Education for tribals: Bottlenecks and the way forward

Education for tribals: Bottlenecks and the way forward

Recognising tribal culture, language, cognitive strength, curriculum and inherent learning ability of children can revamp tribal education system

The Central and state governments, since India’s Independence, have initiated several schemes and programmes to educate the country’s tribal population. These include the establishment of Ashram Schools, Ekalavya Model Residential Schools, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, pre-matric scholarships and vocational training centres. 

Policy analyst and educationists have been meaning to recognise tribal culture, language, cognitive strength, curriculum and inherent learning ability of the tribal children. They believ this could revamp the tribal education system in the country.

There is, however, a long way to ensure holistic education in the tribal hinterlands.

Teacher-student relationship

A cordial relationship between tribal students and their teachers is one of the critical factors to promote meaningful learning in classrooms. It is important to understand that tribal children do not have the same backgrounds as their non-tribal schoolmates or teachers.   

There is a need to respect and value culture, traditions, mannerisms, languages and cultural heritage of the tribal students. Interestingly, many tribal cultures have positive elements. It should be the responsibility of the teachers and academic personnel to promulgate this incredible wealth of indigenous knowledge among tribal youths in schools and colleges.

“I accepted my identity as a Saura, spoke Saura in public places and vehemently testified on the local community radio stations, that I belong to the Saura tribe,” said Srinibas Gomango, language teacher at a government primary school in Rayagada district, Odisha.

Medium of instruction

Article 350A of the Indian Constitution states that every state must have adequate facilities to teach children in their mother tongue.

“The initial medium of instruction should the kids’ mother tongue. They could then be gradually encouraged to learn the regional language,” stressed Lokanath Panda, linguistic expert, who works in the tribal areas of Odisha.

“Ensuring proper instruction at the primary stage could increase better performance of tribal students,” he added.  

Some teachers assume that tribal students are slow-learners. Overcoming the language barrier requires concerted efforts. The Odisha Government and civil society organisations have made some promising efforts to educate the Gonds, Bhils, Santals and other tribal groups in their mother-tongue. Tribal children are responding well to such innovative programmes, according to educationists.

The literacy rate among the Koyas, Santals, Bhuyia, Bhatudi and Bhumiji, has steadily gone up over the years.

However, several areas need work. “Development and printing of text books and syllabus should be decentralised,” suggested Sushree Sangita Mohanty, deputy director, Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education, Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS).

“Learning materials should be prepared keeping in view the socio-cultural and economic situations of tribal people,” highlighted Mohanty.

The establishment of multilingual language laboratory and employment of tribal teachers by KISS, for instance, played a pivotal role in bridging the language barrier and embraced cultural sensitivity of the students.

 The language lab of KISS is India’s first resource centre for the promotion of mother tongue based early childhood education among the indigenous population.  Tribal children need to be cushioned with culture specific and appreciation of their ancestor’s historiography in their learning process.

It is high time that schools explore folklore in primary education, which would help tap tribals’ rich tradition in arts, crafts, music, songs, fables, etc. Similarly, stories and riddles should be collected, documented and used by teachers. 

Tribal development experts have been advocating the need for participation and sensitisation of community people to reduce the drop-out rate in tribal pockets. Empowering youth and nurturing tribal leadership could help create an enabling environment for active community participation.

Potential of youth, tribal leadership

Integration of tribal youth in their culture is imperative.

Development in tribal societies should focus on educational programmes that motivate keeping tribal youth integrated in their own culture. Working with the tribal leaders is a key to ensure their active participation and cooperation in sensitisation programmes on the importance of education.  

There is a need to promote intensive participatory community mobilisation and sensitisation programmes for the community leaders and key stakeholders.  Moreover, such awareness generation programmes should be organised through experienced and credible institutions working in the domain of tribal education.

The role of United Nations

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been promoting quality education and employability amongst marginalised children. UNICEF, in collaboration with UNESCO, is supporting the Union government to achieve quality education for all children between 6 and 14 years.

Some of the key areas for cooperation include reaching out to vulnerable and deprived children, adapting international practices as well as supporting care providers and community advocates to demand inclusive and quality education.

One of the promising initiatives by UNICEF is to support for the development of the child-friendly schools and systems (CFSS) guiding principles, launched in 2014 and approved by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development.

To ensure effective implementation of CFSS, assistance has also been provided for monitoring tools and the integration of CFSS indicators into state plans in support of making child-friendly schools. 

Similarly, in collaboration with UNESCO, UNICEF is implementing a project titled Promoting the Rights of Disabled Children to Quality Education financially supported by the UN partnership to promote rights of persons with disabilities. Under this project, UNICEF provides support to states to make primary education curriculum more inclusive for children with disabilities and building technical capacity of teachers.

Way forward

It is the pressing time to consider holistic tribal education and their inclusive growth.

There is a pressing need for collaboration and strategic discourse between government, policy-makers, civil society organisations and international development institutions to collectively put efforts to address the chronic problems and allocate adequate funds from central and state budget for tribal education. Policy framers need to focus on a long-term strategy to enhance educational status of tribal children.

“Equal access and opportunities should be given to tribal children to empower them,” said Joy Daniel Pradhan, development practitioner who works with the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs.  

“Tribal communities will have to be elevated economically and educationally for promotion of a socio-economically integrated healthy society in the remote pockets,” Daniel said.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down to Earth

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