Essay plan to reduce school dropouts

Bangalore: A district collector in Kerala has launched an essay contest for tribal students that would see the winner spend a whole day with the officer for a first-hand experience of administrative work in a novel initiative aimed at reducing dropout rates.

The winner, Wayanad district collector Suhas S. said, would also get to attend all his meetings.

“My main aim is to provide children a glimpse of what they can achieve by staying in school and studying well,” Suhas told The Telegraph on Monday.

The winner’s day out with the collector on February 20 will come at a time many tribal children have been known to leave school to help their parents during the December-to-February harvesting season for coffee and pepper that grow abundantly in the picturesque hill district.

That also affects their studies ahead of the March-April annual exams.

“The dropout rate among children from tribal communities is alarmingly high at about 2.5 per cent against a very negligible overall dropout rate in Kerala,” Suhas said.

Tribal people account for about 1.5 lakh of the hill district’s 8.17 lakh population.

Under the Dropout-free Wayanad project, children will have to write an essay on what they would like to do on their day out with the collector and post them to his office.

The contest is open to only students of Class VII. The children can write the essay in their school, which would forward it to Suhas’s office, or even write at home.

“We plan to select some children based on the essay for a one-day leadership camp, with the best performer at the camp selected to work and travel with me throughout the day on February 20,” the officer said.

What if some elders wrote for those kids who were writing the essay at home?

It’s not difficult to make out, Suhas said, adding that such entries would be immediately rejected.

“Since good attendance is mandatory for selection, students will now have that much more reason to attend classes,” he added.

“It’s already yielding results. Within just a few days of launching the programme on February 1, we have seen up to 25 per cent reduction in dropouts.”

The officer’s schedule for the day will be packed with the maximum possible visits and appointments for the child winner to see how a collector works.

“I want the winner to get a glimpse of administrative work with the hope that it will trigger his imagination and interest to study and achieve,” Suhas said.

Suhas had on January 15 taken 32 tribal students for a Metro ride in Kochi, around 250km to the south. “The students were selected on the basis of excellence in studies and attendance,” he said.

The students also got to experience a boat ride and visits to a beach and the state’s biggest mall. More such plans are in the pipeline, with a possible aeroplane ride from nearby Kozhikode to Kochi for the best performing tribal students next year.

Irudaya Rajan, a professor with the Centre for Developmental Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, said the initiative was a model for an in-depth study. “It would be good if the impact is studied a year later to see how it has worked. If successful, it can be replicated elsewhere in the country where dropout rates are high even among non-tribal students.”

Tamil Nadu leader M.G. Ramachandran had launched the midday meal scheme to ensure better attendance, Rajan said. “Now every state has replicated it successfully.”


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