After single-teacher schools, which function in tribal settlements, were shut down in March, the teachers were offered the position of part-time or full-time sweepers in the department.

Kerala single-teacher school teacher Ushakumari with studentsPC/Ushakumari FB
news Education Sunday, June 05, 2022 - 13:55

After media reports revealed that national-award winning teacher KR Ushakumari was working as a sweeper in a school, the Kerala State Human Rights Commission (KSHRC) registered a case and served notices to the General Education Department secretary and the Directorate of Public Instruction.

The Kerala government had in March this year decided to shut down 344 Multi-Grade Learning Centres (MGLC), known as single-teacher schools, located in tribal settlements. These schools were established in 1997 by the District Primary Education Programme to provide basic education to students in Classes 1 to 4 in tribal settlements.

After the schools were shut down, the teachers – usually diploma holders – were offered the position of part-time or full-time sweepers in the department, under compassionate grounds. This included Ushakumari who started working as a sweeper at the PSNM Government Higher Secondary School in Thiruvananthapuram’s Peroorkada when schools reopened in the state on June 1.

A resident of Amburi, Ushakumari worked as the lone teacher at the Agasthya Ega Adhyapaka Vidyalaya, Kunnathumala, in the Agasthyarkoodam Biosphere Reserve. Every day for 16 years, she travelled first on a two-wheeler, then rowed a boat, before trekking uphill to the school. In February 2020, she staged a hunger strike in front of her school with two demands, including permanent jobs for single-teachers like her.

Speaking to TNM about the closure of the schools, Ushakumari said that the single-teacher schools in the tribal areas of Thiruvananthapuram were started back in 1999, after the initial attempt in Wayanad and Kasaragod in 1997 proved to be a success. “The schools were closed stating that a single person cannot successfully educate all the students as well as perform other tasks. According to the right to education, each child should be given proper attention, which is a bit difficult in these schools. However, we expected a better post based on our educational qualification,” she said.

On March 31, on her last working day as a teacher, Ushakumari had published a touching post on Facebook, which was widely shared. She had said, “Locked the door, handed over the key and stepped down with pain.”

“None of the teachers will react strongly as they fear they will lose this job also. There are teachers who have completed Class 10 and pre-degree. Some unions are in support of the government decision. But the government could have provided jobs based on our educational qualification and experience. However, we have to survive, so we have to be satisfied with whatever they gave us,” another teacher from Palakkad who sought anonymity said.

Chithra Nilambur, a tribal activist and president of an adivasi welfare collective called Kerala Adivasi Aikya Vedi, said that there are teachers who are working in tough conditions and sincerely helping the children in tribal settlements. “I know a teacher named Ghafoor who used to trek for kilometres inside dense forests and uplifted the entire community. However, there are also schools where teachers go only for a couple of days a month. When asked, they say that they are only paid peanuts while they have to trek to remote areas through dense forests,” she added.

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