“Gooood mooorning Saar,” a bunch of 40-odd children wailed as we entered one of the classrooms at the Government Middle School at Kodakarai, a cluster of villages deep inside the Ayyur Reserve Forest in Tamil Nadu’s Krishnagiri district.
Nestled inside the hills of Krishnagiri, to reach Kodakarai is to drive up from Denganikottai, the taluk (sub district) headquarters 33 kilometres away, cross the forest check post after 20 kilometres and take a kucha road for the last 10 kilometres of the stretch. Any semblance of basic medical or other essential services are available only at the taluk headquarters. I was here on 19 January, to observe the effectiveness of the Right to Education Act (RTE) in this remote region and how education was changing these village hamlets.
While a horde of children is not an uncommon sight in any school, it is only in the last five years that Kodakarai’s children have a middle school to go to, as opposed to having to commute the distance to the taluk headquarters on a daily basis.
In the last five years, through proactive implementation of the RTE with a little help from two NGOs, the Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW) and Nanhi Kali (an organisation that provides primary education to underprivileged girl children in India) and land donated by villagers free of cost for setting up the school. Kodakarai now boasts of a middle school that goes up to class eight as well as a newly opened primary school a few hundred metres away.
While these may seem like minor improvements for a state which boasts a literacy rate of 80.33 percent, this is still a giant step for this tribal cluster of villages where any kind of formal education was only a dream. The school has been running since 2011. Prior to that 2011, classes did not extend beyond the fifth standard and one had to travel far to study further. There is no documentation for how many actually did attend the school, but there could not have been many, considering the difficulty in doing so.