RTE only on paper for these kids

COIMBATORE: While the government splurges crores of rupees promising education for all, there are several children in tribal villages who remain illiterate simply because there is no educational facility in their area. Although it is mandatory to have a government primary school for every kilometre in villages, there are 4,500 children in 28 forest villages inside the Sathyamangalam-Bargur hill range who are illiterate because of lack of schools in their vicinity. The problem lies with forest authorities who refuse to approve the construction of schools, citing tiger reserve status of the wild life sanctuary.
Children in these villages refuse to walk six to nine km a day to reach the nearest school as the roads pass through dense forests where they may come face to face with a wild animal. Consequently, Sathyamangalam, Thalavady, Anthiyur, Ammapettai and Nambiyur regions are the most educationally backward areas in the state. While schools have been sanctioned in Kadambur, Thalavady and Hassanur, under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan scheme, they have failed to begin operations because of opposition from the forest department.
Recently, Bhavani Sagar MLA P S Sundaram led a group of residents in repairing a village road leading to a primary school, defying the ban imposed by the forest department. During the first week of September, a group of tribal children from Vilamkombai forest village met Erode district collector Dr V K Shanmugam, seeking release of their school van which had been seized by transport authorities for violations.
The van was the only mode of transport available for these children to reach their school at Vinobha Nagar in Kongarapalayam. For the last three years, the van took them through a 12-km stretch through forest area daily. The presence of wild animals on the stretch meant that the children could not walk or cycle to school. It was the forest department that gave the village the van three years ago to enable children to get an education. A local youth who knew driving was entrusted with the task of driving the children to school and back daily. However, two months ago the RTA seized the van because the owner had not paid road tax or insurance. The collector eventually made alternative arrangements for the children but the episode indicates how difficult it is for children in forest areas to get an education.
Education activist N Nataraj, who works with the NGO Sudar, said that the RTE Act is not being implemented consistently in Erode. "The Act ensures free and compulsory education to all children, but the hill regions remain devoid of schools because of sheer apathy of the department. Children in remote areas must also be given the opportunity to study," he added. "Many children who are denied primary education now go to Kerala and take up coolie jobs. Others work in brick kilns and sugarcane fields in Coimbatore,'' said B Gunasekaharan, a tribal leader.
One third of Erode district is hill region. As the government has withdrawn the hill area allowance for teachers working in the hills, even villages with schools find it difficult to hire teachers. The government must immediately take care of the educational needs of the region,'' said Murali Kasinath, project manager of Aide et Action South Asia in Sathyamangalam.