Chelli smiled at the paper attached to her writing pad and twiddled the pencil in her right hand. Trying to repress her shivering, she stroked the white paper for once. On her second go, she neatly wrote her two-syllabled name in Malayalam and added a highlighting underline to it. Her wrinkled face lit as she gave a beaming smile. This 89-year-old was Attappadi's oldest 'student' at the mass-literacy drive organised by the Kerala State Literacy Mission Authority.
About 2,624 tribals attended the literacy examination held in Wayanad district last month. Surprisingly, over a 2,000 of them were women. The state literacy mission aims to empower Kerala's marginalised population with its exclusive tribal literacy drive. Commenting on the venture, Kerala state literacy mission director PS Sreekala told Onmanorama that though the state may boast of cent-percent literacy, there are several weaker sections that are still deprived of a stable access to literacy and primary education.
“This is one special programme we (the state literacy mission) have adopted after the LDF government came to power. We intent to spread literacy, primary education and equivalent higher education among the marginalised and neglected sections. Transgenders, scheduled tribes, coastal population et al have been long deprived of basic literacy. High school education is still a luxury to many of them. In our Attappadi drive, we (plan to) spread the light of literacy among all 198 'oorus' (settlements) where around 4,000 natives have assured active participation,” she said.
The literacy mission hired 275 native people after an initial screening and employed them as instructors for the literacy drive. The mission also developed a specialised syllabus to communicate with the tribal population. Named 'Kaadum Prapanchavum' (Forest and the Universe) the study material discusses several pieces of native wisdom in circulation among the tribal population and their scientific reasoning.
Social literacy too
Social ills plague tribal societies too. Alcoholism is rife among the locals and many die young due to it.
“I used to consume alcohol almost everyday after my work. After I joined the literacy programme, I started heading straight to the class from my workplace; this helped me to quit drinking. I have better savings and a peaceful domestic life now after learning to read and write,” said Vellan*, a 'Muduga' tribal man at an Attappadi colony.
The literacy mission currently has three literacy/equivalent education programmes aimed at the tribal population – a comprehensive tribal education and equivalence programme, special literacy equivalence programme for Attappadi and the thrid, the Wayanad tribal literacy programme.
The tribals easily adjust to the classes as most tutors are their own people. Of the 1,057 native instructors hired for the three literacy campaigns, 800 belong to the tribal communities. “Instructors are the next-level learners. They might be the ones who are appearing for primary or high-school equivalence examinations, or the ones who have already completed their education through either mainstream or literacy mission programmes. Out of the three programmes, the instructors for the comprehensive tribal education and equivalence scheme are selected exclusively from the target communities," Sreekala, said.
This programme covers a 100 out of the 198 tribal settlements in Attappadi.
Fruitful equivalence classes
The primary education and high-school equivalence classes conducted by the literacy mission have so far yielded good results in the tribal belt of Attappadi. About 95.5% of the enrolled students, 4,309, cleared the primary-level fourth-standard equivalence exams conducted for people from 282 colonies. The youngest student who attended the literacy drive was Karthi, 19, who hails from the Cheramankandi ooru.
Screening tests for the second-level equivalence education programme will be conducted on August 18 and 19. Around 32,956 tribal people live in their native settlements at Attappadi. Irulas, Mudugas and Kurumbas are the three prominent tribes.
Commenting on the similar ventures of the state literacy mission, Sreekala told Onmanorama that the mission also aims at a 'coastal literacy' drive. “We have developed a specialised syllabus focusing on the 'life and struggles beside sea' to reach out to them.Initially, we would launch it in three districts, viz. Kozhikode, Kollam and Ernakulam,” she said.