[MLE] Consolidated Reply: Education of Tribal Children,from Social Mobilisation for Poverty Alleviation,Orissa (Experiences)

Dear Interest group,
Below is a relevant and interesting e-mail discussion in which some of you participated. Good to read that language is getting quite some attention in this discussion. Happy reading/participating!

Karsten van Riezen
Education Consultant, SIL Int.
----- Original Message -----
From: A.Mathew
Sent: Thursday, March 23, 2006 9:58 AM
Subject: [se-ed] Consolidated Reply: Education of Tribal Children,from Social Mobilisation for Poverty Alleviation,Orissa (Experiences)

 Education Community

Solution Exchange for the Education Community Consolidated Reply

Query: Education of Tribal Children, from Social Mobilisation for Poverty Alleviation, Orissa (Experiences).

Compiled by Dr. A. Mathew, Resource Person and Additional Research provided by Haripriya Koijam, Research Associate.

23 March 2006

Original Query: From Mr. Pradeep Maharana, Social Mobilisation for Poverty Alleviation, Orissa
Posted: 21 February 2006
The emphasis accorded to quality improvement in the on-going national campaign, viz., Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is evident from, among other interventions, the specific focus on curriculum renewal, teacher training, and child-friendly pedagogical processes. However, the issue of designing and developing appropriate curriculum as per the linguistic and socio-cultural environment of the children, especially tribal children, appears to have received little attention, as I can vouch from my long association with education of tribal children in Orissa. Out of 3.70 crore population in Orissa, nearly one crore speak in the languages like santhali, oram, juanga, soura, munda, koya, banda, kui, kuvi and kisan. However, the textbooks used in the whole state under SSA are all in Oriya language only. The words, terminologies, messages, topics reflected in the syllabus and textbooks are hardly understood by the tribals.

I think this issue of content and curriculum being alien, the school timings and calendar quite ill-suited to their life environment, and the language of instruction in most cases being not familiar to the tribal children, are the main reasons for their poor retention, completion and learning achievement.  These are problems not only in respect of Orissa, but also of many other neighbouring States like Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, MP, Jharkand and Maharashtra, with large concentration of tribals speaking different dialects.

Tribals have their own culture, socio-economic and governance system.  Unless we respect and connect the content and curriculum with their culture, languages, social and political practices, mainstreaming the tribes through education would continue to be difficult task. However, if we can re-organise the curriculum, content and the teaching-learning methods reflecting and drawing on their environment and knowledge base, the response of tribal groups and their children's participation would be far better.  And, textbooks printed in their dialects and its use as medium of instruction would improve their achievement.  I work in a UNDP supported project on Social Mobilization for Poverty Alleviation, where I often deal with issues relating to education of tribal children. Thus, besides lending the weight that this issue deserves, it would also be directly helpful to me if members could share their experiences regarding:
  • The suitability and the difficulties faced in using mainstream curriculum and state language in educating tribal children;
  • Any significant innovations in reorganizing mainstream (SSA) curriculum and syllabus suited to the environment of tribal children, and its effects; and
  • Using tribal dialects as medium to transact SSA curriculum, rather than the State language.

Responses were received, with thanks from:

1.      Binay Pattanayak, Ed. CIL, New Delhi
2.      Aruna Rathnam, UNICEF, Chennai
3.      B.K. Panda, NIEPA, New Delhi
4.      G.Misra, Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Port Blair
5.      Debadatta Barkataki, State Resource Centre, Assam
6.      Mahendra Mishra, Orissa Education Service, Orissa
7.      Anil Pradhan, Sikshasandhan, Orissa
8.      Bijay Parichha, AJKA, Orissa
9.      A.K. Choudhury, Assam SSA Mission, Assam
10.  Anjali Noronha, Eklavya, Madhya Pradesh
11.  Satyendra Singh,  Gayatri Education Society, Madhya Pradesh
12.  C.Ramakrishnan, Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti, Bhopal
13.  Vidhya Das, Agragamee, Orissa
14.  Vinobajee Gautam, UNICEF, Patna
15.  Lauren Alcorn, Canada
16.   B.L.Kaul, Progressive Educational Society and Society for Popularization of Science, Jammu

Further contributions are welcome!

Summary of Responses

There are many States in India with high concentration of different tribal groups. But the education and school system continue to remain quite alien to the environment and life styles of tribal children, severely hampering their participation, leading to their early drop out, and accounting for their low educational status.  The experiences shared by members reciprocate the concern expressed in the query and reveal the diversity and complexity of tribal contexts across different States, a variety of approaches adopted in addressing the problems faced in education of tribal children, as well as certain intractable challenges.

Suitability of mainstream curriculum and state language: Members engaged in or knowledgeable about education of tribal children in different States like Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Assam, etc., are equivocal about the unsuitability of mainstream education and language medium in tribal contexts. Specifically, they draw attention to (i) the poor access to regular schools/educational opportunities given its inadequacy and distance/terrain difficulty in tribal belts; (ii) the community’s lack of trust and interest in mainstream education and school system due to its rigidity and inflexibility to the tribal context; (iii) total lack of relationship of content and curriculum, pedagogy and school timings with tribal culture, language, life style and knowledge environment; and (iv) besides high absenteeism and lack of accountability, the negative attitude of teachers, mainly non-tribals and from higher castes, towards tribal children, their language and culture and tribal community.

Innovations adopted - Alternative Education/EGS Centres: To overcome these difficulties, the main approach adopted by NGOs like Sikshasandhan, AJKA, Agragamee, etc., working for education of tribal children in educationally backward and high tribal concentration States like Orissa and institutions like NCERT and Assam State Resource Centre, revolved around:

  • Establishing rapport with dalit and tribal communities, respecting their culture, tradition, knowledge and language;
  • Opening Alternative or Education Guranatee Centres, appointing local teachers and involving the community closely in the education of their children, supporting the school and monitoring its functioning, to solve the physical and social access difficulty;
  • Designing the content and other teaching-learning materials, and adult literacy primers, in tribal languages, closely reflecting the tribal socio-economic and cultural milieu;
  • Developing bi-lingual primers (combining mother tongue and state language) and adopting it in initial stages of schooling as a bridge between home and school environment;
  • Positioning tribal context-specific content and pedagogy both as a sound pedagogic as well as a value based approach as a counter to the top down mainstream education and non-tribal teachers’ negative and discriminatory attitude towards tribal children.

Innovations by State Governments: Members also referred to the innovative approaches to education of tribal children within mainstream or through AIE/EGS methods, adopted by different states under SSA’ special financial support for the purpose. They cite examples like development of bi-lingual primers in all major tribal dialects, context specific teaching-learning materials, language dictionary, etc., in respect of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Assam.  Some members even suggest using the services of Azim Premji Foundation to develop computer aided learning softwares for various tribal languages and dialects.

The recent SSA and Department of Tribal Development tie up that provides for appointment of tribal education coordinators at state and district levels is shown as reflection of government’s earnestness to address the issues of tribal children’s education. As borne out from their field experiences, members appreciate SSA’s present focus on teacher attitudinal change and the massive training/orientation programme, as the most critical task in addressing the issues of education of tribal children.

Answer to Tribals’ Backwardness is Mainstream Education and not Tribal Education:
Members find a distinctly different trend in tribal strong areas of MP and Jharkhand where tribal groups strongly advocate mainstream education to their children and oppose tribal environment and language-based education as non-tribal elitist idea and inimical to their interests. For example, tribal leaders in Jharkhand favour mainstream education for faster integration with the general socio-economic milieu. Finding the same attitude among tribes in MP as well, Eklavya switched from contextual curriculum to providing additional learning inputs around state syllabus, using local dialect only for oral interaction.

Mother Tongue as an aid than medium: Using local dialects by local teachers is found to be very effective in helping tribal children to learn mainstream subjects and state languages. This approach seems effective among nomadic tribes in Jammu and Kashmir, Wayanad tribes in Kerala and Baghelkhand areas in MP. The key however is the selection of local teachers or teachers knowing the local dialect. Conversely a member cites the example of alternative education model, using local content and local language education, as attempted by BGVS’ community based Gyan Vigyan Vidyalayas.

Infeasibility of Mother Tongue Education in Multi-lingual Assam: Aside from its value as home-school environment and language bridge, bi-lingual primers and mother tongue education may be a way out in some cases, but, according to a member, it is quite an insurmountable challenge, if not impractical, in multi-lingual contexts like Assam.

In the context of the query, members’ knowledge and experiences indicate: (i) Local teachers, content and language or bi-lingual primers as a preferred educational and pedagogic approach with overriding emphasis on teacher training for positive attitudinal change towards tribal children. Beyond its utility as initial bridge between home and school environment, the switch over to the educational mainstream is also an unmistakable objective of the government and NGOs; (ii) Much like the pronounced preference for tribal education, an equally strong demand for mainstream education to tribal children, with only additional learning inputs around state syllabus; and (iii) The irrepressible forces of job-market linked mainstream education swaying the community away from mother tongue/local education  to the mainstream, in some states, and from mainstream to English medium education, in States like Assam.  

Various States of India

SSA approach to education of tribal children (from Binay Pattanayak, Ed.CIL, New Delhi)
National Policy on Education (1986 and 1992) and National Core Curriculum Framework emphasized that content and pedagogy at primary level should be contextual, i.e., contexts that are familiar and meaningful to the children and in their mother tongue. Thus, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has made special provisions for education of SC/ST children, and many States, NGOs and agencies like UNICEF have adopted innovative approaches like bilingual primers, language dictionary, tribal situation-related school calendar, teaching-learning strategies, etc.


During the Total Literacy Campaign, the Assam State Resource Centre (SRC), Guwahati observed literacy learning through mother tongue attracting learners who were earlier found to be reluctant to join adult literacy centres. Seeing this impact, the SRC began preparing literacy primers in different ethnic languages like Bodo, Rabha, Deuri etc. It was observed that neo-literate parents started demanding education through mother tongue for their children as well.

Multi-lingual situation defying education through mother tongue (from A.K.Choudhury, Assam SSA Mission, Assam)
A multi-ethnic state with three official languages, Assam has many languages as approved medium of instruction, not all are taught as subjects, and many widely spoken dialects without script or taught at school level. There are also significant dialectal variations across different districts even within the State language like Assamese. In respect of some languages, bi-lingual primers, as adopted, in initial 2-3 months of schooling is seen to help children as a bridge between home and school.
Alternative model to mainstream education (from C.Ramakrishnan, BGVS, Bhopal)  BGVS’ Jeevanshala Programme and Gyan Vigyan Vidyalayas in Nawada District, Bihar, are working to link both content and pedagogy and schooling processes with the environment of the children, the absence of which, has been found to be the cause for early drop out of children from marginalized sections of society including the tribes.

Local teacher for nomadic tribes (from B.L.Kaul, Progressive Educational Society, Jammu)
Selection of teachers from the same community who move along with the tribes, teaching their children different subjects as well as Hindi/Urdu and English through the mother tongue, is found to be an effective strategy in the education of nomadic tribes like Gojars, Bakerwals and Gaddis of Jammu and Kashmir.


Madhya Pradesh (MP)


'Shiksha Protsahan Kendras' for Tribal Children (from Anjali Noronha, Eklavya, MP)

Community based out of school education support centres have been established to provide additional learning inputs to tribal children around the curriculum in regular schools. These centres are supported and monitored by the community. During the teaching-learning process in the centres, issues of interest to the child are explored and made the content of reading and writing activities and explained through local dialect.


Local language to explain regular subjects (from Satyendra Singh, Gayatri Education Society, MP) The ability of local teachers to use the local dialect, Baghelkhandi to teach Hindi and English subjects is found to build a language bridge and help the children in better grasp of the subjects  in the Rewa areas of Madhya Pradesh. Thus, selection of local teachers merits emulation by other states as well.

DPEP interventions (from Mahendra Mishra, Orissa Education Service, Government of Orissa)
Under DPEP, State and District Resource Groups were formed comprising anthropologists, local and non-tribal teachers having interest in tribal culture and language, etc. Through workshops and linguistic survey, issues regarding education of tribal children were identified and massive teacher training on pedagogic issues in tribal context and attitudinal aspects was undertaken. Bilingual primers were also prepared with the help of teachers, community members and senior students in many tribal languages (for details see Status of Tribal Education).

Bilingual primers for Saora tribes (from B.K. Panda, NIEPA, New Delhi) Under a project carried out by NCERT, bilingual primers were designed and developed for the Saora tribes in Koraput, Gunupur, and Gudari areas of Orissa. The use of this bilingual primer in first and second grades helped in the smooth transition to State medium in subsequent grades. What lay behind its success was the conscious involvement of teachers and community members, besides curriculum experts, in designing the content and curriculum, closely reflecting the tribal environment, culture and life style. The popularity of Saora primers led to the demand to also develop primers in Santhali language. 

Like other NGOs working in Orissa especially in tribal belts, Sikshasandhan also faced the unsuitability of mainstream education system to the tribal environments.  Hence, it combines a three-fold strategy, viz., establishment of Alternative Education Centres, flexible and suited to tribal environment, advocacy that seeks endorsement of this approach and forging NGO alliance for the cause.

Based on its long experience, the strategies that Agranee Jana Kalyan Anusthan (AJKA) evolved to overcome the difficulties in reaching education to dalit and tribal children included respect for tribal language and culture, rapport building with the community, aligning school timings and calendar with the life styles of tribal children, appointing teachers from the tribal community, developing curriculum based on tribal culture and knowledge base, and using tribal dialects in teaching-learning methods.

Agragamee has opened village schools for tribal children upto 14 years of age. Teachers in these schools are appointed from the local community and local language is used as medium of instruction. Children are taught the Oriya Language in the 2nd Grade so as to enable them to join the mainstream government schools from subsequent grades without much difficulty.

Tamil Nadu and Kerala

In States like Tamil Nadu and Kerala where the tribal population is small and scattered across many districts, the effects of socio-economic mainstream have been so powerful that it left little scope for traditional socio-cultural identities of the tribals to survive. Separate residential schools have been established in a few districts in Tamil Nadu, but by and large, tribal ways of life are almost extinct.  Same is the case in Kerala, except for a philanthropic effort, a private school, called Kanavu (Dreams) in rural Wayand district, which runs special programmes for tribal children, like tribal folk culture, dance and songs, besides regular subjects.

Recommended Organisations

Agragamee, Orissa (from Binay Pattanayak, Ed. CIL, New Delhi; Vidhya Das, Agragamee, Orissa)
Agragamee is devoted to pursuing an alternative education model, using local resources and knowledge, teachers and mother tongue medium for teaching tribal children.

Following were recommended by Binay Pattanayak, Ed. CIL

Sikshasandhan, Orissa
Sikshasandhan provides context specific education for tribal children, develops learning materials and teacher’s manual in local languages and builds NGOs capacity.

Agranee Janakalyan Anusthan (AJKA), Orissa
Raikia - 762 101, Kandhmal, Orissa, Tel. No. 06847 - 264650
AJKA runs Alternative Education and Education Guarantee Centres to reach education among tribal and dalit children in Orissa.

People’s Rural Education Movement (PREM), Orissa
Marella Gardens, Berhampur - 760 005, Ganjam, Orissa
People's Rural Education Movement works among the tribal population of Orissa for their socio-economic upliftment and empowerment and education of their children.

Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS)
Through State and District branches, BGVS is engaged in inculcating scientific temper, environment building and social mobilization for the literacy movement in India.

Grammangal, Maharashtra
Organisation runs residential middle-schools for tribal (Aadiwasi) children and has developed self-learning materials and aids for primary tribal students.

Eklavya, Madhya Pradesh (from Anjali Noronha, Eklavya)
Phone: +91-755-246-3380, 246-4824
Eklavya is a resource agency, providing training and other inputs to teachers and other stakeholders of education and is also engaged in educational research and innovations

Kanavu, Wyanad, Kerala (from Aruna Rathnam, Unicef, Chennai)
Kanavu Nadavayal P.O Wyanad District Kerala, 670072
kanavu is a philanthropic private school for tribal children in Kerala’s Wayanad District where they are taught their history and culture, besides regular school subjects.

State Resource Centre, Assam (from Debadatta Barkataki, SRC)
Prepares adult literacy primers and supplementary reading materials for neo-literates in various ethnic languages, trains literacy workers and supports literacy research.

Azim Premji Foundation, Bangalore (from G. Misra, Directorate of Economics & Statistics, Port Blair)
The AZIMPREMJI Foundation has developed computer-aided learning softwares for education in various languages.

Recommended Documentation

National Curriculum Framework, 2005 (from Binay Pattanayak, Ed. CIL)
NCERT, New Delhi
 Stresses the importance of education through children's mother tongue/first language, context-specific learning content, child-friendly pedagogy and teacher's supportive role

The Trials of Schooling the Tribal Children of Orissa (from Lauren Alcorn, Canada)
By Lauren Alcorn, February 1st, 2005. Dissertation Paper Submitted For Masters Programme (Unpublished). Available at:
Study analytically presents Sikshasandhan’s approach to education of tribal children in Orissa, based on participant observation and interaction with all stakeholders.

Status of Tribal Education in Orissa (from Mahendra Mishra, Orissa Education Service, Government of Orissa)
By Mahendra Mishra. Powerpoint Presentation made at India Workshop on Multilingual Education, October 25-27, 2005 CIIL, Mysore. Available at:  
Provides statistical analysis of tribal situation in Orissa and describes the DPEP interventions undertaken in 1998-2001 to address issues and needs of tribal education.

“Promoting Tribal Languages in Education: A Case Study of Santali in Orissa” (from Dr. Mathew, Resource Person)
By Barbara Lotz, Journal of Social Science 8(2), 2004. Kamla-Raj Enterprises,(68 K.B). To read the article, click here   
Notwithstanding a strong linguistic movement, case of Santhali language highlights why a mother tongue medium not linked to job-market is in disfavour among its own people.

“Walking the Last Mile: Meeting the Learning Needs of the Marginalised Populations in Andhra Pradesh, India (from Dr. Mathew, Resource Person)
By I.V. Subba Rao, Journal of Educational Planning and Administration, Vol. XIX, No.3, July 2005, pp. 375-96. Available at NIEPA Library, New Delhi.
Article describes the processes adopted to develop textbooks in tribal dialects based on their cultural realities and total acceptance witnessed among different tribal communities. 

“Notes from the Margins: Tribal Children at School” (Chapter 5) in Elementary Education for the Poorest and other Deprived Groups: The Real Challenges of Universalisation
By Jyotsna Jha &Dhir Jhingran, 2002, Central for Policy Research, New Delhi.
Surveying the profile of tribes across different states in India, study identifies critical factors impinging on education of their children.

Education of India Scheduled Tribes: a study of community schools in the district of Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh (from Haripriya Koijam, Research Associate)
By K.Sujatha, 1999. International Institute for Educational Planning/ UNESCO, Paris. Available at:
Examining effectiveness of Community Schools in meeting educational needs of the disadvantaged, study stresses community participation and teacher competency, etc.

Education of tribal children and the issue of medium of instruction: a Janshala Experience (from Haripriya Koijam, Research Associate)
By Vinoba Gautam, 2003. Available at:
Paper analyses the issue of using mother tongue as medium of instruction and discusses interventions carried out for education of tribal children in States under Janshala.

Education Among Tribes: Year 2000 Assessment – Education For All (from Haripriya Koijam, Research Associate)
By K. Sujatha, 2000, MHRD-NIEPA, New Delhi
Study highlights problems like educational planning, curriculum, pedagogy and medium ill-suited to tribal context, and also presents some innovations.

Binay Pattanayak, Ed. CIL,New Delhi

I think Mr. Maharana has raised an important issue. The education of children from tribal and other poorly exposed communities certainly deserves much more attention and support. In this context, certain important interventions already made are worth indicating although quality education for such children still remains a challenge because of their wide variation in language, culture and approach to development process.  Some of the positive developments in this area include the following.

1. The National Curriculum Framework 2005 is a significant initiative that has been constructed through intensive dialogue across the nation. It is not specifically designed for children from tribal families; but it certainly advocates classroom processes that are to be based on the concerned children's background, language, learning process/pace and teacher's role, mostly as a facilitator of knowledge construction. This needs to be the way in each classroom; it is only then that the learning needs of all children can be addressed. Through this example I would like to highlight that we need to strive for such types of classrooms.

2. States have been striving for quality improvement in tribal rich areas through several measures. They include innovative schools (like Multi Grade Learning Centers in Kerala mostly for tribal children, Integrated Learning Improvement Programme in schools of tribal areas in West Bengal, etc.), contextual teaching learning materials (six primers in Orissa, six-eight primers in Andhra Pradesh, bilingual primers and dictionaries in Gujarat, basal readers, folk literature in Assam, etc.). The main challenge remains in the effective use of these materials in classrooms through sensitive and concerned teachers. But these materials are very innovative in nature. Other than these, several states like Orissa, Assam etc. have gone for series of workshops on "Attitudinal changes in teachers" for preparing them better specifically for tribal children rich schools.

3. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has been promoting education for SC/ST children through special provisions like grants  (upto  Rs.15 Lakhs) for innovative activities in tribal rich districts. Several states are utilising the fund effectively as indicated above.

4. There is a recent development at the national level with the Department of Tribal Development collaborating with SSA for tribal education. This would usher in interventions like appointment of Tribal Coordinators in tribal rich districts and states, and also create better support structures in states for education of tribal children.

5. In certain states, UNICEF has been striving for quality improvement in tribal rich areas through promotion of quality teaching-learning materials and contextual pedagogy. For example UNICEF, Bhubaneswar has developed about 70 readers for classes I and II (50 out of these are readers in Desia language) for improving the reading and learning skills of children, especially in tribal areas. Also UNICEF offices in Maharashtra and other states are promoting similar initiatives for enhancing learning achievement in tribal rich districts.

6. Schemes like National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL) and Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) are also aiming to improve quality of education in many tribal rich areas where the education of girls needs attention.

7. Besides these, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has identified special focus districts across the country to extend the best of support to such districts and improve their educational standards on priority basis. At the national and regional level there have been continuous discussions and planning for contextual interventions for quality education of tribal children.

8. Special Planning Assistance Teams (PAT) from the Center have from time to time tried to help the North Eastern States, where the tribal population is high, to identify their tribal education related issues and also to design suitable strategies to address the issues.

9. Also, there have been discussions from time to time on the status of schools, teachers, academic support structures, learning achievement of students, and there is a constant search for new and appropriate ideas for suitable interventions.

10. It will be a great injustice to this discussion if I do not mention the great work done by several renowned NGOs like Agragamee, Sikshasandhan, Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti, Manavik, Agranee, Prem, Sarvodaya, Manav Kalyan Samiti and many more (Orissa), Eklavya (MP), Grammangal (Maharashtra), several NGOs in Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat,  etc., who have done pioneering work in this area. Their beliefs, teaching- learning materials and pedagogy are widely known in the education circles. They have been playing a crucial role in extending the spirit of education to the far flung areas of this country. I strongly feel that we need to consult the experienced activists of such NGOs along with the experts in the system and society for preparing for the challenges of education for tribal children.

I fully agree with Mr. Maharana that language and other problems associated with schools create a great barrier in their learning. There are a good number of examples before us. But the major problem remains in integrating such approaches into the mainstream approach so that tribal children's education is not seen as something an isolated one, but as something of equal importance. Otherwise the isolated moves fail to sustain and bear a long-term implication for such learners.

We will have to ensure that schools in the tribal dominated areas, like the other schools, also function in a similar spirit and deliver the desired goals of education. We need to explore more and stronger interventions to bring meaningful changes in schools of tribal dominated areas for enabling those children learn to a satisfactory level. 

Aruna Rathnam, Unicef Field Office for Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Chennai
Both Tamil Nadu and Kerala do not have significant tribal population. Besides, our work does not deal with tribal areas too much. So, can only offer some general remarks.
In Tamil Nadu, tribal population is not only small, it is scattered across many districts. Nilgiris is the district with a significant size of tribal population, and here too, they have partly chosen certain aspects of economic and social life of the mainstream, and partly, tea estates have forced them into mainstream economy.

In the southern and western districts except Nilgiris, tribals have been treated as bonded labourers by middlemen who make them collect forest produce for a pittance. These middlemen are said to control the very access to the small and scattered tribal populations in these districts. However, in terms of educational initiatives, there have no accommodations for tribal ways of life. There are residential schools in Nilgiris, Krishnagiri, Madurai, Coimbatore, Dindigal and Theni districts. No one believes they offer secure environment. A few graduate students of anthropology and folklore have studied and recorded stories and histories of a few tribes especially in Tirunelveli District.
Kerala: Tribals here are mostly concentrated in such districts as Wayand, parts of Malappuram, Idukki and Kasarcode. However, plantation economy has played havoc with their traditional life. Kanavu, an NGO working among Wayanad tribes has attempted to record and resurrect one tribal language at least, and it runs special programs for the children and publishes their work in tribal language but using Malayalam script. There are a few attempts like that across the state.
One has not seen any attempt by the Education Dept for accommodating the language issue in the education of tribal children, as raised in the query. However, the Education Department is concerned about drop out among the tribal children and recently been trying to help them to stay in school by household follow up through PRIs.

B. K. Panda, NIEPA,New Delhi

I would like to share my experience in designing and developing bilingual primers (Saora and Oriya) for the Saora tribes in Koraput, Gunupur and Gudari areas of Orissa.  This was an NCERT project under late Prof. L.R.N.  Srivastava, in the early 80s.  I had the opportunity to stay in these villages and work with the teachers in developing the primer. The Saora dialect, unlike other dialects, has a script with lot of similarity with Oriya and that provided us the basis to refine it, based on intensive analysis of similar words as well as the script. Along with curriculum experts, primary and secondary teachers, we designed the content and curriculum that closely reflected their environment, dress, culture and life styles. These bilingual primers for Grades I and II were intended to combine the initial years of tribal children's schooling with their knowledge base, and socio-cultural and linguistic environment, and facilitate a smooth transition to the state curriculum from Grade III onwards.  The notable feature of the Saora Primers was its Workbook character, viz., combining the lessons with exercises for writing and practice.  An equally important facet of the Saora primer development was the conscious effort made to build rapport with the community which helped to secure the community acceptance and their involvement and interest in the education of their children, including enrolment, retention and completion of schooling.

This, as I said, was attempted in early 80s, and although the mainstream curriculum and syllabus and Oriya continued to be the instructional medium, the Saora bilingual primers remained very popular for long in these districts.  In fact, seeing its popularity and success, teachers and community members among Santhali-speaking community expressed interest in developing such bilingual primers, although I am not aware if it led to primer development in Santhali at that time.

The one memory of this my involvement that remained fresh in my mind for long was the interest we noticed among children in learning when we used the bilingual primer as well as the content and curriculum that closely reflected their knowledge base and environment.

G. Misra ,Directorate of Economics & Statistics, Port Blair

After more than 50 years of Independence, the fact that we are still struggling to devise an educational approach and strategy, in terms of an appropriate curriculum suited to their socio-cultural environment and knowledge base, as well as an effective strategy, to reach education to the tribal children, is quite awkward.  There are and there have been various programmes and initiatives by the national and state governments.  Similarly, there has also been intensive local/ community participation as a central feature of various innovations in the field of the education. But the problem has been an ineffective implementation, especially in the matter of devising context specific educational methods, as envisaged and encouraged in the education system.  The National Policy on Education, and its Programme of Action, 1986 (and as revised in 1992) have recommended and endorsed various strategies and schemes for expanding and improving the school education system, such as the Operation Black Board, Education for SC/ST children, education of disadvantaged children, especially girls, etc.  But its success has depended on how effectively and innovatively have these schemes been implemented by different States and its counterparts at the lower level. Under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), lots of funds are also being spent for education of tribal children, with each District, wherever applicable, being allowed Rs.15 lakhs for the purpose, especially in respect of innovative approaches. Combined with the teacher grant of Rs. 500, to each school, for development of teaching-learning aids, these funds could be utilized to develop innovative methodology to teach the tribal children.
Under the national strategy to bring about universal elementary education to all children, the prime objective is to provide primary education preferably in the mother tongue of the child. In tribal concentration schools, the pre-primary and primary education may be provided in the mother tongue as medium of instruction or the language closely similar to the language of the children. There should be an option of second language to become the medium of instruction from Grade VI onwards (middle stage) where student learns other languages other than the medium of instruction. Later in secondary stages students get to learn the language of their choice, other than English, Hindi or the State language, which is compulsory in some States, besides the mother tongue. However, to translate this language policy in practice is also a great challenge for the education directorates in many states.
Our approach in the education system is to mainstream the tribal children, but the methods we adopted have not been very appropriate or effective.  But in our urge to mainstream tribal children with the education system, we have also not realized that education need not alienate tribal children from their socio-cultural moorings or their traditional knowledge environment.  There is nothing in syllabus and textbooks about the way of tribal life or even their past their history, etc. The Anthropologists could be very helpful to incorporate the tribal socio-cultural ethos in the curricular scenario. After all, the tribal groups have their own science or culture etc which outsiders are not ware of.

So the question of tribal education should first and foremost be one of bringing them into the education fold, essentially through their own dialect/language and through their socio-cultural life style and knowledge environment, and mainstream them gradually into the state educational system, rather than the mainstream objective dictating the content and curriculum and medium of instruction. And, the first strategy should be to attract them into the education fold by offering various incentives like scholarships, free uniform, textbooks, mid-day meals, etc. In other words, education for the tribal children should be free of cost.  In Andaman and Nicobar Islands, all the tribal students get free textbooks and uniforms. Secondly, the language of instruction should be their mother tongue or a language very close to their dialect.  And thirdly, the content and curriculum should be closely related to their surroundings.

Debadatta Barkataki, State Resource Centre, Guwahati, Assam

We in the State Resource Centre (a techno-pedagogic institution, envisioned by the National Literacy Mission for development of primers and other teaching-learning materials for the non/neo-literates as well as training of functionaries of the adult literacy movement) Guwahati, Assam, may not be directly involved in elementary education. However when we talk about literacy, it covers everyone. I would, therefore, like to share our efforts regarding promotion of mother tongue education. Assam and its neighboring area is the home to hundred different ethnic languages. Assam alone has 23 recognized ethnic languages according to the 1991 Census. In our literacy work, we found that in some areas where the literacy campaign was going on, a large number of illiterates were reluctant to enroll as learners.  On further study it became apparent that the ethnic people wanted to learn in their own language instead of the state /national language. We then started preparing literacy primers in ethnic languages. Till date, we have prepared materials in Bodo, Rabha, Deuri languages and are in the process of bringing out learning materials in Sadri, Karbi and Tewa languages, besides Assamese.

The impact of this is highly encouraging for bridging the illiterate-literate gap. This also encourages the parents to demand elementary education in their mother tongue for the children. Also, the neo-literates can then learn the second language easily. The sense of pride in learning through their mother tongue acts as an impetus to learn the mainstream language.

Mahendra Mishra, Orissa Education Service, Government of Orissa

I am happy that national consensus for tribal education is gathering momentum.  I have had the opportunity of serving as the State Tribal Coordinator in DPEP Orissa during 1996-2001, and have learnt many a things on tribal education.
Regarding the education of Tribals, I’m attaching herewith a PowerPoint presentation prepared by me, which may be of relevance in terms of the present discussion (see link). You could provide your comments on it.

Anil Pradhan, Sikshasandhan, Orissa

I would like to share with you the experience of Sikshasandhan in Orissa. Our Organisation's aim is to address the problems of education of the underprivileged, especially of the tribal people, whose habitations are in the rural inlands amongst the tribal belt. Even with an increase in the number of new government schools, access continues to remain a problem, given the difficulty of travel for young children in the hilly terrain especially during the rainy seasons.  The curriculum and attitudes of the teacher (who is normally an outsider) are found to deter the students from attending schools.  It has also been noticed that the tribal people lack trust in the government school system, as it is not flexible to their tribal lifestyles (i.e., school timings and school calendar, especially during the harvest). The teachers’ attitude towards their job is reflected in their poor attendance and lack of sensitivity to the daily issues the children face. It is a common opinion amongst the ST/SC that sending their children to school is a burden of extra cost and the school system doesn’t offer a quick solution to their daily problems. 

In view of these varied problems, our organization Sikshasandhan endeavors to provide value-based quality education within easy reach to the most deprived sections.  Towards this end, Sikshasandhan pursues a two-fold strategy, viz., (i) through the establishments of Alternative Education Centres (AECs); and (ii) through advocacy efforts for a proper educational environment. Our educational intervention spans across from local village, to district and state levels.  Our advocacy work is reflected in a variety of forms, through publications, workshops and training programmes offered to NGOs, Government officials, PRI members, educationalists, teachers, and community leaders, and in offering consultancy services to other organizations, institutions, and government programmes.  These services help to target and work towards improving the educational status of the underprivileged. 

The curriculum used in the AECs is very similar to the curriculum in government schools. But in addition, our teachers apply lessons pertaining to tribal culture, story telling (collected from the community), dance and songs, environmental and agricultural education (field trips to the water sources and crop fields), health and hygiene.  And most importantly, the teacher speaks the tribal language, making the application of Oriya from the tribal language easier.  This way, children are not scared of attending school and the parents do not find their attendance a waste, as the teacher is present (as they live in the area).  The teachers are also encouraged to participate/facilitate community development based projects. We also hold interface meetings at the village level in which government officials, head masters, NGO workers and villagers attend and express their concerns. We encourage our consortium members to co-operate with the government officials so as to create a harmony between these efforts of educating the underprivileged.

The successes/results can be observed at the field level and from the local/State level.  We have also produced 10 items of teaching learning materials, e.g., Puzzles, alphabet and number books as well as developed local specific primers for NGOs like Agaragamee, Jana Bikash Kendra, and SWWS in Desia , Bhuayn and Saura languages respectively.

Bijay Parichha, AJKA, Orissa.

Right from its inception in 1989, Agranee Jana Kalyan Anusthan (AJKA) has treated education as a critical factor for development, and more than a decade, and till 2001, we were running Non-formal Education Centres (NFE) under the financial support of Ministry of HRD, Government of India and for the last 3 years, we are running 32 EGS Centres, under the Education Guarantee Scheme of Government of Orissa, with a view to reach education among tribal and dalit children.  However, during the implementation of our education programmes, we have experienced some problems that were mainly responsible for maximum of dropouts of tribal children.  These included:

Problems of Tribal Children’s Education

(i)                  The tribals and dalits are not aware of the value of education
(ii)                 They have a low self-esteem and do not have very aspirations or dreams
(iii)              They do not have competitive attitude
(iv)             They are lacking in health educational environment
(v)               Inadequate primary school education facilities and learning opportunities
(vi)              No innovative method to increase school attendance and reduce dropouts
(vii)             Most of the teachers belong to other (higher) castes who have no idea of tribal
             languages and culture
(viii)            There is caste-discrimination between higher caste teachers and children
(ix)              The education policy, syllabus and teaching and learning materials are not suitable and acceptable to the tribals.

Our Implementation Strategies

(i)                 Rapport building and friendly relationship with the tribals and dalits
(ii)               Respect for tribal language, culture and traditional behaviours
(iii)              Creating healthy educational environment
(iv)              Running schools/centres according to suitable timings of the children and their    parents
(v)                100% teachers from local tribal/dalit educated and committed youths
(vi)               Provide required learning materials and nutrition to the needy children
(vii)             Decentralization of education system at village level
(viii)            Teaching pattern based on tribal language, culture, stories, songs and dances, etc.
(ix)               Use of local low cost and no cost teaching materials
(x)                Adopt monthly examination system and bi-monthly parents meets
(xi)               Provision of excursion to various important places for boosting gaining knowledge
(xii)             Good relationship with PRI members, local government officials and education department, etc.

These are only some brief information of our education activities, and in case members desire more information on any of the aspects mentioned above, they are welcome to contact us.

A.K.Choudhury, Assam SSA Mission, Assam

I would like to share with you the experience of Assam in this context. Assam is known for its multi-ethnicity in the population pattern. A considerable section of the state population is comprised of hilly & plain tribals. There are two hill districts in the state, namely North Cachar and Karbi-Anglong, which are predominantly inhabited by hill tribes. There are plain districts in the state namely, Kokrajhar, Goalpara, Darrang, Sonitpur, Kamrup, Nalbari, Bongaigaon, Barpeta and some others wherein also different tribals live. The district of Kokrajhar is predominantly inhabited by one major tribe namely, the Bodo.

Major tribes in the state are Bodo, Garo, Rabha, Mising, Tiwa, Tai, Hmar, Dimasa, Karbi, Deuri, Moran, Manipuri, Santhali, Adivasi. Among these, the tribes having their own languages are Bodo, Garo, Rabha, Mising, Tiwa, Tai, Hmar, Dimasa, Karbi, Deuri, Santhali, Adivasi tribes.

While the Official languages of the state are Assamese, English and Bengali, the languages recognized as medium of instruction in elementary stage are Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Garo, Hmar, Manipuri, Nepali, Hindi, and English. Besides, some languages like Mising, Tiwa, Karbi, Rabha, Tai, Bisnupriya Manipuri are taught as subjects in different grades starting from Grade-I in the schools of the localities predominantly inhabited by these tribes. However, some languages/dialects have so far not been taught as subjects in the schools attended by the children of those communities.

In view of the fact that the children must learn in their own mother tongue, there are many issues, which are closely relevant to the state of Assam:

[1] Whether it is possible to have schools, where all children are learning in their mother tongue/home language? The population pattern is so dispersed that except for a few, in most other districts it would be common to find different communities speaking different languages/dialects living in the same locality. Thus, even in an ideal size of a school-catchment area, there are children whose mother tongues are different. A more significant feature is seen in the Tea-garden areas, where the tea-tribes speak Sadri dialect, but there is variation in respect of words used by them even from line to line [‘line’ means road/area-wise congregation of tea-laborers’ inhabitations in the same tea garden]. A sizable part of state population is the people, settled in the riverine areas, who speak Mia language, which is a mixture of Assamese & Bengali [of erstwhile East Pakistan] languages. The Mia language varies from place to place. Similarly, in Assam the spoken languages also vary from one place to another. For instance in the case of Assamese, which is spoken by vast majority of the population, there are variations between the standard Assamese and local versions in different areas. The same is the case for Bengali and Bodo languages. Many languages/dialects are not even written or standardized, and it would be an impossible task to initiate effort for the development of those large number languages for their use in education.

[2] Bridging of Home language with the standard medium of instruction: The easy way is to provide a package of bi-lingual children learning materials [Home language-standard language] for 2/3 months’ transaction at the very beginning of formal schooling. It may be some sort of readiness package, which needs to include folk tales, folk songs, local games, familiar objects/words for teaching alphabets-words-sentence & number. Once the children learn alphabets, words, sentences they may be brought into learning through standard medium. The community persons may contribute a lot during the bridging period.

[3] Good market value of English medium instructions in the society: There is growing demand for English teaching right from the 1st grade in school. It is also been noticed that English-liking attitude has spread to such an extent that many vernacular medium schools have been converted to English medium schools by the school managing committees.

[4] Political aspect, Policy making, planning, management, administration: These remain hard spots.

[5] Realisation of community based curriculum for elementary stage: Efforts for realising this cherished goal at the elementary education level started since independence. But no justice hitherto could be done in this regard. The reasons are manifold. Under these circumstances, the challenges involved in providing education to children in their mother tongues/home languages seem insurmountable in a state, where hundreds of languages/dialects/localized versions are spoken by the population.

Anjali Noronha, Eklavya, Madhya Pradesh

The issue of tribal education and the related one of the mother tongue is an important one but is equally vexed. As can be seen by the responses from areas as diverse as the North-East and Orissa, on the one hand, and Tamil Nadu, on the other, there are no simple and uniform solutions. I hope I am not too late in the discussion in pitching in our experiences from central India, i.e., Madhya Pradesh, to be more precise.

There are two aspects to the question of educating tribals -- the more fundamental one is that of the content of the curriculum, the second, the medium of instruction or the language question. The answers to both these questions are deeply political. How decentralised a curriculum will be, i.e., whether it will incorporate the local concerns, and the burning issues, or not, is something that is determined by political power not by educational theory. Similarly, not just whether the State will make provision for tribal mother tongue education, but also whether the tribe wants to educate its children in the mother tongue, is also a political issue. To elaborate, it is clear through research in child development and pedagogy that a young child learns concepts better if these are embedded in contexts that are meaningful to him or her and in her mother tongue. These will, more often than not, mean contexts that are local and familiar. These contexts can often illustrate conflictual situations, e.g., the struggle for distribution of already scarce water in a village makes more sense than decontextualised texts about the conservation of water. But including such texts and contexts means risking the chance of provoking change, as did the anti-arrack movement in Andhra, that emanated out of a literacy primer, and ending up in a censorship of adult literacy texts.  Hence, such texts will rarely be allowed in textbooks and schools.

Similarly, the provision of tribal language education in schools as well as how such education would be perceived by the tribal community depends on the socio-political position of the particular tribe as well as the situation of the struggle for their identity. The new National Curriculum Framework recommends a plurality of textbooks - creating a theoretical space for local specificity.  The focus group paper on edcucation of Schedule Tribes as well as the one on Language recommends the use of local language(s) and local content. How these principles are translated into reality is a highly political issue.

In the context of Madhya Pradesh, perhaps the largest number of tribal people reside in Madhya Pradesh -- about 20-25% of the total tribal population of India. But tribals as a percentage of the total population of the State is also about 20% which is much less than that in the North-Eastern region. Secondly, tribes reside in pockets and there is no strong tribal movement. Hence, the tribes themselves perceive local content and local language education as a way to keep them backward.

Eklavya has been working for the last 20 years in a block where over 50% are tribals. We have been developing materials that allow for a lot of different kinds of learning contexts. The hope in this was that children would get opportunities to learn in different ways and at their pace. However, we found (a) that tribal children were continuing to be pushed out, though at a lesser rate, due to their own irregularity and lack of home support, and (b) including the tribal community's idea of education, by the community, was quite traditional, perhaps due to the influence of the non-tribal elite ideas.

 In such a situation, we decided to start community based out of school education support centres or what we call 'Shiksha Protsahan Kendras' (SPKs). These centres are run with community support and are monitored by them while the volunteers are trained by us. The children go to the local goverment school in the day and attend the SPK in the mornings or evenings for about two hours. The SPK has library books, activity materials and workbooks and works around the State textbooks. It does not have any separate text-books. The major tribes in this area are Gonds and Korkus. But these tribes do not want their children to learn to read in their language(s). Therefore, however much we believe in the pedagogical soundness of educating in the mother tongues at the primary level, the situation here is not supportive of this. However, oral interaction in the local language takes place, but the medium of literacy activities is Hindi, the regional language.  Issues of interest to the children are explored and made the content of reading and writing activities.

These centres have been running for about 5 years now. The community now appreciates different ways of learning and is also initiating these in schools. It is concerne d about its children's progress in learning, quarterly assessments are placed in front of them and discussed. Children have become more regular too and there is demand for such centres in other villages as well. The SPK environment is much more flexible than the school. This we feel is a step forward in universalising education and facilitating greater access to the tribal communities.

Satyendra Singh, Gayatri Education Society, Madhya Pradesh

I would like to add a small dimension to this discussion on education of tribal children, the primers and their medium of instruction. The initiative of the Government of Madhya Pradesh in regard to appointment of local teachers (Samvida Shikshak), i.e., from the same locality at the Panchayat level has enabled the education set-ups to become a language-bridge. The teachers are able to translate the Hindi and English medium books in local (colloquial) language "Baghelkhandi" to kids for a better grasp of the subjects. Hence, the selection of teachers, I felt, has been of vital importance.  This is a measure which could be kept in mind by various agencies involved in teacher selection, for its widespread replication.

C.Ramakrishnan, Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS), Bhopal

I do agree with Maharana’s suggestions regarding the education of the tribal children.

The basic question I feel is how to help a child to acquire knowledge. For tribal child, it will be possible only by appreciating the indigenous or ethnic nature of the community. The child comes to school with full of language. That is the strength of the child. But the language need not be the language of the dominant community.  If we want to address the educational need of the child we must address the emotional plane of the child, which could be possible only through mother tongue, even if it is merely a dialect.

The mainstream education planners and policy makers do not seem to be really concerned about the gravity of the problem and the reasons why children are dropping out of the school system. Children of lower age appreciate only such environment that provides confidence to them. In other words, the environment that recognizes the felt need of the child. The children of the better off sections, the middle and higher classes, are forced to adjust to the school environment. The very life style and social environment could do that. Even if they wish to opt out of the school they couldn’t do that. On the other hand, children from the marginalized and tribal population are free to take their own decision whether to stay in a school or not. Usually the curriculum, transaction strategy, the infrastructure force them to opt out from the mainstream. Without acquiring basic knowledge or literacy it is tough to survive well in the present world.

Through Jeevenasala programme in Nawada District, Bihar, and also through community schools, known as Gyan Vigyan Vidyalayas, we are trying to address some of the core issues of education of the marginalized, including the tribals.  Our experience shows that that we have to think differently in respect of:
  • Curriculum including content and pedagogy
  • Notion regarding a school
  • Notion regarding a teacher
  • Notion regarding quality
  • School time
  • Learning material
  • Programme for societal awareness

The perspective, the approach and strategies regarding these issues in the SSA would need to be re-worked if the challenges involved in the education of tribal children have to be effectively addressed.

Vidhya Das, Agragamee, Orissa

Agragamee has been working in the area of elementary education for the last several years through village schools for children upto 14 years of age. However, after children cross the third or fourth grade level in our schools we encourage them to join the mainstream government schools.

The teachers in our schools for primary education are all local teachers and their instructions are in the local tribal language. They gradually switch over to Oriya language, only after children become familiar with it. It is of course necessary that children learn the mainstream Oriya language, by their second year in school, as otherwise, they will find it difficult to join the mainstream schools, where the medium of instruction is in Oriya only.

For other details of the education programme being taken up by Agragamee, I request you to please visit our website http://www.agragamee.org where you will find most of the details, as also the Annual report of the organization which will provide you with the description of the programme.

Vinobajee Gautam, UNICEF Office for Bihar and Jharkhand, Patna

I read with great interest the discussion issue/problem of multi-lingual education at school level. It is heartening to note that there is growing realisation among practitioners about the importance of mother tongue at the elementary level of education. The issue, I feel, is complex as it is as much political as social. Its social and political dimensions have already been well dwelt upon by Ms. Anjali of Eklavya(MP), Mr Choudhury of Assam SSA mission and other discussants. I would also like to compliment the Government and the nongovernment agencies who are addressing the issue in their area of operation with innovation and due concern. Recently, I was travelling in the two districts of Jharkhand - Sahebganj and Pakur. Both the districts have substantial population of scheduled tribe. The tribal groups Santhals and Paharias constituting more than 45% of population of Pakur district and more than 30% of Sahebganj districts. The other non-Hindi speaking group in Pakur is Bangla speaking group, which is also more than 40% (the districts are on the Jharkhand/West Bengal border). The people in most parts of the districts speak and read either Bangla or Santhali/Pahari or both. But when it comes to schools the medium of instruction remains Hindi. Some schools on their own initiatives been able to introduce Bangla but the other 'most used' and 'understood' language of the district finds no place in school's transactions.
(1)    There was opposition from a very strong quarter of tribal leaders. They felt that tribal children should study in dominant language for faster integration in the mainstream; and
(2)    There was resistance from teachers who were mostly non-tribals posted in those schools, because it meant extra effort in learning the language.

An effort was also made to prepare a bridge language inventory but they never reached schools.

If one travels across the district of Pakur, one will come across schools after schools where children are just not learning enough due to language problem. With appointment of para-teachers in schools from the local area there are now teachers with background of language in almost all schools. But it is felt that it is not enough to boost the learning of children or making schools 'child-friendly'. Children do require learning materials too in their mother tongue at least in the initial years of learning. In order to change things drastically I feel the following need to be done/advocated strongly:
1. All teachers who do not understand or speak local language either are shifted or should compulsorily be made to learn the language. The knowledge of language is closely linked with ones sensitivity towards the local culture, values and tradition which should be respected by teachers.
2. There should be primers (for classes 1 & 2) in local language and the dominant language is progressively introduced as medium of instruction, with options to children to carry on studying the local language. This measure perhaps will require setting up of a Language Academy or whatever which will be responsible for preparing the primers and materials in local languages. It will require political and administrative will.
3. A space in academic and training institutions like SCERT and DIET to develop teaching and learning materials for not only dominant linguistic groups but also smaller ethnic groups.
4. There is the need to discourage homogenisation of learning outcomes too which may, ultimately, lead to extinction of local language and culture. At present it is also leading to either non-participation of several tribal groups in school education as they find it completely irrelevant to their milieu and needs or a feeling of inferiority complex about their own language and culture among those who are participating. The local DIETs and BRC/CRC can play a very positive role if they are oriented properly.
At the end all I can say is that use of mother tongue as medium of instruction in early years of children's education is not only in line with the rights of children but also a good pedagogical move.

Lauren Alcorn, Toronto, Canada

As part of my Masters programme, I worked with Sikshasandhan in Orissa.  My focus of study was to understand the education system of the Scheduled Tribes in Orissa.  After conducting field research and collecting empirical data, I prepared a field report which is attached here for your reference (see link).  

I would now like to address the question posed by Mr. Maharana. However, I will request friends to please keep in mind that this comment is derived from observations and insight of a foreigner/outsider. I have recently completed my thesis on the topic of Indigenous Education where I have analysed the case studies of the tribal peoples of Orissa and the Cree Natives in my own country in Northern Canada. There are many parallels, and if applicable I may make reference to this.

At this point in time, the importance of mainstream curriculum and state language of tribal education in Orissa, should be a secondary concern.   There is an initial foundation and comfort level that needs to be established between tribal parents, children and the school.  Parents, children and community members need to feel like the school is not foreign, but a part of their community. The SSA framework, addresses this concept of ownership in their outlined objectives, however, I am concerned that the school system is still being implemented from the top-down, as opposed to grass-roots initiatives.   Sikshasandhan and their partnering CBO's, have been effective at this concept of community participation and ownership with their AECs (Alternative Education Centre).   They have been able to create a relationship with the communities, by making the school like a resource centre, open to the public, and run by the people.

In my opinion, this model can be applied to government schools, as long as this type of relationship is established.   Once a relationship has been established, the school and other community bodies need to discuss and decipher to what extent state language and curriculum should be applied. After all, the education of the children will ultimately have an impact on the future of the community.

The impact of state language and curriculum can be interpreted with both pros and cons.  In the words of Mr. Maharana, it would be suitable in that there is a strong influence of the glocal [glocal, demonstrates the outside world of the national and even global, influencing the local].  Tribal peoples are no longer insular; as local markets, politics and the environment affect them and will continue to be an influence.   Mainstream curriculum reflects the mainstream market-like-lifestyle.  Therefore, certain lessons and skills would be important to acquire. Sikshasandhan recognises this, and has adapted and altered the mainstream curriculum to teach lessons and skills applicable to this ever-changing lifestyle.  

The difficulties that are associated with the state language and curriculum seem to be common throughout India. I will avoid mentioning what others have addressed and I would like to address the concept of dehumanization.   One's tribal language is linked to their identity; language derives from one's culture, it describes and gives meaning to the environment and the authentic surroundings.   If a child is originally instructed in the state language, we are subliminally giving the message that their tribal self, culture and language is inadequate, thus dehumanization. 

A practice that seems to be effective is a transition from teaching the basics in the mother tongue, to then applying lessons in the state language (this transition can occur at a class four level). This model is being practiced with the Cree natives here in Northern Canada.  The teachers (for class one to three) are of the local origin and have been trained to teach in the local language (even if they have had no prior schooling experience). However, they are the most familiar with the local language and culture, and they have a positive impact on their students, not only as teachers, but also as role models.   In class four, there is a transition where the children are then taught in the state language (English or French).  The teachers at this level are commonly non-native, white men from the South.   This transition can be problematic, as it is an abrupt change for the students' learning patterns, and the students tend to lack an understanding for the reason of this change. Thus, I believe that there is a need to implement a psychological preparation, where the students will then understand the value of both languages, and that one language does not hold more importance over the other, they are equally important to learn. Note, that the Cree language and culture lessons remain in the curriculum from class four onward, it is a required course in the lesson plan all the way up to secondary school.

The last point that I would like to touch on, is the importance of the role of the teacher.  Teachers are the foundation to a child's learning and the make-up of a school. I believe that more attention and value has to be given to this role/occupation of the teacher.  It seems that teachers are underpaid and under-praised.   Teacher training is not only important for curriculum development, but for the morale of the teacher.  The content of training should not only concentrate on curriculum, but also on the role of the teacher and it is important to address issues of cultural sensitivity. Teachers should be gaining self-confidence and self-worth from training sessions, and in turn this will be reflected in their work.  Training should not be limited to a one-time introduction, but there is a need for bi-annual or quarterly trainings.   These trainings need to be specific to the local, the resources, the environment and their students.  In addition, this next statement brings this discussion to a full circle; by stating that the teacher is a key player in creating a bond between the community and the school. Being a teacher in these communities is not solely about delivering instruction, but also about being a member of the community.  Teachers also have the skills to help the community in other development efforts (such as water-shed and micro-credit projects), thus creating a bond between the community and the school.

These are just a few thoughts that came to mind when reviewing Mr. Maharana's queries. 

I look forward to upcoming discussions.

B.L.Kaul, Progressive Educational Society and Society for Popularization of Science, Jammu

I would like to add to what has been said about tribal education elsewhere something with regard to tribal education in Jammu and Kashmir. In hilly areas of Jammu Division and Kashmir valley live Gojars, Bakerwals and Gaddis. These tribal people are essentially nomads and migrate from pastures of Jammu to pastures of Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh in summer and return before winter sets in. There has been in vogue a practice of appointing teachers from among these people who migrate and live with them and teach their children. They teach them all subjects in their own dialect and also in Hindi/Urdu and English. This experiment has been quite successful and, quite a number of these tribal people have done well in their studies and risen to high positions in all walks of life. This can become a model to follow in similar situations elsewhere in the country.

However, there is a problem in Ladakh, Zanaskar and Kargil areas. These people are generally non-nomadic and live in settlements. Because of very low temperatures and inhospitable circumstances the working days are not many and schools remain open for comparatively shorter periods of time. Local teachers are available for primary and middle classes but for high and higher secondary classes, teachers are posted from Kashmir Valley and Jammu Division. Most of
them are unwilling to go to such areas. Some high altitude areas of Jammu Division such as Paddar and Dachhan, also inhabited by tribal people  face, a similar situation in high and higher secondary classes because of unwillingness of teachers to go to such far flung areas. I must hasten to add that the brave people of these areas have, however, shown grit and despite difficulties have proved their mettle. It is rightly said that ‘where there is a will there is a way’.

Many thanks to all who contributed to this query!

If you have further information to share on this topic, please send it to Solution Exchange for the Education Community in India at se-ed@solutionexchange-un.net.in with the subject reading ‘RE: [se-ed] QUERY: Education of Tribal Children, from Social Mobilisation for Poverty Alleviation, Orissa (Experiences). Additional Reply.

Disclaimer:  In posting messages or incorporating these messages into synthesized responses, the UN accepts no responsibility for its veracity or authenticity.  Members intending to use or transmit the information contained in these messages should be aware that they are relying on their own judgment.

Copyrighted under Creative Commons License “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5”.  Re-users of this material must cite as their source Solution Exchange as well as the item’s recommender, if relevant, and must share any derivative work with the Solution Exchange Community

Solution Exchange is a UN initiative for development practitioners in India. For more information please visit www.solutionexchange-un.net.in