Aiming high

Print edition : December 31, 2010

A fishermen's colony at Vizhinjam near Thiruvananthapuram.-S. MAHINSHA

If education makes a person more efficient in commodity production, then this clearly is an enhancement of human capital. This can add value of production in the economy and also to the income of the person who has been educated. But even with same levels of income, a person may benefit from education, in reading, communicating, arguing, in being able to choose in a more informed way, in being taken more seriously by others, and so on.... Human beings are not merely means of production but also the end of the exercise.

Amartya Sen, as quoted in the Human Development Report of the Fisher Folk in Kerala' published by the Kerala State Planning Board in December 2009.

THEY are already a clutter on the Kerala landscape. But a phenomenon that seems sure to grow with the problem of rising unemployment in the State is the proliferation of training institutes offering fast-track courses in basic language skills for candidates seeking to go abroad for higher education or employment.

Many people, particularly those from among the marginalised sections of Kerala, patronise such centres. Among them is Hertin Raj, 22, the son of a traditional fisherman in the coastal village of Vizhinjam, near Thiruvananthapuram.

It is well-known that fishermen in Kerala generally have higher educational attainments than their counterparts in other States. However, within the State it is perhaps in Thiruvananthapuram district that the fisherfolk are least educated. The coastal villages are also overcrowded, and the population of fisherfolk and number of fishing villages are also the highest in Thiruvananthapuram. It is known as a district of poor fishermen', most of them owners of non-motorised fishing craft.

According to the Planning Board's Human Development Report, the rate of illiteracy among fishermen in Kerala is only 7 per cent. Around 39 per cent of them above the age of seven have completed secondary education. But from that level onwards, it is a dismal picture, with only 3 per cent completing graduation and 0.04 per cent doing postgraduate studies.

Thus, Hertin would normally have followed his father to the sea even though he was a good student and had completed Plus Two education. He said there was tremendous pressure on him from family members to help his father run the house. My father too had dropped out of school after his third standard and found a vocation in fishing, he said.

But last September, Hertin took a crash course in Spoken English and started preparing to write the IELTS [International English Language Testing System] examination, generally bracing himself for admission in a university in the United Kingdom. My mother had a reasonably good education, in a convent, and she went up to the tenth standard. She was determined that her three children should have a good education too and should not toil in the sea. So against tremendous odds, and constantly goaded by my mother, I decided to take the advice of my school teacher and apply for this course.

By November, Hertin had learnt to communicate reasonably well but could not believe it when he gained admission with the help of a bank loan and a scholarship at a well-known university in the U.K. for a dual honours degree course in Sociology and Criminology.

Hertin's case seems to be an exception from Kerala's coastal villages, coming as it does from within a community in which the mean years of schooling is only 5.5 years. More than 90 per cent of the people are still in fishing and allied activities, according to the Planning Board report.

The report says that from among the 500 marine fisherfolk households from five villages surveyed as part of the study, there were only 21 emigrants. All except one of them who had emigrated to the U.S. for higher studies went to the Gulf countries, where one-third continued to be engaged in fishing and nearly half worked as coolies.

Hertin now hopes his brothers, too, will follow him. He believes that there are only two reasons why he broke from the mould: an educated mother's determination and the ridicule he had to face from his family members.

R. Krishnakumar

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