It has been billed as a state with 100 per cent literacy. But people there know they had an unfinished task. Having actually reached an overall literacy rate of 93.94 per cent, Kerala has now embarked on a programme to bridge the small gap in its achievements by training illiterates among tribals, scheduled castes, transgenders and the migrant labour communities.
Stock-taking of the activities in the past two years of the Kerala State Literacy Mission Authority (KSLMA) revealed that 11,000 students—mostly from Wayanad and Palakkad districts—are at various levels of equivalency exams among the tribal community. There are also 5,300 migrant labourers, 2,000 from the scheduled castes and 145 transgenders whose literacy levels are now being raised.
“The main reasons for the programme to have got a good response was because the trainers (teachers) are drawn from these communities themselves, leading students to immediately correlate with them—the oldest of whom is a 90-year tribal woman in Wayanad,” said Director of KSLMA, PS Sreekala.
"We have 601 tribal teachers who are supporting us, besides retired teachers and colleges students. We have set out a timetable of 100 hours of classes where the basics of maths and Malayalam are taught to these illiterates and neo-literates. Our aim is to enable them to integrate themselves into the society, wherein they need not feel any sort of complex that they do not know to read or write," said Sreekala.
While the fee for the 100-hour classes till the equivalent 7th is free, students have to pay ₹1,950 to ₹2,250 from Class X and above. For SC/ST students it is fully free. With the scheme picking up, the respective local bodies are supporting the students by paying their fees.
Twenty-six-year-old Sunitha, who hails from a tribal settlement at Peringottukunnu in Wayanad district, said that she had just written the Class 4 equivalency test.
"Our son in the new academic year will be in Class 1 and I am happy that I can teach him to the best of my ability, from what I learned. Before I went for my classes I could not read, but now I am able to slowly read even a newspaper. I now want to attend classes for the next level. I wish to do it because then I will be able to at least guide our son," Sunitha said.
The KSLMA has been supported by successive state governments and for the current fiscal has been allocated ₹17 crore, up from ₹15.50 crore in the previous fiscal. Of this, ₹12 crore has been set aside for the literacy programme.
Speaking to IANS, PN Babu, the coordinator of the programme in Wayanad, said that it was a huge experience not just for students but also for the educators.
"There are around 2,975 tribal colonies here and we have touched 300 colonies where we got the students to attend the basic course in literacy. We held classes once a week and everyone who attended has carried the message back to their colonies. Hence, not only are we going to get more students from these colonies but are also starting classes in another 200 colonies," Babu added.
The state is well on its way to be truly called a literate one.