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In pursuit of social justice

Chief Minister M.K. Stalin at the launch of the Illam Thedi Kalvi (Education at the Doorsteps) scheme in Villupuram on October 27, 2021.  

The recently launched educational programme of the Tamil Nadu government, Illam Thedi Kalvi (Education at the Doorsteps), triggered mixed reactions. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government launched this programme as it recognises the pandemic-induced gap in learning among schoolchildren. The lockdown disempowered children from the marginalised sections as they did not have access to technology-driven pedagogical methods as the privileged did. Many who find online teaching convenient and safe fail to recognise this class bias. The expensive nature of online teaching pushed a large number of underprivileged children out of the education system. The lockdown thus accentuated the asymmetrical structure of the school system.

Objectives of the programme

Many incentives provided by the state, including free textbooks, free uniforms, free bicycles and nutritious mid-day meals, were unavailable to children of vulnerable sections during the lockdown. Their parents’ loss of livelihood compelled these children to drop out of school and resulted in increasing cases of child labour. This crisis steadily began to wreck a celebrated political value in Tamil Nadu and an enduring legacy of the Dravidian movement — social justice. Launching this programme is the government’s attempt to achieve social justice.

 

This policy will be implemented by volunteers first in 12 districts. It will be launched in other districts when the results from the 12 districts are positive. Some 68,000 of the 86,000 volunteers are women. This is quite encouraging as it could allay fears about the safety of female students and encourage them to participate in the programme. Otherwise, many may be compelled to become child labourers or domestic help. Allotting ₹200 crore for the programme is a welcome move especially since the Union government slashed the total education budget this year.

Though Tamil Nadu is among the most literate States, learning outcomes in have been a cause of concern. Nearly 59% of Class 5 students and 89% of Class 3 students were unable to read a Class 2-level textbook

in rural Tamil Nadu, according to the Annual Status of Educational Report (2018). Tamil Nadu got the lowest score among the southern States in ‘learning outcomes and quality’ in the Performance Grading Index of the Union Education Ministry. Keeping these facts in mind, volunteers of this programme intend to improve learning outcomes. The idea is to do this outside school hours and away from the school premises in a comfortable and easily accessible location close to the child’s home. The volunteers will teach an estimated 34.05 lakh children in the 5-13 age group in 93,000 neighbourhoods for 60 to 90 minutes between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Volunteers who have completed Class 12 will impart lessons for children of Classes 1-5 and graduates will teach children from Classes 6-8. They will refer to textbooks prepared by the State textbook council. Creative pedagogical initiatives including activity-based learning will ensure positive outcomes.

 

Towards Paulo Freire’s vision

It is commendable that experienced teachers and civic and education department officials will be monitoring the progress of the students at the district and block levels. By providing a concrete role to school management committees and community development activists, the programme is turning learning into a social engagement. The fact that a volunteer who has completed Class 12 becomes an instructor will challenge the inherent power dynamics between teachers and students. When young volunteers impart lessons creatively in an unconventional atmosphere, the possibility of better learning outcomes is higher. This also gives children an opportunity to develop a critical understanding of their social reality. This will enhance their self-respect and help them probe the reasons for oppression and injustice. This programme is an example of Paulo Freire’s vision through ‘conscientization’.

Also read | Stalin allays apprehensions over ‘Illam Thedi Kalvi’

A few allies of the DMK say that there is a possibility of communal elements using the programme for their own interests. However, this well-thought-out programme will prevent regressive political elements from usurping it. But having said that, there should be strong and credible institutional mechanisms to prevent any violation of girl children’s dignity as classes are going to be conducted outside the school premises by volunteers whose antecedents are not fully known to the parents and children. Though the large participation of women volunteers will dispel this fear, critiques could use this point to dent the programme’s success.

Puhazh Gandhi P. is Advocate and State Joint Secretary, NRI Wing, DMK, and Executive Coordinator, Dravidian Professionals Forum; R. Thirunavukkarasu teaches Sociology at the University of Hyderabad


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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 5:47:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/in-pursuit-of-social-justice/article37743350.ece

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