Part 1 of the Series

By D Dhanuraj and Rahul V Kumar[i]


Our idea in this series of two articles is to carefully examine the state of Kerala’s school education focusing on two districts Wayanad and Palakkad. We focus on the ST community to highlight certain conditions and suggest policy alternatives to deal with it.


Kerala’s educational achievements at the school level has been noticeable and praiseworthy compared to the rest of India. It was believed that our tryst with literacy has reached a point where we ought to be self-satisfied. The Economic Review (2013) showed that the state had 12,627 schools and 56 per cent of which were aided.Based on this complacency we have ascended on a higher platform to address second generation problems in school education. This is all well and good but alas these problems are perceived as technical in nature and cured with an expanding bureaucratic apparatus. Two decades after the state of Kerala was declared as completely literate our search should have focussed on understanding the various possibilities and potentials of education. The reforms should have been to unbridled these possibilities rather than tie them down wanting more technical improvements.

The Context

A few months back some figures from a study by Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA) was revealed in a newspaper article.[1] The study found that there were high dropout rates among tribal children in Wayanad and Palakkad districts. Unfortunately these figures were significantly high when compared to official findings by the state (at approximately 37 per cent). Economic Review 2013 puts the overall dropout rates at 1.05 per cent while for Scheduled Tribes (ST) students it was 3.71 per cent. The figures provided by KILA could have several implications. From the side of the students these implications could broadly be put in two categories:

  • That the students were unable to attend classes due to social or economic reasons or any other technical reasons which contribute to difficulty in accessing these schools.
  • That the students found it least interesting to attend classes in these schools.

A note on the two implications is important.

It is seen that in the case of Kerala the state policies have been to correct the first category of problems. This category is significant because it is preferred by the administration to expand their reach on particular communities. Providing more benefits to improve social, economic and technical facilities also expand the administration and bureaucracy and implies increasing cost towards funding these activities.

The second category of implications is mostly misunderstood by the state administration. They take it to mean that schools and infrastructure should be modified to attract students. Hence smart class rooms, midday meals, providing accessories like bags and umbrellas etc. have been attempted to attract students.

Now to understand the implications of these state led efforts let us look at the two districts highlighted in KILA study. The authors of this article were fortunate enough to visit and consult several schools and experts working in the area to understand the nature of the problem confronting them.

Wayanad and Palakkad

Official estimates given in the Economic Review show that both these district face a relatively higher dropout rate compared to the rest of Kerala. These numbers however remain particularly high for the ST category. Both these districts also have higher ST enrolments compared to the rest of the state.This also meant that efforts by the state and related institutions to improve the conditions of these communities were very high in these two districts.

The case of Wayanad is particularly important considering that the enrolment of ST students are the highest in this district.In government schools in Wayanad ST dropout rates are as high as 5.34 per cent while in aided schools these figures are 3.32 per cent. Does this mean that more and more corrective measures by the state has improved the scene in these districts? If not does it imply that the existing strategy might have been misdirected? A re-examination was worth to understand these question.

The authors did a sample survey of schools in these districts to understand the true nature and causes of the issue of dropouts among different category of students belonging to traditionally vulnerable communities. Interestingly we found that the official figures could be masking certain important trends. We note some observations from our research.

  • While overall figures of students from the ST communities show dropout rates close to 7 per cent, we note that the trend is not same across classes/grades.Lower primary level and higher secondary levels have high dropout figures for ST students. For instance dropout among ST boys in class 1 in Wayanad is approximately 8 per cent. In class XI it increased to 18 per cent.
  • In the case of Palakkad it is even more striking. In class 1, 15 per cent of ST boys and 6 per cent of ST girls dropout. In class II, again another 6 per cent of ST boys dropout. That is in lower primary sections a large part of the enrolled students, especially boys, in ST community dropouts. It was also worth noticing that 15 per cent of the ST girls dropped out in Class VIII.
  • We saw that there are specific schools which contribute to this high figures in both Palakkad and Wayanad. Selected schools in Munderkarad, Pampampallam and Naikara in Palakkad were noted for the high dropout rates.
  • Administrative compulsions and stricter norms have also created space for cheating the system. School authorities are compelled to create a situation of full enrolment. As a result while several students are nominally enrolled, many of them are actually absent. We were informed of cases where spot admissions were practiced on the fifth working day in schools. Teachers visit ST colonies and add names of potential students to the roll list. However many of these students never find their way to schools.

We talked with expert groups and head of institutions to understand why these conditions exist. Most of these discussions provided biased observations which blamed particular communities of ‘not understanding the benefits’ of education; or pointed towards instances where transport was limited etc. Sometimes it was also highlighted that there were social and cultural hurdles to bringing these students to school. Child labour, child marriages and so on, stages which Kerala had supposedly overcome were allegedly prevalent among these communities.

In the next part of this article, we try to critically reason out that these factors and blame games might be hiding the true reasons and issues facing Kerala’s primary education sector. Rather than picturing the problem of inability to bring a community to the school, we try to ask if the state administration is being obstinate in sticking on to what it believes is good for the others. Our view is that schooling and education has to shift to a higher trajectory and move past traditionally accepted views.



 This Article is reproduced from Pallikoodam magazine published by Rajagiri Group


[1]Saritha S Balan, “School Dropout rates among Tribals Remains High”, The New Indian Express, 3 May 2014,

[i]D. Dhanuraj is the Chairman for Centre for Public Policy Research and Rahul V Kumar is the Director (Research)for Centre for Public Policy Research

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