In the last eight years, more than 4,500 Scheduled Tribe students who applied for class 11 were turned away due to a shortage of seats in the tribal dominated district.

Kerala tribal students protest in street holding a banner for right to higher educationTribal students' protest/File Image
news Education Monday, November 08, 2021 - 19:24

The shortage of seats in Kerala this year for students passing out of class 10 has put immense pressure on the CPI-M led government, with the opposition staging walkouts over the issue and the media unrelenting in its criticism. The worst hit by this post-pandemic system collapse are the Scheduled Tribe (ST) students from Wayanad who face an uphill battle to get educated even during normal times. 

The shortage of seats appears to have made headlines this year largely because it affects general category students too. But a deep-dive by TNM shows that tribal students in the state’s Wayanad have been facing this problem for nearly a decade. More than 4,500 tribal students seeking class 11 seats in Wayanad have been turned away over the last eight years.

In Kerala, 8% of seats are reserved for ST students in secondary and higher secondary education in government institutes. This amounts to about 2,000 seats for STs in a year. However, the number of tribal students who pass the SSLC exam stands at 6,000-7,000 every year. A third of these students are from Wayanad.

According to estimates, more than 2,000 tribal students cleared class 10 last year in Wayanad where STs are nearly half the total population. However, the government has allocated only 529 seats for ST aspirants for the 2020-21 academic year. This means hundreds of tribal students drop out every year just from Wayanad, because there is no way for them to access education. And these students then turn to daily wage labour, say activists.

The hardship faced by Divyamani, who passed class 10 in 2020, offers a case in point. A tribal student from Palakolli hamlet of Pulpally in Wayanad, Divyamani is yet to get admission for class 11. “I was expecting to get a seat and study further. Now I’m sitting at home doing nothing in particular,” Divyamani tells TNM.

Divyamani has applied for admission this year too, but has not got a seat so far. There are many others like Divyamani in Palakolli hamlet who could not go beyond class 10. “In the last two years, around 20 students from Palakolli and Marakavu didn't get admission for class 11,” Bindu Narayanan, a teacher of Grameena Vidya Kendram (a village school) in Palakolli and an inhabitant of the hamlet, tells TNM. The people of both the hamlets belong to the Paniya Community. The female students who don’t get admission mostly choose to be at home while male students would go for daily wage work, she says.

This disparity forced students and parents to protest for 28 days last year, demanding that the government increase the number of seats, and stop the systemic discrimination faced by tribal students in school as well as higher education. The first protest, at Sultan Bathery in Wayanad district last year, sought government intervention for tribal students to have due representation in the education system. Adi Shakti Summer School — a collective of Adivasi and Dalit youths, under Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha (AGMS) — organised the protest on streets of Sultan Bathery.

And while the open protest has stopped, the struggle continues in other forms. In October this year, activists submitted a memorandum to K Radhakrishnan, Minister for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, seeking redressal for the issue.

The figures show it all

The disparity between the number of seats ST students applied for in Wayanad district from 2013-14 to 2020-21 and the number of students who got admission, and those who were left out is shown in the table below.

The above data has been accessed by tribal activists through the Right to Information Act. “Every year at least 500 students are left out due to the inadequate seat allocation for the ST category. The class 11 admission process for this year has been going on and how many students are denied seats will be clear only after the process is over,” Geethanandan tells TNM.

How the marginalisation happens

It’s not just the number of seats, but also the way in which the seats are divided for different streams that affects students. According to activists, a large number of tribal students prefer to take up Humanities, however only 158 seats are available in the Humanities section; the number of seats for Commerce is 159, and 212 for Science. But only a few tribal students prefer admission in the Science stream.

Apart from students who pass class 10 through the board exam, there are those who pass through the National Institute of Open School. Opportunities for tribal students are also denied as there are only a few Industrial Training Institutions (ITI) in Wayanad district.

“The issue of denial of seats for the students in Wayanad has been discussed for a long time. Though 2,000 seats have been set aside for tribal students, after the main allotment, a large number of seats are diverted to the general category,” Mary Lidiya, state co-ordinator of Adisakthi Summer School that works with tribal students, tells TNM.

After the protests in 2020, the government allotted 425 more class 11 seats under the ST category for Wayanad. “But still scores of students were left out. The seats were increased without any consultation with tribal students, without increasing the number of batches in schools, without ensuring quality of education,” Mary says.

The government conducts spot allotment for the ST students who don’t get admission for higher studies through the normal admission process. However, even after spot allotment, scores of ST students are forced to study in private colleges while many are forced to drop out for various reasons.

How to address the gap

In higher secondary schools, where the number of tribal students is high, activists demand a separate batch for them. A letter was submitted to the Higher Secondary Directorate with this request in 2020. The main demands raised in the memorandum to the minister are:

— Admission for ST students should be ensured in the first phase of allotment.

— There are only 30-35 students in the Model Residential Schools (MRS) under the SC/ST department. This should be increased to 60, and Humanities, Commerce and Science batches should be opened in MRS.

— The ST department should begin day scholar batches in Wayanad district in a way that won’t affect the functioning of MRS. Teachers should be appointed on a temporary basis for this

— The Education and the Higher Secondary Directorate should be given the direction that the seats mandatorily reserved for SC/ST category should be given for general category only after the ST students’ admission is over

— For Primary and Secondary level Dalit and Adivasi students, tribal hamlets wise learning centres should be set up. The traditional language and knowledge of the tribal people should be incorporated in the curriculum. Teachers should be appointed from the SC and ST communities and a post of mentor teacher should be made a part of the public education system.

University education

The activists also allege that universities don't follow legal reservation norms for ST and SC students in the graduate and post graduate admissions. They demand that the government should give necessary directions to all universities and autonomous colleges to ensure that the procedures are duly followed for admission of ST and SC students.

Other demands

— The allotment schedule for Special Allotment for SC and ST students should be included in the prospectus of colleges. The government should also take action to remove all fees for SC and ST students, including application and registration fees. Liaison officers should be appointed at the SC/ST Directorate to address the complaints of SC/ST students, they demand.

— Post matric hostels should be set up for ST students in Wayanad district and in other district centres. Financial assistance of Rs 50,000 to 1,00,000 should be given to ST students studying Higher Secondary, UG and PG.

— Special projects should be envisaged for Wayanad and Attappady regions - where the tribal population is high in the state - to get employment.

— No volunteer assistance, or vehicle or financial assistance has been provided for the tribal students to attend interviews for exams. The ST Development Department should be instructed to provide financial assistance.

Read: Crisis in Kerala plus one admissions shows what's wrong with the current system

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