This has brought wealth for many Indians but certainly not for all. Life expectancy in India is lower than for its neighbours, Bangladesh and Nepal, and is not much higher than in Malawi (the second poorest country in the world). Nearly 1 in 3 children are said to be underweight and there are thought to be 10 million child labourers in the country¹. UNICEF found that, in 2013, India had 30% of all the children in the world who live in extreme poverty.
The Village of Nitte
The large dispersed village of Nitte is in the state of Karnataka near the border with Kerala in south India. It is in the tropics so it is hot all year, with summer temperatures of 38°C and winter temperatures of 24°C. It is dry and sunny most of the year but rains from June to October (the monsoon season). During this time the area receives four times as much rain as we receive in a whole year.
Farming dominates the landscape but it is a mixture of fields and trees. The farms are mostly very small, about 2 hectares and the fields small and narrow. Rice is the main crop, but many trees are also grown for their fruit eg coconut, arecanut, cashew nut. The main water sources are wells and bore wells. The soil is not very fertile; nevertheless many crops can be grown because it is so hot and wet. One farmer with a bigger farm grows 20 different crops on his farm. Most farmers do not have permanent workers but employ people at busy times, such as harvest. A worker can expect to earn just over £3 per day.
Because there are so many different crops, fruits and vegetables, people eat local fresh food and there is also a great number of spices eg vanilla, saffron, which grow in the forests nearby. Most of the farmers cannot afford chemicals, so the produce is organic. The most popular meat is chicken, as well as fish, but 25% of the population are vegetarian.
Because their farms are so small, the farmers mostly grow food for themselves. Anything extra is sold. They sell most of their fruit and nuts. Generally, the prices are low. They also vary a lot. A few years ago vanilla sold for £20,000 per tonne. Now it sells for £1500 per tonne.
The amount of food which grows also varies a lot from year to year, mostly because of the monsoon. Sometimes the rains arrive too late, or even too early, and sometimes there is too much at the wrong time or not enough at the right time.
The village has three primary schools, an English-medium high school and a Kannada-speaking secondary school (one of the local languages). On the same campus as the high school is an institute of management and a technical college (for 16-18 year olds). 1000 students live in hostels in the village and 4000 students attend the high school, institute and college. Because of this there are a lot of services – a baker, hair salon, tailor, cyber café, post office, bank, stationery shop, car mechanic and 8 cafes. There is a health centre ( doctor, dentist and pharmacy), a church, a mosque and two temples. The village also has some industry. There is a rice mill, a dairy, a cashew nut factory (nearby) and an iron foundry and a day-care care for mentally handicapped people. The area is very safe, almost crime-free. It is peaceful and unpolluted,
2500 households and 12,000 people live here. The local languages are Tulu and Kannada and about 20% of the people also speak English. Most are Hindus, but some are Muslims or Roman Catholics, and there are other religions as well.
Most houses are made of clay bricks with clay tiles on the roof. Water mostly comes from a well. There is no proper sewerage with sewage pipes. Waste from the toilets goes directly into the soil below. About 80% of houses have electricity, as electricity is subsidised by the government, and 30% have television. Less than 10% of the families have washing machines or refrigerators, but nearly everyone has a mobile phone. Less than 1% of families have cars, but motorbikes and cycles are popular with young people.
Many people are farmers or farmworkers, but it is not very popular as it is not profitable. Some have small shops, some work at home (eg. rolling cigarettes, making chips from the local jackfruit) and some work in the local factories. Being such an unusual educational hub, some people make extra income through rents by taking in students who have come to study at Nitte. There are also many men who work in the Middle East where wages are much, much higher.
Taxes are lower than in Britain (10% of earnings), but the government does not have enough money to provide pensions or unemployment or sickness benefit (except for government workers). Health care, schooling and dentistry are all free.
Everyone works locally. There are no commuters and no commuter traffic (except the buses bringing in students each day). Most children have their extended family living nearby, such as cousins and grandparents. In farming the people have a tradition of helping each other (eg. at harvest time) and there is throughout the area a strong community spirit. Although the population is rising, there is a drift of people away from towards the cities to live.
85% of the children attend secondary school and about 70% attend secondary school, well above the national average. Until 1979 there was only a lower primary school in the village. Then Justice K.S. Hegde, a committed philanthropist and respected judge in the Supreme Court of India, decided the children of the village needed a secondary school. He firmly believed that education was crucial to the progress of a community; lessons in the new school were taught in one of the local languages. Later, his son wasresponsible for the building of the Dr. N. Shankara Adyanthaya Memorial English-medium school and various colleges in the village. They are now run by the Nitte Educational Trust (www.nitte.ac.in) which has expanded rapidly since 1979 and currently comprises 25 educational institutions, including the new Nitte University. Several of these institutions are in Nitte, including an Institute of Management. In the Dr.N.S.A.M. English-medium school, pupils are taught in English. It is an independent school and parents have to pay fees of approximately £250 per year.
In the Dr.N.S.A.M. English-medium school, there are 40 children to a class. The children learn Maths, English, Kannada, Social Sciences (Geography, History and Civics) and Science (Physics, Chemistry, Biology), sitting their main examinations in S4/year 10. The classrooms do not have any equipment, apart from a blackboard, but there is a computer room with 25 computers and a room with a data projector. The school also has a large sports stadium and fitness room and outdoor tennis, volleyball and basketball courts and a cricket pitch.
The children are extremely well-behaved in school and all are enthusiastic learners. Very few want to be farmers. Most want to be professionals, such as doctors. They enjoy shopping but will only go to the nearest town (Karkala) on special occasions such as festivals. The city of Mangalore, 40km away, has a shopping mall, but people rarely visit it. Cricket and basketball are more popular here than football.
The students in the Dr. N.S.A.M. English-medium school and Hutchesons’ Grammar School have worked together since 2007. The aims of the partnership are varied but part of the students’ remit has been to explore the barriers to education here. The Nitte students have researched the barriers to education in their area by interviewing parents, teachers, community leaders and children. In addition, they have researched related local issues, such as hunger, life expectancy, gender discrimination and maternal health.Their detailed findings have been summarized and are presented as PDF files and as powerpoints. These can be found at https://j8educationalpartnerships.co.uk/research/, which is password protected for educational purposes. Please get in touch in order to access these files.
Increasing Access to Education in Nitte
The students in Nitte first researched the barriers to education in their area. Once these barriers had been identified, it was possible to work out the most effective and practical ways of breaking these barriers down – the best ways of increasing access to education in the Nitte area. Over the years the students have been remarkably resourceful and effective in the action they have taken. They firstly targeted directly issues with education. Subsequently they have targeted different barriers to education, such as gender, health and hunger, the hope being, that if these can be improved, more children will attend school for longer. This is a summary of their work so far.
Starting a scholarship scheme
State schooling is free in India. A group of our students used their prize money from a national competition they won to set up a child scholarship scheme in the village. This scheme allows pupils from a poorer background to attend the fee-paying English-medium school. State schooling is free in India and is conducted in the local language. Attending the English-medium school greatly improves a student’s career prospects, so that it could break the cycle of poverty which exists. It is also hoped that the scholarship students will become role models in their extended family and neighbourhood and help others to see the importance of education. Currently, Hutchie pupils are paying the tuition fees of 3 students but the Dr.N.S.A.M. High School pay for their transport and stationery. The scheme is jointly run by students from both schools and Nitte students are mentors for the scholarship pupils.
Informing outside bodies
One of the most effective ways that students can take action is by letting politicians know how strongly the next generation of voters feel about these issues. The Nitte students have met with members of state parliament to discuss issues relating to education and health and have informedthe Minister of Education and the Minister of Health of their research and their views. They have also spoken to prospective MPs on the campaign trail during the run-up to the last election.
While researching the effect of health on education, and the effects of TB locally, two students were told of a new treatment for TB which is particularly successful but not well-known to their local GPs. So the students organised a sensitisation programme which was attended by 60 local GPs so that, now, many more doctors are aware of the best treatment for this serious disease.
Working with parents and the local community
The Nitte students have visited areas where they know that some pupils do not attend school. They met parents and found that they were unaware of the government support available to enable children from poorer families to attend school and, after telling them of the financial help available, they successfully persuaded some parents to send their children to school – ten children in total.
In tackling the effects of health on education, some students arranged free health check-ups and free tests for diabetes for the public. The students fund-raised for this. They also set up a health club and organised a fun run and yoga camp.
On every issue – education, gender, health and poverty – the Nitte students have run effective campaigns.
These campaigns have involved:
- having letters published in newspapers
- speaking in public, in busy streets, at festivals, even on public buses, about the issues; their impromptu speeches in public received coverage on the local TV channel and was reported in four newspapers.
- making banners, leaflets and posters and displaying and distributing them, as well as making powerpoints and information films
- having discussions with, and even giving seminars to, local NGOs to persuade them to help
- visiting many nearby schools and giving presentations
While researching health issues, the students became aware that a local wet waste tip area had become a breeding area for mosquitoes, so they set up a petition to improve waste management in the area.
Some of the students have volunteered at local projects to improve literacy and health. For example, two students spent 17 days of their own time teaching women to read and write.