Tamil Nadu’s Education At Doorstep scheme ‘tailor-made for state’

Political parties have cast doubts over the 'Illam Thedi Kalvi' teaching initiative, but experts allay fears.

The six-month long scheme will be implemented in 12 districts initially, and from November 15, across the state.

Amid doubts raised by various political parties, the Tamil Nadu government on October 27 launched the ‘Illam Thedi Kalvi’ (Education At Doorstep) scheme, meant to fill up learning gaps among school students due to COVID-induced lockdowns.

Though the state has introduced the scheme – at an outlay of Rs 200 crore – with good intent, there is confusion among educationists about whether it is a central or state government scheme.

It is claimed that ‘Illam Thedi Kalvi’ has been launched under the Union government’s Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan project but funded by the state government.

The six-month long scheme will be implemented in 12 districts initially, and from November 15, across the state. The scheme will engage volunteer teachers who are more than 17 years of age and have completed schooling or graduation. The volunteers will spend one hour daily for six days a week holding classes that will be conducted in common places such as community halls in villages.


But what is the need for such a scheme, when Tamil Nadu has planned to reopen schools from November 1? What kind of contribution can these volunteers make? Is there a hidden agenda behind it, as alleged by the Dravidar Kazhagam, parent body of the DMK, and other political parties?

‘Will have negative impact’

PB Prince Gajendra Babu, general secretary, State Platform for Common School System, was disapproving of such informal schooling schemes.

“When the revised budget estimate was tabled in August, the state had no plans to reopen schools. It was uncertain. It was then the finance minister said that in order to enhance the learning skills of students, who were suffering due to the closure of schools, a scheme would be launched. On September 30, ‘Illam Thedi Kalvi’ was introduced. On October 1, during the review meeting with officials including the health department, it was decided to open schools from November 1. So now the focus will be on reopening the schools. But the government, without revisiting the scheme, has launched it now,” said Babu.

Initially, the scheme was named as ‘Makkal Palli Thittam’ and when it was launched it was renamed as ‘Illam Thedi Kalvi’. But the content remains the same, he added.

According to Babu, such schooling schemes are not good for society. “There are about 34 lakh children (both school-going and school dropouts) in the state and about 1.70 lakh volunteers are going to teach them. In six months, with a honorarium of just Rs 1,000 the volunteers are expected to teach writing, reading and calculations. Each volunteer will teach about 20 students from Class 1 to Class 8. The role of the teachers will be to monitor the volunteers. This will have a negative impact on society,” he said, adding that in a society deeply divided on caste and economic conditions, people will get dependent on such schemes instead of sending their children to formal schools.

“Can’t the volunteers come to schools and engage students in learning activities? What can they teach in one hour when teachers teach in a five-hour class?” Babu asked.

‘Tailor-made for TN’

Educational activist and writer Aysha R Natarajan pointed out that ‘Illam Thedi Kalvi’, though a Union government scheme, has been tailor-made for Tamil Nadu by officials in the school education department.

“The Union government has created the scheme with some other agenda. But the state government has made the scheme such that unemployed educated youth and folk artists who lost their livelihoods in this pandemic get a chance to contribute to a common good. It is wrong to expect that children will come to schools once they are reopened. In many villages, children have started to assist their parents in their occupations and have become child labourers. So in order to bring them back to schools, this scheme will be useful,” Natarajan said.

The scheme further involves district collectors, chief education officers, district education officers, block education officers, etc. who travel to villages and urban areas and bring people together through dance and skits. They then create awareness about the importance of education and also talk about COVID precautions. They further classify children as school-going, school dropouts and non-school-goers. The next day, while the school-going children are given some extra coaching, steps are taken to bring the dropouts and non-school goers to schools, Natarajan explained.

“This scheme will be a boon to students who have dyslexia, lack knowledge in calculations and lag behind in reading and writing. We can know the positives and negatives of the scheme only when it gets implemented. Even before implementing it, it is wrong to name it as a ‘right wing agenda’. When the need of the scheme is attained, such as children start coming to school regularly, it can be stopped. Above all, it needs proper monitoring,” Natarajan said.

‘It will recover the basics’

PK Ilamaran, state president of Tamil Nadu Teachers Association, emphasised the positive aspect of the Education At Doorstep scheme – it will help reinforce the basics.

“No lessons have been held for students of Classes 1 to 8 for the last 18 months. Now, students who studied in Class 1 are in Class 3 and those who studied in Class 6 are in Class 8. When schools are reopened from November 1, teachers will hurry to complete the syllabus. At that time, it will be hard for them to brush up the students’ basics again. This is where the scheme will be helpful,” Ilamaran said.

It is expected that the volunteers will fill up learning gaps by teaching the basics such as maths calculations, reading and writing. “More importantly, they will create a mood among students and their parents such that they return to school. It’s like a kind of tuition, which addresses the learning paralyses,” he explained.

According to Ilamaran, there is no link between the scheme and the New Education Policy (NEP). “In NEP, volunteers are allowed to teach children inside schools, which we oppose. In this scheme, they will teach only the basics and not the full subjects,” Ilamaran added, questioning that “if the teachers are asked to teach the basics again, who will complete the syllabus then?”

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