The pristine forests that envelop Wayanad are indeed one of the most idyllic locations in the country and have been mesmerising scores of tourists and vacationers who throng to the district every year.
However, what most people remain unaware of, is the fact that the district is also home to many tribal communities which exist in isolation from the precinct of modern civilisations, and some of them are still categorised as primitive.
In the early 1950s, a number of schools were set up for children belonging to the tribal communities, as part of various intensive initiatives chalked down by the state government towards the upliftment of the tribal population in the district.
Despite the presence of many such schools in the region, a steep rise in the number of student dropouts has been observed over the decades, especially before the kids finish their high school education.
To understand why children from tribal communities were continually dropping out of schools and how this persistent issue could be tackled, the district collector of Wayanad has taken it upon himself and his administration to find a solution.
Suhas Shivanna is an IAS officer from the 2012 batch, who became the 30th collector of the district last year and has ever since, been making waves across the state for many of his innovative and developmental initiatives for the tribal communities in the district.
But the large number of students dropping out of school and thin attendance had been unsettling Suhas, particularly those from primitive communities like Paniya, Adiya, Kattunayikka, Cholanayikka, Erali, and Kuruma tribes.
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“The numbers were already out there, but we needed to understand the range of the problem. We constituted a team comprising both education department and tribal affairs nodal officers to monitor these schools and collate reports. What we uncovered was that most dropouts occurred between the classes 7-10,” says Suhas to The Better India.
He further explained that one of the primary reasons why children dropped out was not out of disinterest but to earn some additional income by working on various estates and plantations spread across the district to support their households.
Which was why he initiated a trip in January last year where tribal children were promised a ride in the newly launched Kochi Metro.
“The time I chose was crucial because this was the time when the harvesting season at the estates began. The owners also show no qualms, because employing children in the plantations means cheap labour. The only clause that I had added was that students with good attendance and academic performance would be taken for the trip,” Suhas shares.
The innovative idea bore fruitful results for as many as 31 students had the time of their lives as they boarded the Metro. “It may not be a big thing for city or town dwellers, but for children from tribal communities, the experience was first of its kind—something that they would never forget. The impact that I’d aimed out of this was to rekindle interest amongst the children towards education through such incentives,” he proudly says.
Now the collector has kickstarted a new programme, ‘A day with the Collector’, under which one child would get the opportunity to spend the entire day with Suhas and be part of every official undertaking along with the top administrative head of the district in close quarters.
“Only students of Class 7 would be part of the initiative as we found that maximum dropouts occurred in this grade through our research,” clarified Suhas.
The programme is being carried forth in a two-pronged manner, which includes an essay competition upon the titular topic along with a one-day leadership-training programme.
While the essay competition is slated for 15 February, the collector specifically mentioned that the training programme would be held on the following weekend so that the students don’t miss their classes.
The children can participate in both the events and the student who would be finally selected for the programme scheduled for February 20, would be judged upon his or her overall performance.
“Through this, what I envision is to boost not just self-confidence amidst the students but also draw upon these kids what opportunities could education bring to change their circumstances. My family hails from an agrarian background and everything I am today is because my father, who served in the Indian Forest Services, gave utmost importance to the cause of education and so do I,” he adds.
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It is quite inspiring to see such a young person dedicatedly formulating novel initiatives with the only aim of leading some of the most downtrodden communities in Wayanad towards a better tomorrow.
A salute to IAS officers like Suhas, who give us hope that the future of our country is in responsible, and more importantly, considerate reins.
To know more about the various initiatives undertaken by the Wayanad District Administration, you can follow their Facebook page.