New Delhi: The government will launch a series of residential schools for students from the scheduled tribes (STs), in view of the social discrimination faced by tribal communities.
By 2022, every block with more than 50% ST population and at least 20,000 tribal persons will have an Ekalavya Model Residential School, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley said in his budget speech.
“The government is committed to providing the best quality education to the tribal children in their own environment...Economic and social advancement of hard working people of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes has received core attention of the government," Jaitley said. He said Ekalavya schools will be on par with Navodaya Vidyalayas (schools aimed at providing quality education to all students irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds) in India and will have special facilities for preserving local art and culture besides providing training in sports and skill development.
The 104.2 million Indians notified as STs, constitute 8.6% of the country’s total population and 11.3% of the total rural population. The literacy rates of STs has increased from 8.53% in 1961 to 58.96% in 2011. Despite the increase and despite the fact that the 2009 Right to Education Act makes it mandatory that all children between the ages of six and 14 be provided free and compulsory education, significant disparities exist in enrolment rates, drop-outs, across states, districts and blocks.
In the case of tribals, dropout rates are still very high – 35.6% in Classes I to V; 55% in Classes I to VIII; and 70.9% in Classes I to X in 2010-11, according to the Statistics Of School Education 2010-2011.
According to a 2014 UNICEF-sponsored South Asia regional study All Children in School by 2015, economic and socio-cultural factors are reasons behind the education deprivation for certain groups in India, especially SCs, STs and Muslims. “Poverty levels are very high in these three groups. The India Human Development Survey shows the incidence of poverty is highest among the STs (49.6%), followed by the SCs (32.3 per cent), and then the Muslims (30.6%)," the report says.
“Even compared to scheduled castes, STs are much more backward. They cannot compete with others....not even with the other marginalized communities...so it is important to make space and create doors for them to enter the domain of democratic benefits," says Badri Narayan, a professor and director at G.B. Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad.
But Raosaheb Kasbe, a former professor of political science at Savitribai Phule Pune University, says even though the move is in the right direction, the limits on which areas and with how much tribal population can benefit from these schools, might create difficulties.
“There are hardly any places where more than 50% are STs, unless those are predominantly tribal areas. These schools should be built wherever there is a tribal tehsil."
As part of the budget, the government has allotted Rs39,135 crore for STs and Rs56,619 crore for scheduled castes (SCs). Last year, in its revised estimates, the government had allotted Rs32,508 crore for STs and Rs52,719 crore for SCs.
The announcements come at a time when elections are set be held in the north-east states of Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram, which have high tribal populations.
The state of Tripura goes to polls on 18 February while Nagaland and Meghalaya go to polls on 27 February. Mizoram goes to polls at the end of the year. According to census 2011, Mizoram has the highest proportion of ST population at 94.5%. Nagaland and Meghalaya have a population of 86.5% and 86.1%, respectively, while ST population in Tripura accounts for 31.8%.
“Our government increased total earmarked allocation for SCs in 279 programmes from Rs34,334 crore in 2016-17 to Rs52,719 crore in RE (revised estimate) 2017-18. Likewise, for STs, earmarked allocation was increased from Rs21,811 crore in 2016-17 to Rs32,508 crore in RE 2017-18 in 305 programmes," Jaitley said.