A crowd of women flocked around the Saksharata (Literacy) Mission School, in Kadakkavoor gram panchayat in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday evening. Though their muddied clothes spoke of a day's long hard work in the fields, their faces bore no sign of weariness.
They swiftly settled down in the classroom set up by the Kerala government to expand their literacy mission to tribal areas. The adult classroom, the only one in the panchayat, is in a colony where the majority of people are from the Dalit community. The women were eager to listen to the officials who spoke of the need for basic education.
They had gathered in the Saksharata Mission School to enroll themselves in the Kerala governmentâ€™s Paripoorna Saksharatha programme or total literacy programme, as part of its second literacy revolution. The total literacy programme which was inaugurated on January 26, 2018, aims to include those who were left out when Kerala was declared a total literate state in the year 1991. Kerala now boasts of 93 per cent literacy rate.
Reaching out to the marginalised
Speaking to TNM, Dr P S Sreelekha, director of Kerala State Literacy Mission Authority, said, â€śOur aim is to make the literacy programme more inclusive and educate the tribal and coastal belt in the state. Dropout rates are high among these communities due to various financial and social issues. We have to reach out to them.â€ť
Going by the norms of the UNESCO, if a state has achieved 90 per cent or above literacy level, then it is declared a 'total literate state'. Kerala is thus considered to be a state which has achieved total literacy. But this status excludes a marginalised section of the society in Kerala. According to the Literacy Mission officials, in a survey conducted by the state government in 2011, it was found that a population of eighteen and a half lakh were illiterates and they could not read or write. This population roughly contributed to around 7 per cent of Keralaâ€™s total population.
Geeta, a daily wage labourer, is 55 years old and had to drop out from school early because her family could not afford the expense. Her face brightens up when asked if she is excited to go to school once again. She buries her face in her palms, then settles down on a low mud wall, and takes out four betel leaves before starting to speak.
â€śI donâ€™t remember much from my school days. I had to drop out early. We couldnâ€™t afford it. I want to read the route display boards of the buses that I take. Sometimes I donâ€™t know which one to board, I always have to depend on the fellow passengers in the bus stand. Thatâ€™s all my need is," says Geeta.
Geeta wants to read the route display boards of the buses she takes
The Literacy Mission officials have devised different levels of education programmes meant to accommodate those who havenâ€™t received any sort of formal education and the rest who dropped out after primary education.
â€śWe have prepared Saksharata Padavali (literacy textbooks) state-wide to bring in uniformity and efficiency in the teaching. Beginning from January 26, we are aiming at a total of hundred teaching hours for those with no formal education whatsoever and the exams are expected to be conducted in April first week," said Prasanth Kumar, District Coordinator of the literacy programme.
â€śWe then have a six month programme which is equivalent to the 4th grade. We have also outlined similar such programmes equivalent to 7th grade, 10th grade and higher secondary. Those who have dropped out after 4th, 7th or 10th classes can join the appropriate courses for themselves and need not take all the classes," added Prasanth.
Omana, another daily wage labourer, is 60 years old and is hoping to write her own name and sign the documents by herself. She is excited to design a signature for herself. So far, her signature was only three horizontal lines, drawn one below the other.
â€śI want to sign like an educated woman. All my life I have drawn three lines, like the ones on the back of a squirrel on papers, instead of my own signature," says Omana.
Omana aspires to write her own signature one day
Literacy Mission authorities have employed thousands of tutors called 'Prerakhs' as part of the mission to teach in various districts. In the 2084 education centers set up by the authorities, as many Prerakhs are also deployed.
â€śWe have arranged 2084 tutors in all the 2084 educational centers across the district. These tutors can also take help from young volunteers to ease out the process and improve efficiency," says Pradeep Kumar S, PRO, Literacy Mission.
Kadakkavoor gram panchayat has two such volunteers, Reshma and Akshara. Reshma is doing her course in Autocad and Akshara is doing her masters in Commerce.
Reshma and Akshara
â€śWe are expecting to take two or three classes a week, according to their (the students') convenience. They are very supportive of the mission and co-operate with us. They come here with a willingness to learn," says Reshma.
How effective is the programme?
Though the state government has initiated such progressive policies to educate the marginalised, the colony dwellers have another side to the story. While there are persons like Omana who have never been to school before, the colony has also seen educated women ending up as daily wage labourers.
They say the journey to find a government job is too hard for them.
Indira is 60 years old and holds a BSc degree in Mathematics. Today, she is a daily wage labourer under the government scheme 'Thozilurappu' like any uneducated women in her colony.
â€śI got my BSc Mathematics degree from Varkala College. I tried many years for a government job, I couldnâ€™t get one for myself. And I had to get back to physical labour to meet the needs of the family. We need a platform that can make us feel secure along with the education," says Indira.
Indira procured her BSc degree in Mathematics from Varkala College, Thiruvananthapuram
Chitralekha is also enrolled under the governmentâ€™s 'Thozilurappu' scheme and is an 8th std drop-out. She can read and write.
â€śThese classes will be conducted for a few days, an exam is taken and mostly it ends there. After that, a thorough follow-up is not done. Most people forget what has been taught. I donâ€™t know ways of learning other than repeating after the teacher with a board and a piece of chalk. There must be new ways of learning, isnâ€™t it ?â€ť asks Chitralekha.
Chitralekha is a daily wage labourer and is proud that she can read and write
Meanwhile, the Literacy Mission Authorities say that they are working on crafting innovative methods to educate such communities and discover more effective ways of testing instead of traditional exams.
â€śWe are thinking of an innovative method to replace traditional exams. In the new book that we have issued, we have portions to encourage discussions on social issues, constitutional rights, secularism and gender issues," says Dr Sreelekha.
Keralaâ€™s second literacy revolution is certainly a peopleâ€™s campaign and a progressive measure which gets support from all the parties across the political spectrum.
â€śWe did not face much challenges to execute this programme. We get massive back-up from the local bodies. This is more like a peopleâ€™s campaign and all political bodies extent their support despite their inner party conflicts," says Pradeep, PRO, Literacy Mission.