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Education: Initiatives for empowerment of tribal communities

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Representational Image

Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary

Education is the only mode to empower a community and help the youth to access unexplored opportunities offered by the global village. The Right to Education and inclusiveness of educational policies have always endeavoured to bridge the educational gaps particularly among the vulnerable communities.

Tribal education in Jammu and Kashmir is receiving special focus both at school and higher education level, however, there’s a long journey ahead which requires concerned efforts of all stakeholders.

The Jammu and Kashmir government established a department for tribal welfare in July 2008 with notification to set up the Directorate of Tribal Welfare, 9 years after the creation of Ministry of Tribal Affairs by the central government.

Later, in 2015 the administrative department was carved out for tribal welfare however creation of posts remained a missing link leaving the department without basic manpower to plan and implement the welfare schemes.

Finally in late 2021 a detailed proposal was formulated for creation of posts which is likely to see light of the day this year. Over last two years the department under the guidance of Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has laid a strong foundation for tribal education and address the gaps particularly in planning, inclusive development and empowerment viz a viz education.

Education of tribal students, particularly in remote areas, has remained a concern of the tribal communities, however, owing to various reasons the department could not move beyond the routine scholarships disbursement through education department.

In absence of any credible database and resultant lack of planning the dormancy of such efforts remained palpable and it certainly deprived a generation of its very basic right to education.

Tribal Education Plan

The department of tribal affairs, for the first time, initiated an exercise to assess the state of education viz a viz tribal students, literacy levels prevalent among the tribal population, and based on such surveys development of a comprehensive education plan to address specific educational needs besides the core efforts being made by the Education departments.

Survey and Planning

In 2021 multiple exercises were undertaken to access the status of education in tribal areas, gather micro database, obtain community feedback, assess the available facilities as well as opportunities and finally put in place an all-encompassing education plan for tribal population aimed at ensuring an inclusive educational landscape in Jammu and Kashmir.

The tribal communities represent a diversity of religious, cultural, social and economic practices and parameters which in itself makes the job of a development administrator complex. The surveys and resultant planning processes have been prompt, enabling immediate launch of several initiatives.

The 1st Survey of Transhumant (migratory) population conducted in 2021 threw up surprisingly disappointing figures in all sectors and parameters of human development. Education was no different. It recorded a mere 16.74% literacy rate among a mammoth population of 6.12 Lakh, far below the national literacy rate of 74% even in the Census 2011, which pegged the literacy rate among STs at 59%.

The male literacy rate was recorded as 19.38% while female literacy rate at 14.08%. These figures of literacy in 2021-22 are of alarming nature and deep concern not only for the community but for the policy makers, development administrators, educations and all other stakeholders. This is also reflective of gaps in ensuring inclusive education and honouring the Right to Education when it comes to the tribal communities.

The status of education and literacy in villages was found to be no different. A survey conducted in more than 365 villages having tribal population of 500+ and constituting more than 50% of overall population, in 2021 revealed the literacy rate was just 29%, with male literacy rate as 37% and female literacy rate 23%. The status of education attainment recorded to be further poor.

The role of tribal affairs department is, broadly, ensuring that planning under the Scheduled Tribes Component (STC) allocated by the Government of India directly to the departments, is as per ground requirements and assured inclusive development and welfare.

In this case the efforts of higher education and school education department over last few years have started yielding results however the primary education, hostel facilities, education of migratory students and availability of facilities in remote tribal areas remain top concerns.

The tribal affairs department initiated a number of interventions to bridge these gaps and augment the efforts of education departments at all the levels.

Scholarship for Higher Education

Waited since the year 2012 the first revision of scholarship was notified in July 2022 with 125-140% increase in scholarship. This enhancement makes the quality education affordable for tribal students and empowers them to access the best educational institutions and study resource material.

The average slab of scholarship in Group A courses increased from ` 30,000/- to more than ` 70,000/ annum. Likewise, in Group D it increased from mere ` 12,000 to more than ` 27,000/annum. Further, taking into account the emerging requirements of skilling, diversity in courses of higher education and feedback by several students more than 300 more courses were added to the decade old list of less than 50 courses under which students were eligible for scholarship.

The revision has been mandated after every two years. This signifies a major thrust on supporting quality education for tribal students. The scholarship budget of the department which hovered around maximum ` 14-15 Cr for all these years has been increased to more than ` 50.00 Cr this year, up from the highest 31.12 Cr last financial year.

Scholarship for Seasonal Centres

More than 34,000 students belonging to transhumant or semi-nomadic tribal families enrolled in seasonal centres for the period of migration hitherto received only Rs 475/annum scholarship which has been revised under a Special Scholarship Scheme of the UT Government upto ` 2400 in three different slabs upto Class-V. The department is also working on a model for seasonal centres in coordination with Education Department to develop a policy for the annual calendar of education under the aegis of National Education Society for Tribal Students

Gaddi-Sippis get scholarship after 3 decades

The Gaddis and Sippis were notified as Scheduled Tribes in 1991 however the pre-matric scholarship was not awarded to students of the tribe for which several representations were made and even intervention of courts sought. In November 2021, the Tribal Affairs Department notified scholarship for Gaddi-Sippi tribe benefitting more than 12,000 students in the pre-matric scholarship. This step is significant from point of view of both social justice and empowerment .

Hostels: Modernisation and Expansion

The first two hostels for Gujjar and Bakkerwal students were established in Jammu and Srinagar in late 1970s. the number of hostels for tribal students till 2020 remained 25. In close to last two years the department completed 8 hostels and approved establishment of 25 new hostels the work of which is scheduled to commence in August 2022. Apart from this, 10 hostels started few years back which remained hanging in balance owing to absence of mandatory administrative approval; codal formalities and tendering are being taken up this year for resumption of work after closure of unauthorised contracts and introduction of fiscal discipline. These efforts are aimed at having more than 70 hostels with the department over next two years and annual augmentation under central grants as well.

The department has earmarked a budget of ` 17.00 Cr for repair and renovation of hostels this year as a sequel to ` 10.00 Cr modernisation budget last year under which hostels have been equipped with modern furniture. The tuition fee for hostels has been enhanced from ` 1500/- to ` 6000/ per months to offer quality education in hostels while diet rates have been enhanced from mere ` 100/day to ` 175/day w.e.f July 2022 and further proposed to ` 250/day in revised budget. Ironically the tuition fee and diet charges awaited more than a decade for revision which would normally happen every two years.

The competitive edge: Coaching

In first of its kind initiatives the students enrolled in hostels for Class-XI to Post-Graduation are being given Tabs with pre-loaded educational content. Nearly 1000 hostellers will benefit from the scheme this year. Another scheme has been launched to offer Civil Services Examination coaching to 100 tribal students this year in government empanelled coaching institutions of repute and 100 students for NEET/JEE examinations. This will provide a major boost to meritorious and competitive students from poorest economic strata to achieve their dreams of qualifying such examinations for various professional courses and services as well.

Modernisation of Schools in tribal areas

Another unique initiative in coordination with School Education Department is silently changing the infrastructure landscape of schools in remote tribal areas under the pilot “Modernisation of Schools in Tribal Areas” launched in 2021. In first phase, 100 smart schools have been established across 20 districts at a cost of ` 20.00 Cr and more than 200 schools are being taken up this year to be provided smart classrooms. The village development plan for this year focuses on more than 100 Village-Panchayats for quality education infrastructure.

Residential Schools: Operation and expansion

The Government of India sanctioned Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRS) for Anantnag and Kulgam in the year 1997-98 and 2003-04 respectively however despite availability of funds the project completion remained a distant dream, leading to cost escalation besides deprivation of education. The department prioritised release of funds over last two years for project completion. Apart from resumption of work on EMRS Mendhar and EMRS Rajouri held up for many years due to several issues, the department also released funds for new sanctioned EMRS at Gurez in Bandipora and Kandi in District Rajouri. Besides this, in order to ensure avoidance of education deprivation, the department provided a budget of ` 6.00 Cr to make these 06 EMRS operational without further delay. Proposals for more than 10 new EMRS along with land availability certificate and willingness of Jammu and Kashmir Government to provide essential services infrastructure have now been submitted to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs Govt of India after more than 6 months long process to make the land and resources available.

Transit Residential Schools

In addition to the EMRS, the J&K Government has also initiated the project for residential school particularly for students belonging to the migratory tribal communities. One residential school has been constructed and completed in District Pulwama at a cost of ` 7.00 while land has been provided for a similar school in Shopian. These schools are designed to provide the accommodation and quality education to students during annual migration to the highland pastures. A similar initiative is also planned by the school education department for such schools on transit routes.

Institution of awards for excellence

The department has instituted awards for meritorious students as well as for excellence in academic and professional education at higher level which includes the excellence in board examination and achievements in respective professional education at local or national level. The recipients of this year’s awards include educationists, doctors, engineers and meritorious students among others.

Residential Coaching Centre

This year a state-of-the-art coaching institute for tribal students is being established by the department at Jammu followed by a similar centre at Srinagar. The residential coaching centre equipped with accommodation facilities, book bank, digital library and class-rooms is aimed at providing quality teaching to tribal students to prepare them for various competitive examinations conducted by the Union Public Service Commissioner and the J&K Public Service Commission. The students selected through competitive process or those having qualified the preliminary examination will be offered best education support system to qualify such competitive education

Way Forward

These initiatives have acknowledged the need for very robust and focussed system of tribal education, need for inclusive education and development of special plans for different tribal areas and sections of communities given the poor educational and literacy levels. The tribal communities, particularly the students, have responded constructively towards these initiatives and are contributing for development of a model education system. The results of recent initiatives are quite visible and unequivocally acknowledged by the society, particularly the students. Sustainability and up scaling of these initiatives is bound to pay rich dividends for tribal education. Tribal students need standard educational facilities at par with national norms and indispensable exposure to professional career opportunities globally.

Dr Shahid Iqbal Choduhary, IAS, is Secretary to Government Tribal Affairs department, J&K.

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