 6 a.m. and get at the hostel mess within an hour to eat. Each student has a workstation at which they can study or attend remedial classes. Regular courses in the main school building begin at 9:30 a.m. and continue until 4:30 p.m., with an hour-long lunch break; each classroom has a smart-board.

After classes conclude at 4.30 p.m., students play football, basketball, or volleyball on the school grounds until 6 p.m., when they return to their dormitory rooms. Then, there are designated hours for homework, and students with academic questions can visit their on-campus teachers. According to social science instructor Bharat Deheri, Eklavya schools are fundamentally superior to government schools in tribal areas because children have constant access to teachers who reside on campus.

Compare the EMRS Ranki to the Sanapurunapani Upper Primary School in Sundargarh, 105 kilometres distant, where assistant teacher Binapani Mohanty is frustrated by the lack of the most fundamental facilities, a blackboard and coloured chalk. “A blackboard is required for elementary instruction. Although we do not have a chalkboard, I write on the walls for pupils. “But, we must carry our own coloured chalk because the government-supplied white chalk makes it impossible to discern lettering on a white wall,” Mohanty explains.

Bijay Munda, a Class 8 student who dwells at the EMRS but comes from the distant village of Atibudhipala, four kilometres away, says he would have likely dropped out of school after Class 5 if the school did not exist. Munda is a member of the first generation of learners; both of his parents are unskilled day labourers. “I attended an Ashram school (run by the state SC/ST department) through fifth grade.” So it was not worthwhile to proceed there. The other school was linked with the state board, whose curriculum is believed to be easier, but the facilities here motivate me to study. If I need them, the school even offers remedial classes during the holidays.”

Director of the Centre for Action Research and People’s Development in Hyderabad, Bharath Bhushan Mamidi, asserts that the Eklavya schools have switched the focus from quantity to quality. “It seems that earlier tribal education served only to increase enrollment rates. The EMRS schools have improved the quality of education in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Telangana tribal areas during the twenty years I have worked in this subject.

Professor AB Ota, who headed a 2015 survey for the Union tribal affairs ministry titled “Effect of EMRS schools in boosting educational attainment of scheduled tribe children in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Rajasthan,” stated that there was a definite qualitative difference. “While no other study has been conducted in the past eight years, I can assert that the academic performance and pedagogy of tribal kids in these institutions have improved.” However, the poll revealed that in certain EMRS schools, children complained about a lack of water, unclean toilets, faulty drainage, and the absence of indoor sports.

Education challenge in tribal India

45.45% of the 1,8 million inhabitants of mine-rich Keonjhar are tribals (2011 census), while the literacy rate is 64%, which is lower than the state average of 73.45%. In 2017-18, according to data from the Odisha school education programme authority, only 8% of district residents have schooling above the 10th grade.

In 2020, Alpha Soy, a Santhal tribal member, completed her class 10 exams at a local Ashram school. Nevertheless, once Covid struck, her parents, who are both day wage labourers earning $2,000 per month, were unable to pay for her schooling. She had the choice between enrolling in a government-run secondary school or a private institution. Option one would have required her parents to pay for her books and uniform, while option two would have required them to support her education. Soy, aged 18 years old, dropped out of school and now earns 2,500 per month as an assistant at a ready-made clothing store in Ranki. “My only ambition was to become an educator. “This will never occur,” Soy says.

Tukunu Murmu, from the same hamlet, is uncertain whether he will be able to pay for his daughter Bhabani’s schooling after she graduates from Class 12 at a private high school. “The nearest government degree college is at least 10 kilometres distant, and I do not feel safe allowing her to pedal that distance daily,” he says.

Murmu attempted to enrol his daughter at the Ranki EMRS school, but was informed that they were at capacity. The scheme’s standards indicate that each class cannot exceed 60 students, with a total capacity of 480. Murmu states, “I wish there was a larger capacity.”

Vikram Achalaiya, an expert on tribal problems located in Madhya Pradesh, cites a second issue, that of contractual teachers. “While the programme began more than two decades ago, permanent instructors have not been hired as in Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas,” explains Achalaiya. Sunita Pattanayak, the principal, is a contractual teacher, as are the other 18 members of the teaching staff. “Teachers at the Kendriya Vidyalaya in Keonjhar adjacent to our school earn twice as much as we do. Four contract faculty members have departed my institution for greater possibilities. We must now rely on guest teachers for Chemistry, English, Sanskrit, and IT,” she explains.

Political push

The financial statement about Eklavya schools comes at a time when the BJP is making a concentrated effort to extend its presence in India’s tribal territories prior to the 2023 assembly elections and the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Tripura (where voting concluded last week), Nagaland, Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan are among the states with substantial tribal populations that will hold elections in 2023. In Odisha, which holds assembly and Lok Sabha elections in 2024, tribals are allotted 34 of the 147 assembly seats and five of the 21 Lok Sabha seats. Only eleven of these assembly seats and two of these parliamentary seats are held by the BJP.

Budhan Murmu, a BJP MLA from Sarasakana in Mayurbhanj, believes that the Eklavya school project might strengthen the party’s electoral appeal if pushed forcefully and intelligently. “Like everyone else, tribals are aspirational now. Parents desire a quality education for their children, hence Eklavya schools must be constructed expeditiously in all proposed neighbourhoods. The appointment of Droupadi Murmu as president has aided in bringing tribals closer to the BJP. This could be the next significant push, he suggested.

Yet, opposition leaders argue that these actions should not be politicised. “There should be no politics involved in the provision of education for tribal groups. Former BJD lawmaker Prasanna Acharya applauds the government’s efforts to recruit additional instructors for Eklavya schools.

Professor of political science Gyana Ranjan Swain predicts that the Narendra Modi administration’s initiative would generate some goodwill, but cautions that the results may not be rapid. “The action will be beneficial, but its impact on the next election cycle is difficult to foresee. In the following four to five years, the party could see some increases if all schools are completed and problems are addressed.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button