Published: 24th September 2021
Lack of teachers, basic amenities worry tribals at Central govt's Eklavya schools in Tamil Nadu
Opened in 2018, presently 149 tribal students are enrolled here from across the state, and out of them, 13 are currently studying in Class 11, and 33 would join after completing Class 10
While the Union Government's Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya schools are known for their good quality education and infrastructure, the Ekalavya Model Residential School (EMRS) for tribals in Tamil Nadu, which are run by the Central government provides an opposite picture.
The EMRS set up near Chennai suburbs requires dire attention as it faces severe staff shortages and lacks other basic amenities for students. The residential school, located in Pattipulam village, near Mahabalipuram, is one of the eight EMRS in the state and this school primarily caters to tribals from Chennai, Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur, Chengalpet and Vellore among other nearby districts.
It offers free education for tribals. When TNIE visited this school on Wednesday, it was found that the school did not have any teachers for Class 11, which began in the school only this year. Neither did it have adequate high school teachers for Class 9 and Class 10 for subjects such as biology, physics, or chemistry — it just had one teacher overall for science, who is not specialized in all branches of science as the students also need to perform practicals in labs.
The tribal students in Class 11 rued that they would be spending their time mostly in the hostels or playing, as classes won't happen since there were no teachers. "We are afraid as next year we do not know how will we face board exams if there's no teacher," said Mallika (name changed), a Class 11 student.
Opened in 2018, presently 149 tribal students are enrolled here from across the state, and out of them, 13 are currently studying in Class 11, while next year, another 33 students would join after completing Class 10.
While the majority of students studying here are Irulars, there are also Narikuravars and Malai Kauravas. A teacher in the school, on condition of anonymity, told TNIE, "Next year, there will be 46 students together in 11th and 12th.
The government must appoint six teachers at least for maths, science, commerce, computer science, English, and language," the staff said. While the Union Government recently announced the enrollments in EMRS increased in Tamil Nadu in the last three years compared to other States where it saw a decline, plenty of woes remain to be addressed in the schools.
The school at Mahabalipuram also lacked a watchman, librarian, assistant cook, and boys warden. It also did not have a compound wall, putting the residential students' safety at high risk since tribals are vulnerable to abuse from the dominant caste persons.
"There were times when people from outside randomly come inside our campus in the nights. But our girls' warden locks the hostel doors at 8 pm. It is still completely unsafe," said Mallika. TNIE noticed that the toilets in the schools have been placed at isolated parts in the campus, just at the spot where there were no compound walls, and the campus opens up to barren lands.
As a result, at night, the girl students out of fear avoid using the restrooms. In addition to their woes, the students lack reverse osmosis purified drinking water supply and they drink the water directly from the tap. "For bathing, it is saltwater here. There's no metro water connection," added Arjun (name changed), another student.
There is no water heater too, pushing the students to take bath in cold water in winter. The school also has no sports equipment such as basketballs, footballs, cricket bat and ball, carom board and chess board, among other basic sports items, which is mandatory for any school.
"If all the sports amenities are provided to us, we will also train ourselves for districts and state-level sports," the tribals said, adding that no sports day is conducted too. "There was a PT master but he left before the pandemic," the students said.
The problems do not end here, as the understaffed teachers are also severely underpaid as they earn only Rs 13,000 and are recruited on a one-year contract basis. "With this pittance of a salary, how can we happily do our service? We commute to this school from faraway places and petrol itself costs Rs 4,000 minimum," said a teacher, who chose not to be named.
The teacher also mentioned that since there is no staff for 11th, they have to work overtime to monitor the high-school students as if left unmonitored, they may go astray. Despite all the woes, the tribal students expressed happiness to study in the school.
"In our village in Thiruvannamalai, there's no access to such schools but here we are getting free education with stay. If our basic issues are addressed, we will also shine like any other city school student," said Mahesh (name changed), another student.
An official with the Directorate of Tribal Welfare told TNIE, "We are adding a separate campus in another locality as part of up-gradation of this school. All the issues will be addressed. Our officials visited the school on Monday too and inspected what needs to be done as the school didn't function during the pandemic.