A major announcement in Tamil Nadu’s budget for 2023-24 was that the schools run by different departments for so long to cater to specific needs will be merged with the School Education (SE) department. The announcement has evoked mixed reactions from civil society.

What are these schools?

  • While the government is yet to spell out finer details, the budget announcement indicated that the schools run by the Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare (ADTW), Backward Classes, Most Backward Classes, and Denotified Communities Welfare (BCW), Welfare of the Differently-abled Persons (WPD), Forest, and Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) departments will be merged.
  • These departments run 1,834 schools with roughly 1.6 lakh students on their rolls. The ADTW department alone accounts for 80% of these schools (1,466) and students (1.26 lakh). Within the ADTW department, there are 1,138 Adi Dravidar Welfare schools.
  • The remaining 328 are Government Tribal Residential (GTR) and Eklavya Model Residential Schools, run mainly for Scheduled Tribes (ST). The BCW runs 295 schools, HR&CE runs 32, WPD 22, and the forest department 19.
  • These schools, especially those run by ADTW and BCW departments, were created to focus on education for marginalised sections.
  • For instance, the Adi Dravidar schools have their origins in the British Raj.
  • They were created with the support of the labour department for the “Depressed Classes (as the Scheduled Castes were then referred),” who were denied education elsewhere.
  • They were then moved to the Social Welfare department and later to ADTW, when it was created. Similarly, the BCW runs the Kallar reclamation schools, which have their origins before Independence.
  • They were created, mainly for the Piramalai Kallar community, who faced marginalisation due to the draconian Criminal Tribes Act brought by the British.

Why are they being merged?

  • The budget mentioned that the schools will be merged to “achieve the goal of social justice,” “improve the quality of schools” and to ensure “quality education for all”.
  • The relatively poor quality of these schools, especially those run by ADTW and BCW departments, have long been a concern.
  • Their infrastructure is below par and a lot of teaching posts are vacant. Another key reason, although not officially acknowledged in the budget, was the caste identifier in the names of the schools run by ADTW and BCW departments.
  • In Tamil Nadu, Adi Dravidar refers to the SCs. Similarly, the names Kallar Reclamation and GTR refer to specific communities.
  • The argument by a section is that the caste identifiers, especially in case of Adi Dravidar welfare schools, result in the students feeling isolated and prevent those from other communities joining these schools in more numbers.
  • While there was a need in the past for such schools as these communities did not have access to education elsewhere, they argue that with the situation being improved, these schools were now resulting in “ghettoisation”.

What are the concerns?

  • While there seems to be a broad agreement that the poor quality of these schools need to be addressed, there is concern over the merger being projected as the magic bullet.
  • The discussion has focused on the ADTW department for many factors, including its higher share of schools, higher budget, and historic and political context.
  • Many have highlighted that the schools were in poor shape due to prolonged negligence and widespread irregularities. Merging the schools without addressing these issues would only result in them being denied the special focus they deserve by the SE department which is huge.
  • With successive T.N. governments already blamed for reduced spending under the SC and Tribal Sub Plans, there is concern that the merger will result in further diversion of funds.
  • Importantly, many are surprised that such an announcement has been made without consultations with the stakeholders concerned.


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