Adi Shakti Summer School lends a hand to tribal children

Project aimed at supporting higher education of students

Akhita, 21, who hails from a Paniya tribal hamlet at Mundari, Wayanad, had always dreamt of becoming an archaeologist. However, she lacked information about how to find a suitable programme or navigate the application process. She contacted the Adi Shakthi Summer School, and did not let information asymmetry and digital divide clip her dreams.

Akhita currently pursues M.A. Archaeology at the Kariavattom campus of the Kerala University.

The Adi Shakti Summer School, a collective of Adivasi and Dalit youths under the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha (AGMS), is aimed at supporting the higher education of Adivasi-Dalit students, especially school drop-outs, and it could provide admission guidance to nearly 2,500 students since its inception in 2014, says M. Geethanandan, State coordinator of the collective. These students belong to marginalised communities such as Paniya, Adiya, Kattunaika, Kurumba, Kadar, Muthuvan, and Vedar sects in various parts of the State, Mr. Geethanandan said.

Adi Shakthi has also extended financial support, hostel facilities and mentorship to the students. Over the years, the collective’s efforts have received wide attention. The Scheduled Tribe Development Department recently modelled its “Gothraprabha” project based on Adi Shakthi.

However, the Gothraprabha is limited to the organisation of orientation classes and data collection of tribal students who have completed Plus Two. Moreover, the project does not cater to tribal students outside Wayanad, said Manikandan, a coordinator of the organisation.

The difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in the admission processes prompted Adi Shakthi to start a helpdesk in May 2020 to provide remote support to Adivasi-Dalit students. The helpdesk volunteers contacted more than 1,000 students. Of these, 680 students said they needed guidance. Over the past year, more than 300 volunteers have worked with Adi Shakthi and the majority of them are from the tribal sector.However, the initiative has faced several challenges. One of them was contacting students and Scheduled Tribe promoters in remote forest areas and hilly regions such as Idukki. The inability of some students to state their subject choices made communication tricky. The students also found it difficult to procure transfer certificates and community certificates during the pandemic. Three students from Attappady missed applying to Mahatma Gandhi University as they were unable to produce their community certificates in time. Further, many university websites are not user-friendly, said A. Rajani, a coordinator of the organisation.

A further challenge is the insufficient number of reserved seats for tribal students in Wayanad, which discourages many from applying for higher education in the first place, she said. The help desk has started functioning for the 2021-22 academic year and students may contact the numbers: 7510458663 8075803118, 9061846926 and 9446425830.

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