Ladders to Literacy – The New Indian Express

Express news service

CHENNAI: Kalaivani Karuppaya, 17, a medical aspirant from Dindigul district, smiles grimly as she accepts our WhatsApp video call. “Tension ah iruku akka,” said the first-generation learner, days before the Tamil Nadu assembly passed a bill allowing medical admissions without the National Entrance Eligibility Test (NEET). “I saw my mother working hard day and night on construction sites and households to provide me with an education. She had no support… What support can one expect from an alcoholic father or from a family who denied the woman (my mother) because of the toxic behavior of the man? I have no doubts that I will become one of the best doctors in the country.

But to get there, I just have to overcome these obstacles. Thandiduven akka (I will overcome them), ”she said. In the background, on the cracked wall of her house, a photograph of a face familiar to those in the state and elsewhere hangs with a garland of jasmine around it. “Anita akka had hopes for a bright future, but her dreams came to an end too soon. For the past three years, I have prayed to her when I needed strength. She is the face of the state’s anti-NEET agitation.

Although she is a foreigner, she is a beacon of hope for me and for many first generation learners like me. Enakku avange kadavul (She is my god). I’m going to make her proud, ”she said. “I’m going to make my degree count. I will give back to society, ”she adds. Just over two weeks ago, people around the world celebrated International Literacy Day, opening dialogues on the importance of literacy as an issue of dignity and human rights for a sustainable society. . While the state’s literacy rate is above the national average of 74.04 percent, the hardships that first-generation learners like Kalaivani face in their journey to graduate and find employment opportunities remain. a battle against thick and thin. But ushering in a new era of hope, retreating from generational cycles of poverty and illiteracy, many of the state’s residents have stepped out of the wobbly tunnel to a place of abundant light.

Powered by resilience
“When I was a child, I remember my father engaged in cultivation. But since that couldn’t provide enough money to educate my brother and I, he moved to Chennai and took a job at a chemicals trading company that paid him £ 1,500 per month. He enrolled us in a private high school. Our life has been shaped by his resilience, ”says Yeshwanth, a first generation graduate (FGG) with a degree in electrical and electronic engineering. “Appa, meanwhile, temporarily lost her job and we ran into a roadblock. But we’re doing it. It was especially difficult because my brother and I were only one year apart and it involved a cycle of paying tuition fees. We took part of student loans. In college, I received a 50 percent grant from the government because I was an FGG. Now education is my biggest asset, ”he shares, indicating that having two graduates was a big step forward for the family. “With my education, I want to make an impact in society and help the community. That’s my long-term goal, ”says an employee of a China-based company.

Identity search
Author Vijitharan, too, hopes to use the education he has received to enable other first-generation learners and graduates like him to find their place in society. After fleeing war-torn Sri Lanka with his family decades ago, 7-year-old Viji found himself entangled in the midst of a debilitating refugee crisis. Living in a 10X10 house within a camp, with strict curfews and around 300 families, he says he has faced serious identity issues. “It was a tapestry worn out by uncertainties, poverty and difficulties. We had several restrictions, no advantages, lacked opportunities. It was difficult to dream or have a goal. But luckily my parents made me study. They wanted us to experience life outside of the camp. So, in the midst of the chaos, I looked for loneliness in books and education, and it enriched me, ”shares the author of Yethili, a book that traces the lives of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in the camps. .

The master’s degree in political science had to juggle a day job and college to earn a degree. “When I was in class 10, there were 80 others like me in my class. But when I climbed the ranks to pursue my post-graduation studies, the numbers went down. I was the only one of my kind there. I was (unfortunately) the exception. But I am thankful that my parents considered education to be important. Otherwise my life wouldn’t have been the same, “says the 31-year-old.” Education created opportunities for me and on the journey writing books became my way of educating and agitating. “, he shares.

Building a new life
“My mother broke down when I graduated,” recalls Nagaraj, 25, a researcher. Without a father and with a stay-at-home mom, he had to work part-time, do odd jobs to support the family and also pursue chemistry studies. “When I was in grade 12, I fell in love with the subject and knew I had to pursue it. But my dreams were not easy to achieve. I was working part-time because I had to pay for my books, my studies, and my family to feed. It was a difficult situation. But I did everything to make sure I got the diploma, ”says the Avadi resident, who now holds a master’s degree in chemistry. Working in a chemical and pharmaceutical company as a full-time employee, Nagaraj hopes to build a better life, with the comforts they never had. “My first purchase on my salary was essentials for our house and a piece of jewelry for my mother. I want to do more for her, ”he shares.

Intersectional struggles
Life threw many curved balls at Fareeda P, a small entrepreneur with cerebral palsy. Losing her father to cancer at 15, her mother to suicide at 18, Fareeda had too many mouths to feed at home. “I had two younger siblings. My only goal was to study and raise them. But at that time, I was also exploring my sexuality. I started to identify myself as a woman. Being a trans person with cerebral palsy in a low-income Orthodox household was one of the nightmares. I had no support from my relatives, but I found help from an NGO for my studies, ”says Fareeda, a graduate in economics. “At the time, there was not much priority for FGGs in the employment sector. Despite my diploma, I couldn’t find a job. So I stepped up, borrowed money from a friend I met in college, and opened a small stationery store in my area. I ran it with my siblings and paid for their education. What we won wasn’t much… but we were happy, ”said the 40-year-old.

With Chief Minister MK Stalin now announcing that priority will be given to first generation graduates in public sector jobs, Fareeda, like Kalaivani, lives on hope. “The poor and marginalized have always been at a disadvantage when it comes to education and opportunities. Today, I have improved my shop and I am earning well. My siblings work in IT companies and are well established. Being a graduate and an entrepreneur has allowed me to make a name for myself and forget about my traumatic past. I want to support the education of young people who want to study but who cannot afford it, especially those from the LGBTQIA + community and those with disabilities, ”she shares.

Literacy rate in Tamil Nadu

The literacy rate is an important marker and a key to socio-economic progress. Here are some stats that show TN’s share.

Male 86.77%, Female 73.14%
Between 2001 and 2011, the effective literacy rate increased by around 7%

First generation graduates (FGG) in TN and NEET
The overall percentage share of FGG in MBBS admissions after NEET increased from 24.94% in 2016-17 to 14.46% in 2020-2021 in the government batch. The FGG segment was the hardest hit, which lost nearly 45% of its stake in the pre-NEET to the non-FGG group in the post-NEET.
Source: High Level Committee Report on the Impact of NEET on Medical Admissions in TN

Learning gaps during the pandemic

An estimated 8% of children (in the sample) regularly study online in rural areas

About 37% were not studying at all

Almost 42% of children in grades 3 to 5 of the rural household were unable to read a single word

Class 2 About 65% in urban areas and 77% in rural areas could not read more than a few letters

Source: Schoolchildren Online and Offline Learning Survey (SCHOOL) conducted in August 2021

In August, Chief Minister MK Stalin announced that priority would be given to first-generation graduates in public sector jobs.
Basic literacy
In August, the government of Tamil Nadu announced the Ennum Ezhuthum mission to address learning loss and ensure basic literacy. The initiative will be implemented in public schools across the state

The goal is to ensure that all students in TN public schools receive age-appropriate reading
and arithmetic skills.

The journey of Maria *, a resident of Ayyanavaram, to find a place in the social sector has not been without difficulties. “When I was in grade 12, my parents stopped my studies and asked me to stay at home. But I always wanted to study. When I got married in my twenties, my husband made me continue my education. I got my bachelor’s degree in commerce, took a Tally course and a computer course, ”she says. The NGO employee says she is now living her best life.

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