Hurdles to building schools for tribals

  • 15th November, 2022

(Mains GS 2 : Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.)

Context:

  • The government pushed to set up 740 Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRS) for tribal students — one each in every sub-district that has at least a 20,000-odd Scheduled Tribe population, which must be 50% of the total population in that area. 
  • The government is persisting with its mission despite the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Ministry noting this year that the population criteria was “impractical” and needed an “immediate review”.

Eklavya Model Residential Schools:

  • The EMRS model was first introduced in 1997-98 to provide quality education to tribal students with residential facilities in remote corners.
  •  The aim was to build schools at par with the Jawahar Navoday Vidyalayas and Kendriya Vidyalayas. 
  • Until 2018-19, the scheme was overseen by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs with maximum control of identifying new schools, recruiting, management and admissions lying with State governments. 
  • While the Union government had sanctioned a certain number of preliminary EMRS, the guideline of the scheme noted that States and Union Territories would be responsible for seeking sanction of new schools as and when they needed it. 
  • The funds for these schools were to come from the grants under Article 275(1) and the guidelines mandated that unless States finished constructing the schools sanctioned by the Centre, they would not be entitled to funds for new ones. 
  • Apart from the infrastructural requirements of 20-acre plots for each EMRS, the guidelines did not have any criteria of where the EMRS could be set up, leaving it to the discretion of State governments.

Scheme revamped:

  • In 2018-19, cabinet approved the revamping of the EMRS scheme and set up  a National Education Society for Tribal Students (NESTS) entrusted with the management of the State Education Society for Tribal Students (SESTS), which would run the EMRS on the ground.
  • The new guidelines set a target of setting up an EMRS in every tribal sub-district and introduced a “population criteria” for setting them up. 
  • The new guidelines also reduced the minimum land requirement from 20 acres to 15 acres. 
  • Since the new scheme was put into place, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs sanctioned 332 of the targeted 452 schools till 2021-22.

Standing Committee report:

  • However, the Standing Committee in its report noted that a large number of schools were being delayed because the area (15 acre) requirement and the population criteria were making identification and acquisition of land “more cumbersome”, especially in hilly areas, leftwing extremism-affected areas and the northeast. 
  • It noted that even though the new guidelines provided for relaxations in these areas, other problems with land acquisition continued to persist.
  •  The Standing Committee noted that the population criteria ran the risk of depriving a “scattered tribal population” of the benefit of EMRS, “which are a means towards their educational empowerment”.
  • Moreover, despite the setting up of the NESTS, there was a shortage of teachers.
  • Further issues are non-uniformity in the quality of teachers, not enough recruitment in reserved positions, and a large number of schools recruiting teachers contractually, in a bid to save on salary expenses. 
  • As of July this year, all functional EMRS had a teaching strength of just under 4,000 against the 11,340 recommended by NESTS.

Teacher-student relationship:

  • A cordial relationship between tribal students and their teachers is one of the critical factors to promote meaningful learning in classrooms. It is important to understand that tribal children do not have the same backgrounds as their non-tribal schoolmates or teachers.   
  • There is a need to respect and value the culture, traditions, mannerisms, languages and cultural heritage of the tribal students. Interestingly, many tribal cultures have positive elements.
  • It should be the responsibility of the teachers and academic personnel to promulgate this incredible wealth of indigenous knowledge among tribal youths in schools and colleges.

Conclusion:

  • There is a pressing need for collaboration and strategic discourse between government, policy-makers, civil society organizations and international development institutions to collectively put efforts to address the chronic problems and allocate adequate funds from the central and state budget for tribal education.
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