Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The poor find Kerala's educational system wanting

While Kerala’s educational system appears to meet the needs of the mainstream, there is grave deficiency, in both quantitative and qualitative terms, in the facilities available to the poor.

This was the conclusion of the three-member panel which heard the testimony of five persons – four children and one parent – belonging to the marginalized sections, including Adivasis, Dalits and the fishing community.

The panel was appalled to note that Dalit students were being subjected to discrimination.

The panel endorsed three demands of CRY:

1. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, should be amended to cover children aged below six years and in the age group 15-18 years.
2. There must be a school with adequate facilities and qualified teachers within s kilometer of any habitation.
3. The Government of India must allot 10 per cent of the GDP to education.

The panel consisted of Mr. Justice P.K.Shamsuddin, Ms. Rekha Raj and myself.

The public hearing was held at the initiative of CRY (Child Rights and You), a non-profit organization, which is marking its 30th anniversary with a nationwide campaign to spread the message “Do What Is Right—Equal Rights for Every Child.”

One element of the programme is collection of signatures on a charter of demands on Right to Education. The charter will be submitted to decision-makers at the Centre and in the States.

The hearing, held at Jawahar Bal Bhavan, Thiruvananthapuram, was intended to create and spread public awareness about the right of every child for equal education.

The testimony

Suresh, 12-year-old Kurumba boy of Thazhethudikki village in Attapadi block of Palakkad district, was studying at the model Residential School in Munnar. He said he had dropped out because the family could not afford the travel expenses. Adivasi children have to hire a jeep, which charges Rs. 3,000 for the trip to Munnar.

Chandran, 32, of Agali, who belongs to the Muduka tribe, said two of his children, studying in Standard 4 and Standard 1 are attending a school five km from the hamlet. They are in the hostel. The nearest anganvadi where he can put his youngest child, Kannan, aged 4, is more than a kilometer away. He wants an anganvadi in the hamlet. Of the 32 families there, at least 10 have children of anganvadi age, he said.

Teresa, who belongs to the fishing community, is studying in Standard 7 in a Government school at Valiyathura. She complained of lack of drinking water, poor sanitation, inadequacy of teachers and corporal punishment.

Haritha, studying in Standard 8 at a school in tsunami-hit Alappad area of Alappuzha district, said while Rs 50 lakhs was needed to rebuild the school the authorities had spent only Rs 5 lakhs. On the second anniversary of the tsunami the Chief Minister said the local UP school would be upgraded to high school but the necessary infrastructure or teachers were not there.

Albin, 13, a Dalit belonging to Sooranad in Kollam district, who is attending an aided school, said Dalit students were asked to clean the school toilets.

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