Tamil Nadu tribal students quit online classes amid pandemic

ByMike V. Cooper

Nov 17, 2021

Rohini dropped out of school. Class 11 student is not the only one who dropped out of college / school in the Kadar tribal community of Kadambarai settlement in Anamalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu. Although her family has a smartphone that they could have used to take online classes, Rohini had no choice but to quit her studies due to the lack of electricity in her hamlet.

There are several of these students in the 34 tribal settlements of the Anaimalai Hills of the Western Ghats who have received almost no formal education as schools have closed for almost a year and a half. Even the few sites that have an electricity supply are struggling with mobile phone network problems. It has been widely reported that students take online courses at the roadside to achieve better cell connectivity while coping with rain and cold.

PARENTS FEEL ABANDONED

Tribal communities believe that educating their children is the only way to emancipate them from marginalized existence. After being abandoned by the government, they complained about their children being behind and being excluded from the system due to lack of education during the pandemic.

Rohini with his class 11 manual in the Kadambarai colony.

Due to the lack of basic facilities in the forest, some tribal children were admitted to residential schools before the pandemic. However, their parents were disappointed once the lockdown was announced. Rajalakshmi is one of those parents who brought his two boys back from the hostel after the lockdown. “The teachers gave us books and asked us to teach our children. How can I teach them? I am not literate. That’s why I sent them to a hostel, ”she said. Newsclick.

Now her two boys play all day. “They are eager to learn their father’s trade and have no interest in studying,” regrets Rajalakshmi, who belongs to the Kadar community in the Kallargudi settlement.

Many of these parents feel that the plans they had for their children’s education will never materialize.

A woman with her son in the Anbu Nagar settlement.

FIGHT FOR ELECTRICITY

Many families who have Android phones but no power supply often ask traders and government workers to charge their devices, but they cannot let their children use them for online lessons.

“We charge our phones at the guardhouse nearby. Although the guards mainly allow us to charge our phones, they are sometimes rude. If we had a good electrical connection, we wouldn’t have been dependent on them, ”said Priya, who works in the Kadamparai settlement. Although they have remained close to the Solaiyar hydroelectric project station, these tribes do not have an electricity supply.

“There are several children who struggle and study but it is not easy for them. It’s hard to continue like this, ”Priya added.

Frustrated and angry at the lack of electricity despite power lines only a few meters from their homes, some families in Nagamalai settlement hesitantly admitted to stealing electricity from streetlights.

DEPENDING ON KEROSENE LAMPS

Without an electrical connection, children have no choice but to study under kerosene lamps at night. Kerosene is a basic necessity in the hills as it is needed for cooking, lighting the house, and hunting elephants at night.

Students were given textbooks but illiterate family members could not teach them.

Residents have complained that the kerosene supplied through the public distribution system is not sufficient as the quantity has been reduced in recent years.

“We don’t have an electrical connection; our children study under kerosene lamps. From five liters of kerosene per month, the supply has been reduced to three liters in recent years. We use kerosene very wisely because it doesn’t last longer than 10 days, ”Ajitha said.

Rohini explained the reason for dropping out of studies. “The college is far away. If they have a special class, we have to be there at 6 a.m. Under the given circumstances, with just kerosene lamps, I cannot get up early and get ready. Therefore, I stopped going to college although I wanted to study. We need an electrical connection and the bus connectivity to our region should be increased. There are a lot of children here. They shouldn’t drop out of school like me; they should be educated.

In all the colonies Newsclick visited, not a single child was seen attending online classes or reading a book.