Reethu, a story teller, a person often found between the pages of a book or contemplating the nuances of life.
Under the single-window admission procedure, hundreds of tribal students in Kerala's Wayanad are failing to find admission to Class 11 despite many performing commendably in the SSLC examinations in the past few years.
According to a report by The Hindu, M Geethanandan, State coordinator, Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha (AGMS) said that while as many as 2,009 tribal students in Wayanad are eligible for higher secondary education this year, only 530 seats are available for them under the 8 per cent reservation for the Scheduled Tribes (ST) quota.
The remaining 1,479 tribal students, most of them belonging to the landless Paniya, Adiya, and Kattunaika communities, did not get admissions this year, he added. Furthermore, due to the geographical isolation of the district and the miserable condition of their families, these students are unable to afford to apply for admission in other districts.
While a spot admission process was organised for those tribal students who were unable to get admission through the single-window process last year, only 422 students of the 666 eligible applicants got the admission.
"A majority of the tribal students tend to choose the Humanities stream but only 158 seats are available under reservation for ST students. Hence, many an eligible student would face the risk of becoming a drop-out," he said.
While the issue has been recurring every year, the Education Department has not yet adopted any steps to address it. Furthermore, if the state government does not increase the seats for Adivasi students urgently, various tribal organisations would launch a series of agitations, Geethanandan added.
Furthermore, amid the admissions going online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation has only worsened.
Several tribal activists in the state have called for an urgent intervention by the state government into the various issues faced by the tribal students in the state, who are seeking admissions to 'Plus One' classes in schools and undergraduate courses in colleges.
The activists have also alleged that from the issues of miscommunication to lack of assistance for the students, the admission procedures lack assistance for the students.
One of the major hurdles faced by the tribal students is the lack of assistance to apply for the courses in time. Activists have said that without proper guidance for online admission procedure, many students have been left out.
"In the wake of COVID-19, it has been also difficult for people like us to directly reach out to tribal hamlets. In case of Plus One admissions, the students are first required to apply online, then create a 'candidate login' using an OTP (One Time Password) they receive. Then, students should submit the documents online and remit application fees etc," Mary Lidiya, coordinator of Adishakti Summer School, told The News Minute.
She added that while there are help desks in every government-run and government-aided school to help students with the admission procedures, most of the tribal students, who had been studying in model residential schools, can't use these facilities as they were sent back home due to the pandemic.
"For these students, especially those hailing from communities like Cholanaikkans, Kurumbas, Kattunaikans, Kadars and Koragas, who live in the interior forest regions, it is difficult to access these help desks," Lidiya said.
Meanwhile, degree aspirants are also struggling to get admissions. While the 'Save a Year' exams are to be conducted for those who could not attend the Class 12 exam due to the pandemic or for those who failed to clear the exams, admissions to various universities are already winding up.
Meanwhile, Tribal youth volunteers of the Adishakti Summer School in the state are helping to empower the students from marginalised communities by creating awareness among them about higher education and helping them to apply for courses.
The team of volunteers from the Adi Shakti Summer School, a collective of Adivasi and Dalit youths under the Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha(AGMS), is helping the Adivasi students navigate the online admission process this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The School is one of the few platforms that work for the welfare of these students and conduct residential camps every year to help the students complete their admission process. However, this year, due to the pandemic, camps could not be conducted.
Yet, through various Whatsapp groups, the school collects details of students from various districts. Last month, Sanoop C, one of the volunteers who belong to the Kurumba community visited houses in his tribal colony and neighbouring colonies during a week-long power outage to collect details of students who have completed class 10 and 12, reported The Times Of India.
"Most of the students in my area do not have internet connectivity to apply for degree courses. I collected their details and sent them to WhatsApp groups formed by Adishakti Summer School," Sanoop, who hails from Gotyarkandi ooru in Attappadi told the media.
Meanwhile, Vanitha V, a volunteer from Marayur in Idukki, said, "Most of the children in our community drop out of school early. Though some of the families reside in town, there are around eight 'kudis' in the interior forest. They are reluctant to come out."
Elaborating on the drop out rate, Geethanandan said, "As per a study in 2013, in Wayanad -- the district which houses the maximum number of tribal population, out of all the tribal students who completed Class 10, only 10% enrolled in higher secondary school. The dropout rate was 90%."
"Though there are more aspirants, issues like less number of reservation seats are a hindrance to students. It is on top of this, that the students now have to tackle the issue of online admission. With no proper assistance mechanism reaching them, this will also be a major factor leading to dropouts this year," he added.
Furthermore, many students also cannot afford the fees for completing the admission process.
"From the application fees remitted to apply in colleges to the transportation charge to educational institutions as part of admission and the accommodation expenses, the students are compelled to spend an amount which is unbearable to them. Though these expenses might sound silly for many, it is very huge for these students hailing from the tribal families," said Lidiya.
"Considering the social and economic situation, the students should be given a grant to complete their admission procedures, this is our request in this regard," she added.
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