As elsewhere in the country, their schools have remained shut since the previous academic year. But that has not stopped these kids from enjoying a morning ride on a school bus and having fun in the classrooms, before returning home a few hours later
Since the previous academic year, about 23 students, who belong to the Malampandaram tribe in the Sabarimala forests, have been dependent on this school bus service to attend their daily classes. The service, operated by by the Government Tribal LP School in Attathodu, transports these kids to an Anganwadi here, which now serves as a study centre.
According to S.S. Sudheer, Tribal Development Officer, Pathanamthitta, the service reaches out to students from the Palappally – Chalakkayam stretch, who face great difficulty in accessing the virtual classes by the state. “Considering their location inside the forests and nomadic character, most of these families do not have even access to power supply, let alone internet or the devices to attend these classes. For the time being, offering daily transportation is the only option that we have”, pointed out the official.
The entire cost of running the bus including the driver’s wages are met by the Tribal Welfare Department through the Gothra Saradhi Scheme.
The school bus, parked at the Nilackal fuel station en route to Sabarimala, commences its regular operation with a morning trip to pick up the students from Plappally at 8.45. After dropping them at the study centre, the bus then proceeds to Chalakkayam and transports the remaining group of kids.
At the study centre, the classes begin at 10 a.m and the students, ranging from class II to class VII attend the virtual classes broadcast through the KITE Victers channel and are also assisted by teachers. “The classes conclude by the afternoon and the return trip starts by 12.45 as some of these students have to walk about 1.5 kilometres through the forests to reach home”, said Manoj Philip, former headmaster of the Tribal School, who coordinated the initiative till two weeks ago.
Vinod C.K., the school bus driver, said the service covered a total distance of 100 kilometres on both directions including the return trip . “The service, which has been cancelled since two weeks following a spurt in COVID-19 cases at Chalakkayam, will resume next week”, he said.
The Ranni- Perunad Panchayat, which is entrusted to ensure power supply and internet connection at the study centre, has also set aside funds for providing breakfast and lunch to the students.
Meanwhile, the authorities have kick started efforts to open a study centre at Plappally as the tribals in Chalakkayam have begun relocating to this area. Efforts are now on to find out qualified teachers to run the centre, besides strengthening the internet signal around the region.
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