Beginning with a 10-day trip in December 2018 across five schools and seven villages in Malkangiri and Rayagada districts, this reporter has investigated the conditions at Odisha’s residential schools, particularly for girls. Visiting, speaking to and following up with numerous students, parents, school staff and NGO representatives over a period of months, we found that despite the attention that tribal girls’ education receives from the government and the investments purportedly made, residential schools are poorly run and ripe for abuse.
The first-generation students’ experience in an alien and often unsympathetic environment is not conducive for personal growth. Students are constantly reminded that they should be grateful for the free education and lodging, and not complain when facilities and services fall short–which, we found, they frequently do. Girls are especially vulnerable and have few means to share grievances without fear, much less seek redressal or justice. Experts were of the opinion that by providing substandard quality of life and education, residential schools are further perpetuating class and caste divides and discrimination, and are not the answer to Odisha’s education challenges.