Govt should wake up to this grave illiteracy

Govt should wake up to this grave illiteracy

The extent of illiteracy reported among Karnataka’s Soliga community is shocking. Despite various literacy programmes and campaigns that have been in place for the last couple of decades, these seem to have left tribal communities virtually untouched.

Very few Soliga children, for instance, are going to school. In this regard, the rampant illiteracy in Gombegallu Podi village located in the Biligiri Ranganatha Swamy tiger reserve is illustrative. It appears that over the past 50 years, just 20 of this village’s children have gone to school. Of these, only two went on to acquire a bachelor’s degree. Reasons for Gombegallu Podi’s low literacy levels are obvious. Children have to trek long distances to reach school or are expected to live away from their parents in a residential school. This is a problem that is evident in countless hamlets in the state, especially those populated by indigenous populations.  

Karnataka Social Welfare Minister H Anjaneya did well to spend New Year’s Eve at Gombegallu Podi village. It would have given him a glimpse, albeit fleeting and superficial, of life in this hamlet. He is unlikely to have experienced the difficulties that children face in trudging through forests to reach school or the anxiety of their parents waiting for them to return home. A short ministerial visit to a village is useful in drawing media attention to its plight and problems. But such visits are mere photo opportunities. The minister needs to follow up with a more sustained engagement with its residents to address their problems meaningfully. Such engagement will reveal that illiteracy, for instance, is high among tribal communities as the school curriculum is irrelevant to their daily reality and rarely respectful of tribal history, heritage and culture. It will lay bare the immense humiliation that tribal children are subjected to by their non-tribal classmates and teachers.  

Policy makers need to engage with rural communities for real change to come to the lives of India’s masses. They need to find out how tribal communities imagine their future and what their aspirations are for their children. For decades, India’s approach to tribal communities has involved telling them what is good for them, and thrusting on them education that is aimed at ‘modernising’ and drawing their children into the ‘mainstream.’ Curriculums that draw on the wealth of indigenous knowledge and culture and are sensitive to tribal identities, may be more successful in drawing tribal children to school. Gobegallu Podi village’s children need curriculums and teachers who fire their imagination and unlock their talents.

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