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Tribal children get help to bridge India's education gap

Authorities mull online schooling program for students in disadvantaged tribal areas

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Tribal children get help to bridge India's education gap

A school run by Jhansi Diocese in Uttar Pradesh for poor village children. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)

India's federal government is considering a mechanism to address the lack of online classes among tribal students who lag behind others in education.

Arjun Munda, minister for tribal affairs, said due to the coronavirus pandemic the government has started a new system of online classes that has widened the education gap for children in tribal-dominated areas.

“We will soon build a response mechanism to address the issue and start an online education program for areas which are lagging behind,” Munda said at the virtual inauguration of the e-portal on tribal health and nutrition on Aug. 17.

“Our department is consulting the government-run eklavya model residential school (EMRS) scheme on how to start the process in an effective way.”

The EMRS scheme for tribal children across India was introduced in 1997 to ensure tribal students get access to quality education in remote areas.

It was set up in states and union territories with federal government grants. As per the 2018-19 budget, every block with a tribal population of more than 50 percent and at least 20,000 tribal persons will have an EMRS by 2022.

The government gives a one-time grant of 3 million rupees (US$40,000) to establish the school, with up to 3 million rupees per school annually thereafter while additional costs are borne by state and union territory governments.

The federal government sanctioned 284 EMRS schools in 2018 with a maximum of 32 approved in Madhya Pradesh, according to government officials.

There are 226 EMRS schools across the country, with 68 affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education.

After the contagion hit India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24, forcing schools and other educational institutions to begin online classes from the first week of June.

However, students, particularly in villages, have complained of the inability to attend such classes as they lack computers, mobile phones or even electricity.

Education in India has become a challenge for millions of students after the federal government decided not to reopen schools until August as the country struggles to stem the fast-spreading pandemic.

An estimated 330 million students, 100 million in universities, have not attended institutions since March after the lockdown was implemented.

“Education is at a critical period due to the pandemic, but given the circumstances the government is doing the best possible and it is well appreciated,” T.K. Oommen, an educationist and former professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, told UCA News.

“The government arranging online classes for tribals is a welcome step, but it is a huge task as they are mostly in remote villages that lack basic facilities like roads and electricity.

“At least the government has some infrastructure like EMRS. It will be good if they can reach tribals through this project as several states have this method of education in tribal-dominated areas.” 

Father Nicholas Barla, secretary of the Indian bishops' Commission for Tribal Affairs, told UCA News that the education of tribal children during the pandemic is a matter of great concern because there are several related issues, primarily their socioeconomic conditions.

“Tribal children already have problems attending ERMS due to poverty, lack of access and the economic condition of the families. I’m afraid online classes may lead to a rise in dropout rates”, he said.

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