Kasaragod: Sanusha CH and Unaisa Saabi were among a small group of Kannada students who in September protested against the Kerala government's decision to appoint a non-Kannada speaker as their science teacher in Government Higher Secondary School (GHSS) at Adhur.
They used to travel for an hour from their border village to stand in front of the office of the Deputy Director of Education (DDE) holding a banner urging the government to roll back its decision.
Two months on, the government managed to break the feeble protest and defeat the students. Suhiri S -- appointed to teach Physics, Chemistry, and Biology, but manages to speak only broken Kannada -- continues to register his attendance in the school. The students, however, are no longer in the school.
The government's General Education Protection Mission is complete.
Adhur GHSS had 16 students in its Kannada medium Class 10. Eight of them, including Sanusha, left the school to join Government Vocational Higher Secondary School at Mulleria. Class 9 had 13 students. Unnaisa and Neeta left. Class 8 had 13 students. Two students left.
"Those who left our school were our best students. They are also the ones who could afford to change the school mid-term," said a teacher.
Around 15 days ago, headmistress in-charge Saraswathi wrote to the Deputy Director of Education, the top education officer in the district, that more students are likely to leave the school if the school did not get a science teacher who can teach students.
Krishnan CH, Sanusha's father, and daily wage labourer, said he changed her daughter's school to ensure she got a good education. Not because he could meet the extra expense. "We protested a lot and called on the district collector three times and the DDE twice," he said. "But the education officials told me not to spoil the future of the teacher," Krishnan said. "I asked them what about my daughter's future. They kept mum," he said.
Earlier, Sanusha could reach her school by walking for 15 minutes. "Now I have to walk 30 minutes to reach the bus stop. After the 10-minute bus ride, I have to walk another 15 minutes to reach the school," she said.
Her parents shelled out Rs 1,000 to buy the uniform for the new school. She has to spend Rs 5 every day for bus fare and Rs 100 every month in the new school for mid-day meals.
Before leaving, Sanusha and other students of the school's Kannada division had written to the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights seeking help.
The Kannada students of the Government Higher Secondary School at Angadimogar in Puthige panchayat had also written to the commission after the government appointed Shijeer S (36), another non-Kannada speaker as a science teacher in their school.
On October 10, the commission put out an order directing the Director of General Education and the Deputy Director of Education to relieve Suhri from classroom responsibilities and appoint him to the Block Resource Centre or Cluster Resource Centre, which conducts in-service teacher training and provides academic support to teachers and schools.
The order also directed the Department of Education to initiate steps to appoint an ad hoc teacher on daily wages to teach science to the Kannada students of GHSS, Adhur.
The order signed by commission member P P Shyamaladevi said that the Department of Education should accept the recommendations and submit an action taken report in 45 days.
On November 29, it has been 51 days since the order was issued.
DDE Pushpa K V, who received the order on October 15, said she retired on October 31. The new DDE Vasu C K, who took charge on November 9, said he was yet to study the matter. "I know of the issue but I cannot give a clear answer because I joined only recently. Now I'm at the school festival venue," he said.
The Kannada Teachers Association accused the state government of being callous and discriminatory towards Kannada students. "If the government did not make a course correction, Kasaragod will lose its Kannada students and Kannada medium schools," said Pradeep Shetty, an office-bearer of the Kannada Teachers Association.
Kasaragod has 89 government-run Kannada medium schools and 100 government-aided Kannada medium schools catering to its linguistic minority community, mostly in Hosdurg, Kasaragod, and Manjeshwar taluks.
The government had declared Kasaragod and Manjeshwar as linguistic minority taluks.
How a 100-year-old Kannada medium school was killed
Of late, the Kerala Public Service Commission -- the state government's recruiting agency, has been hiring and appointing non-Kannada speakers as teachers in Kannada medium schools jeopardising the education of the students.
In July, the Kannada division of the Government Higher Secondary School in Hosdurg was shut because the students were forced to leave midway after the government appointed non-Kannada speakers as their teachers.
The irony is the school was established in 1902 as a Kannada medium school.
In 2019, the government first appointed a person from Pathanamthitta district to teach Maths in the school.
When students protested, the head teacher asked him to go on leave.
He returned after a week in December when students were writing their Christmas exams. The students boycotted their classes in protest. The teacher hung around till the second week of February.
Then the DDE asked him to go on leave. "When Covid struck and schools were shut, he made a comeback," said a teacher who used to teach in the school.
In 2021-2022, the government appointed another teacher from Thiruvananthapuram to teach social science. She too did not speak Kannada.
During a test class, a student asked the teacher the meaning of 'raptu'. She said tax instead of export. The head teacher was in the class.
"Both the teachers from south Kerala got support from teachers in the Malayalam medium. They sacrificed the future of Kannada medium students for their narrow political interest," said the teacher.
The students and their parents felt cheated because the teachers had gone door to door to bring the children to school. The teachers in Kannada medium division were even footing the transport cost of Rs 10,000 every month to bring the 45 Kannada students to school.
"But when the government appointed teachers who cannot teach, the students started leaving for an aided school in Kanhangad town," said a teacher. "We feel we cheated the students," she said.
Seeing the death of the Kannada medium in GHSS, Hosdurg, the only Kannada-knowing teacher took a transfer to Government High School in Pallikkara in the neighbouring panchayat.
By July, the Kannada division of GHSS, Hosdurg, had only two teachers who cannot speak, read or write Kannada.
The Kannada medium in the 120-year-old school was killed. But the government was not done yet. It transferred the two non-Kannada speaking teachers to Government schools in Udma near Bekal and Moodambayil in Vorkady, a panchayat on the border of Karnataka.
In Udma, the department created space for the ineligible teacher by transferring an eligible teacher to the Block Resource Centre (BRC).
Udma school saw massive protests from students and parents forcing the department to send the teacher to the Central Institute of Indian Languages in Mysuru for a 10-month Kannada crash course. The school then recalled its Kannada-knowing teacher back from the BRC.
Kannada teachers said the response of the Education officials to the protests depend on the political and financial clout of the Kannada parents.
In Adhur, the PTA and the School Management Committee (SMC) threatened the Kannada students who protested against the appointment of Suhiri, said several teachers and students.
The PTA president Mohammed Haneeda told Onmanorama in September that the issue had been resolved when it was not. "Most of the parents of Adhur school are daily wage labourers without much political clout," said a teacher.
But when Shijeer S (36), a native of Thiruvananthapuram, was appointed as a science teacher at Government Higher Secondary School at Angadimogar in Puthige panchayat, the whole panchayat protested against it. He was not even allowed to join the school. The school management committee hired a teacher on contract.
But in the Moodambail government school in Vorkady panchayat, the teacher is still on the school's payroll. In Kundamkuzhy government school in Bedadka panchayat, a non-Kannada speaker was appointed to teach Physics, Chemistry, and Biology seven years ago. "By the time, the teacher will learn Kannada, two to three years of students will be washed out," said a former headmistress.
Govt does not count Kannada students
On top of the flawed recruitment, the state government does not count students in Kannada medium while creating teaching posts for Hindi and English.
The government creates an additional post if a teacher has more than 28 periods in a week. "In my school, there are 30 Hindi periods in a week. So the Hindi teacher in the Malayalam division will not teach Kannada students. Kannada students are taught Hindi and English by social science or science teachers," said a headmistress. "And so, Kannada students are always at a disadvantage in Kerala," she said.