“Nothing is right. I am fed up. No one is interested in sending their children to school. Children in the colony are running away when I approach them. What can I do”….the dialogue of  Murali Mash, the protagonist of the recently released short film ‘Ore Pakal’, brings out the complexities involved in providing primary education to thousands of tribal children across the state through Multi-Grade Learning Centres (MGLCs) in tribal settlements.

The film which was produced with the Samagra Siksha Keralam (SSK) Block Resource Centre (BRC)  in the Idukki district is focusing on the toil and struggles of hundreds of teachers in MGLCs in tribal settlements across the state,  in bringing thousands of children from tribal families into the world of primary education, tiding over strong resistance from the part of their parents.

  When the reopening of schools in the state was indefinitely delayed due to the second wave of Covid, many educational experts had pointed out that the delay may cause a spurt in the number of dropouts in tribal hamlets. As the government is thinking of various steps to attract tribal children back to single-teacher schools in tribal settlements,  the short film tells the story of struggles taken by hundreds of teachers of MGLCs to attract tribal children to primary classes decades ago, winning applause.

  The plot of the short film which was produced as part of the ‘Nattarangu’ educational programme in tribal settlements, was based on real experience by Muraleedharan K P,  who is working as a teacher of MGLC in Kurathikkudi tribal settlement in Adimali Panchayat of Idukki district. He is playing the lead role as a teacher who arrives at a tribal settlement situated in the interiors of the forest. The movie is set in the background of the Kurathikkudi colony of the Muthuvan tribe.  All characters of the short film, except Muraleedharan, are played by the residents of the colony.

The film is mainly focused on the issue of lack of awareness among the tribe’s people on the importance of educating their children. The movie begins with the arrival of a teacher at the tribal settlement. Though the teacher frequently approaches different families of the colony asking to send their children to primary classes in single-teacher school, the tribal families treat him as an enemy. When he approaches children to advise them, they run away into the deep forest. The film concludes when the teacher manages to convince the students of the importance of education through various creative methods.

52-year old Muralidharan who started his career as staff of single teacher school (MGLC) in Edamalakkudi tribal settlement in Idukki in 1999 said the story of the short film was purely based on real happenings. When I reached the colony situated in the interiors of the forest I had faced stiff resistance from the part of tribespeople. They were not ready to cooperate with me and the parents were reluctant to send their children to the learning centre. The situation still prevails in some colonies and a major section of children of tribal community is still away from mainstream education system due to various reasons including lack of awareness among parents”, he said.

“The issue highlighted in the film is only the tip of the iceberg. When I first reached in Edamalakkudi tribal settlement in 1999 as a teacher of the MGLC for the first time, I was struggling even to start class as parents had a feeling that education will ruin their indigenous culture. Almost all teachers working in tribal areas are experiencing the same situation”, he said adding that the film is relevant now as there are reports regarding authorities’ move to close down MGLCs. “The closure would affect the primary education in remote tribal settlement areas where the only way of providing basic education was the MGLCs. We can club more than one MGLCs and start an LP school instead of completely closing down single-teacher schools”, he said.

The cinematographer of the movie Biju Karakkonam who is also a renowned wildlife photographer said that the idea of making a short movie based on the life of tribespeople was first proposed in a ‘Nattarangu’ programme organised in the tribal settlement as part of the educational improvement programme under Sarva Siksha Kerala (SSK). “Earlier we planned to shoot some visuals of the colony and to make a small movie. But, later, when Muraleedharan explained some of his experiences in  Idamalakkudi, we decided to make a movie based on that. Tribal girl Amala, who was active in the Nattarangu programme was also selected to play a major role in the film along with her friends in the colony”, he said adding that the film speaks about the revolutionary role of single-teachers of MGLCs in changing the education scenario in the tribal settlement.

“It is a herculean task to ensure the continuous presence of children in single-teacher primary schools. Still, many parents are not interested to send children to school as they wanted their children to assist them in their job of collecting forest resources. The movie is a humble effort to bring this issue into the light”, he said

The director of the movie Sooraj Sreedhar,  said that the number of dropouts may increase during the re-opening of schools and authorities should give special focus on tribal areas. “The children in tribal areas are facing multiple issues that affect their formal education, including early marriages.  We are hopeful that the film will give a message regarding the importance of the educational intervention in tribal colonies”, said Sooraj

While releasing the short film last week, Irrigation Minister Roshi Augustine said that the film brings a major issue of lack of education among tribal children, into the light. “Muraleedharan, who played the lead character in the film himself is working as a single-teacher in different tribal settlements in Idukki for the last many decades. As the story of the film is Muraleedharan’s real-life experience, the movie can be seen as a relevant effort”, he said.