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Special Supplement on Development

7

A Tale of Two Schools

Rural

A privately-run school in Rayalpadu village bears testimony to why public education in India is foundering, says Parimal Vijay S. S.

T

he freshly white washed walls fail to brighten the singleroom house lit by an oil lamp placed in front of a picture of Lord Ganesha. Gnanamba combs her children’s hair as she gets her two boys ready for school. She collects the green fodder strewn on the mud floor of the house. It will feed the family’s two cows, whose milk fetches them Rs 100 a day. “There is no earning, the money is just enough to pay for what we need,” says Buchi Reddy, the children’s father who’s leaving to work on the family’s Ragi fields near the village of Rayalpadu in Srinivaspur Taluk. The elder son Munish studies in the Ashraya Neelbagh School while the younger son Chandan attends the Rayalpadu government high school. Neelbagh School was founded in 1972 by British national David Horsburgh six kilometres from Rayalpadu. He established as an informal school for children of different

ages, teaching each other and learning together in the process. Under the management of the Ashraya Foundation, it is now a Kannada medium school and follows the state government syllabus. The classrooms are openair cottages, with red brick walls and sloping roofs made of terracotta tiles. The library houses over 12,000 books including Horsburg’s personal collection of over 7,000 titles, which range from Ernest Hemmingway’s novels to a 21volume Encyclopedia Britannica. “The students sit on the floor and study; they should feel like they are at home” says school principal Ramesh. Classes are conducted for students from first class to tenth class, with not more than 20 students in each class. There are 20 teachers with 1 teacher for every 15 students. The school collects Rs 60 as tuition fees a year while it spends up to Rs 15,000 a student in a year. Volunteers from around the world come here to teach

the children. “The children are very grateful that they can be here, so it’s easier to work with them than with European children who get education for free and are not grateful for it,” says Yana, a volunteer from Slovakia. The curriculum includes dance and music classes. There is a small apiary where the children learn to tend bees. “We can work in the tailoring factories in Bangalore,” says Radhika, a student learning tailoring. The electrical workshop had a dishwasher in the process of being re-assembled. Children are also taught craftwork, including carpentry, pottery, making papiermâché toys, woodcarving. The products are sold in Bangalore. “We have no dropouts; once they join they leave only after the tenth,” says Ramesh. The government high school that Chandan attends is located beside the main road leading into town, its concrete buildings in a state of complete disrepair with walls covered in graffiti. Classes are

held from the eight to tenth standard and the state syllabus is taught in Kannada. It has 389 students and 10 teachers, or one teacher for every 38 students. “There is a shortage of teachers, with some teaching more than one subject,” says Ganesh, the English teacher. With over 100 children crowded into each class, he says, “We cannot give them individual care.” The school collects fees of Rs 160 fees per student every year but spends up to Rs 3,000 on each. The school does not receive money under the government’s Sarva Shikshya Abhyan programme as it is not a primary school. The dropout rate here is high. The two schools present a sharp contrast in their approach to education, in the quality and range of instruction and in the motivation of their teaching staff. Both are in the same village but, by any measure, they could exist on different planets.

“We have no dropouts; once they join they leave only after the tenth,” says school principal Ramesh

“With over 100 children crowded into each class, he says, “We cannot give them individual care,” says English teacher Ganesh

The Soliga tribals are particularly prone to a genetic disorder that prompt treatment can ameliorate and education can prevent, says Shravana Kumar S

L

ike many poor tribal communities the Soligas of Yelandur, a small taluk in Karnataka, suffer from a variety of health problems on account of poor nutrition and health care. But they are uniquely unfortunate in that almost 1,800 of the 2,500 strong community suffer from a genetic disorder called sickle cell anaemia. Sickle cell anaemia manifests with the appearance of a number of red blood cells with a peculiar sickle shape in the blood. These sickleshaped cells lack the manoeuverability of normal haemoglobin-carrying cells while navigating the smaller blood vessels and capillaries. They thus tend to have a shorter life span. The lack of red blood cells leads to anaemia and the reduced delivery of oxygen to the cells. Moreover, when sickle-shaped cells clog the blood stream it could lead to other complications, in some case severe distress. The symptoms of this genetic disorder are anaemia, bulky liver, greenish yellow complexion and severe body ache and joints pain. Says Jadeyappa, 42, “This disease has migrated to us from our ancestors. I am a sickle cell patient, I normally get body ache, yesterday I had a lot of pain in my right hand and I had been to the hospital got a tablet for it. Both of my daughters are sickle cell patients, and do not care about it because thinking about it every time itself causes another disease. Death is fate, we cannot help it.” According to researchers at the Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK), an NGO which works with the Soligas, the disorder was first detected among African tribes who had a significantly low susceptibility to Malaria caused by plasmodium falciparum and it was thought to have probably evolved as an adaption against the high morality caused by the bacterium. It occurs in a mild (heterozygous or AS) and a severe (homozygous or SS) form. In the severe form, the individual may die very young. There is no cure for this genetic disorder, but it can be controlled by consuming foods rich in

folic acids like Jamun (Syzigium sp), and green leafy vegetables. In addition, folic acid tablets are a must for those who have this disorder. A longer term solution is by preventing the disorder from being passed from one generation to the next. A Soliga who has the genetic disease must not marry another Soliga who has the same genetic disorder. But even here here is no certainty that the offspring will have immunity. Chances are that when a Soliga who has tested positive SS marries a person who does not suffer from the disorder, their offspring could be born with sickle cell anaemia. “To prevent this genetic disease being transferred to the future generation a test is a must before marriage, but many Soligas refuse to get tested and marry. Hence the new born baby is affected by this genetic disease,” says Nangegowda.C, who conducts the sickle cell test at VGKK. He says there are no awareness programmes to encourage tribals to help reduce the risk. A mobile medical unit visits all 10 Soliga podus (or tribal villages) in the taluk to check their health as very few Soligas come for regular checkup & treatment at the primary health centre. As a result of these irregular check ups, the patient often reaches a critical state. Twelve year old Anand, son of Nagaraju of Kenneri colony, who was diagnosed as an SS case at birt died recently. Madesh, son of Madegowda of Kenneri colony, also died due to sickle cell anaemia. “Madesh was my elder brother; he was admitted to the Kendra hospital. He was in critical stage, I was with him, he called me to give him water and he died. He suffered from acute body ache,” says his sister Prema. Madhamma, another SS patient says, “Doctors identified me as a positive case during test and since I always have body ache, more pain in my neck as well as in both of the legs. It is more during the winter season, where I cannot tolerate the pain. My children are also sickle cell patients.” Says Hanumaiah Gowda of Muttuganagadde Podu, “In rainy season I get cold,

headache, body ache, fever. I cannot walk a distance. So I prepare my own medicine, like Chirahonne leaves and crush them and apply the liquid to the legs. The pain gets cured, I have belief in it. The same applies to other body pain also; there are some particular leaves for it. We tribals trust in God, and if it doesn’t get cured we go to the doctor.” Ayurvedic doctor Jayashree.B agrees that the tribal medicine works. But she adds, “Vegetable diet, food like palak (spinach) which has more iron content, and liquids like sugarcane juice should be consumed. Metallic preparations are must, especially those produced by metals like copper; Dathriloha, which controls anaemia. They should be warm enough in winter season. For bodyache, and joint pain nirgundi taila is must.” Doctor Ganesh, a surgeon based in Yealandur says that the problem is almost entirely confined to the Soligas. “It is genetic linked disease, it’s only found in the tribal population, it’s not found in the non-tribals,” he says. “Since tribals rarely marry non-tribals, we have not come across any such cases in the general population. The NGOs are concentrating on this issue. There is a problem in reaching the tribals in the deep forest areas and also they have to get government permission to treat them. Since sickle cell anaemia requires a special test and we do not have the right equipment, we can’t treat sickle cell patients in the government hospital. We just advice them to consume food with iron content and to take folic acid tablets.” Doctor Vinutha who treats the disorder complains that “Very few tribals come for a regular check up as a result of which it reaches a critical level. If SS is identified in 12 to 13 year old children, heart failure is likely due to less blood flow. They should have routine treatment once in three months after a haemoglobin test, and they should not delay it. If they do not consult a doctor and if they are anaemic, death is more or less certain before the age of 30.”

The curse of the sickle  

The Soliga tribals are particularly prone to a genetic disorder that prompt treatment can ameliorate and education can prevent, says Shravan...

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