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Tribals and Education

February 21, 2011

Introduction and historical perspectives:

Before going into the specifications of the educational status of tribals, one has to consider the historical status and present living conditions of them. Without unduly romanticizing, it can be said with great conviction that tribals for long had been living in the forests with the pressures of modern living not affecting them at all. Their needs, which were few, were met by the natural resources available around them. Life revolved around the forests and hence there was a constant and dynamic integration between them and environment in which they lived. Small groups of people united by the sense of belonging to a single tribal group of common ethnic heritage under a traditional ’Yajamaana’ (Chieftain) lived in houses constructed entirely out of local and low-cost materials. Food was generally grown on a collective basis, based on the decision of the Yajamana. Meat requirements were met by hunting local animals like wild boars and an occasional deer and picking up leftovers of animal carcasses left behind by wild cats. In all activities, there developed a sense of collective living under the leadership of a single respected elder.

The entire process of Education therefore was built around equipping the individual with skills to survive under stressful and demanding conditions. Emphasis was always on learning to live with Nature and the learning process was a continual one under non-structured conditions. Learning had to be experiential and in most cases the parent (generally the father for the son and mother for the daughter) or the respected village elder was the teacher. Knowledge was transmitted from generation to generation without using the written medium. Teaching was usually on a one to one basis and constantly used participatory methodologies. All learning essentially revolved around teaching the younger generation ‘survival skills’ and was mostly limited to food gathering in its various forms. Learning usually began early at around 4-6 years of age and continued until early adulthood. The content of learning had a distinct gender bias and was limited to the role that the child played later in adulthood. Learning also was based on ethnic specialities. For example: A Bettakuruba (Kadukuruba) child was equipped with the knowledge of bamboo and making various articles of daily need out of it whereas its Jenukuruba counterpart needed to know more about the various species of bees and methods of collecting honey from them.

Present setup / Govt. Ashram Schools:

Presently the tribals in H.D.Kote are living outside the forest (mostly on its fringes), being forced out by laws, which they are yet to come to terms with. The entire tribal population had to be forced out twice from their settled habitation by the construction of the Kabini reservoir and the Forest conservation acts. This apart from producing tremendous psychological stress, coupled with changing economic demands, rendered the traditional education that the tribal child was getting obsolete and woefully inadequate to equip it with facing an inhospitable and culturally complex world.

All round the child, traditional value systems were collapsing, new and complex social factors were constantly prejudicing its mind, traditional leadership was not being recognized by the outside forces, cultural alienation was taking place at an astonishing pace and the entire tribal ethnic group was becoming increasingly insecure socially and there was definite identity crisis occurring. This overawed and confused the child and to a great extent and it started to seek role models outside the community. As such, external influences started to dominate the child’s thinking and learning processes. The entire traditional educational system collapsed under the pressure of acculturation and the only visible alternative to both the parent and the child was the governmental educational system.

The Ashram Schools established by the Government as part of its policy of tribal development were never planned specifically for the tribals nor did it take the unique and diverse tribal cultural values and systems into consideration. The tribal child was required to fit into the established educational system designed for the urban populace with emphasis on literacy rather than on education. These schools were focused more as a welfare center rather than as centers of learning. Unqualified personnel with absolutely no understanding of the tribal psyche were posted to man these centers. Even today these schools which are understaffed by personnel with no primary teaching qualification or abilities are expected to cater to around 50 -100 children studying from the 1st to 4th standard (a few schools have been upgraded till the 7th standard). After the primary stage, the child is expected to have been ‘civilized’ and is forced to join the mainstream schools. The Ashram schools at this stage are replaced by hostels. This atmosphere is not particularly attractive and more often the tribal child prefers not to join the Ashram school at all. Even if it does join, the child prefers not to stay in it, but only looks at the center as a place where food and clothing is offered. The one or two teachers who are generally posted here are expected to run both the schools and the hostel components. As per a study done by the author in 2000, the following observations were noticed:

  • The Ashram School buildings are in very bad conditions.
  • Proper drinking water and sanitation facilities are not available even today in many schools.
  • Most of schools have only one teacher.
  • The teachers are not qualified as per the standards laid down by the Department of Education.
  • The children do not stay back in the hostels. They commute daily from the tribal hamlets. The children are generally discouraged from staying, as this would mean that the warden has to also stay in the school premises itself.
  • Most of the teachers were found to be present in the schools only once out of the four visits made. Most of the time they quoted attending meeting at the Taluk headquarters as the reason for their absence.
  • There has been no noticeable difference in the quality, quantity and variety of food despite the hike made by the Government for food charges.
  • The overall health of the Children continues to be poor with the major problem being skin disorders.
  • None of the Ashram Schools visited had any active betterment committee/SDMC.

The alternatives:  

No system, however exhaustive it is in concept, can be implemented without the implementing agency/personnel having fullest conviction in what they are doing. To begin with one should be clear by the term ‘education’.

Education in its true sense should extend beyond mere literacy. The focus would be on providing literacy along with the creation of an environment in which the child’s innate potential flowers out. Education, apart from increasing the awareness levels should also focus on imparting values, skills and the ability to think independently.

For practical purposes, let us presently restrict ourselves to this definition.

The situation that should ideally exist can be dealt under four major headings.

  • The learners
  • The teachers
  • The content of learning
  • The strategy/methodology

The learners: 

The tribal children presently are caught in a transitional phase of not knowing where they belong. On one side is the traditional tribal society, with its own value systems and on the other is that of the mainstream society. The child is neither able to recognize and respect traditional leadership nor has it come to terms with modern influences. Added to this are the problems of poverty, insecurity and the shock of rapid acculturation into a complex and dynamic social setup. Motivation for education/schooling is minimal from the family. Being mostly first generation learners implies that the child is not guided by family influences in deciding to attend the school. Motivation, apart from influencing the family, has to necessarily include welfare incentives like food and clothing. The home atmosphere though having its own distinct advantages should also be viewed from the background of physical constraints of time and space. Each tribe having its own dialect makes even Kannada a foreign language to the child. Early nutritional deficiencies in some children could also result in slow learning tendencies. Home influences, which are very essential for early development, could also have a demotivating effect under certain circumstances.

The Teachers:

The teachers are one of the most important components in the entire system. Apart from being self-empowered persons, they must have a high degree of motivation and dedication. Persons with rural/tribal background would be flexible and able to adapt to changing needs. Apart from basic teaching qualifications, any extra skills will enrich the teaching process. He/she should be sensitive enough to assess the tribal feelings and sentiments. The teachers will have to have a direct and complete assessment of the tribal environment. Direct interaction with the parents would help reduce absenteeism and dropouts to a great extent. Over a period of time, the teacher should endeavor to learn the local tribal dialect and begin to use it in the teaching process. He/she should have an open mind and be receptive to ideas emanating from the tribals themselves. Tribal education being traditionally transmitted from generation to generation, the teacher student ratio should be as small as possible.

The context of learning: 

In the present context, basic literacy levels as prescribed by the Department of Education are necessary. Along with this, traditional knowledge regarding tribal values, medicine, food habits, environment and local history have to be imparted to the children. The child should be imparted with a sense of pride in its tradition and heritage. Education over a period of time should include knowledge of agriculture in all its dimensions, skills of various crafts and vocations, and should be designed to enable the child to become independent in its environment. The medium of instruction, ideally speaking, should be that of the child, but could be impracticable as finding teachers versed in the various dialects is difficult. The environment in which the child learns is also very important. The tribal child has always been used to open spaces and does feel constrained to learn under structured conditions. Classrooms, if deemed necessary should be large with plenty of light and aeration. There should be a feeling of openness prevailing. Preferably the teacher should not stand in one corner of the room and teach in the conventional manner. At the younger primary school going age group, tribal children adapt more easily to lady teachers. The physical endurance abilities of these children must not be underestimated and a lot of scope must be given to physical activities as a part of the learning process.

The methodology / strategy:

Educational practices being highly dynamic and ever-changing, strategies have to be constantly altered. The tribal child being used to experiential learning methods, the same must be consciously cultivated. The learning environment must be non-structured and free from the negative effects of competition. Group learning must be encouraged and the teacher should play more of a role of a facilitator. To the extent possible parents and traditional chieftains and elders must be involved in the process of forming a syllabus and should be encouraged to participate in the teaching process also. Teaching and learning should be activity oriented with minimum teacher interference and maximum student participation.

Some suggestions: 

1. The teaching staff should be preferably rural/tribal based. They should be well compensated financially apart from providing residential accommodation in the school itself. They should undergo regular training in handling tribal children. Tribals with a minimum educational qualification could be trained to handle the lower classes.

2. All teaching should at the lower levels (1-6) should be joyful and child-centered. Learning should be activity oriented and emphasis should be on learning rather than on teaching. Teachers should be trained to play the role of a facilitator and given the skill-sets to transact based on the learning styles of the students rather than merely teach out of a pre-determined syllabus.

3. The participation of parent community should be actively encouraged in the ashram schools/hostels. This, apart from ensuring good attendance and minimizing dropouts will also bring in accountability into the system. Small (not more than 5-6 members) committees can be locally formed for each institution, which should be given monitoring and evaluating powers. These can act as betterment and watchdog committees and should have access to directly report to the district authorities.

4. Apart from the regular literacy teaching already existing, children should be taught sustainable agriculture and vocational training.

5. All Ashram Schools/ hostels should have qualified wardens who will also be able to give extra academic inputs to the children.

6. Sports should be promoted and encouraged to the maximum possible extent.

7. A method of monitoring and supervision by the taluk/ district level functionaries should be ensured on a regular basis.

8. Regular health appraisals of the children should be done. If practical, the local PHC’s should be given the charge of maintaining the health standards in the schools/hostels. The doctors can be compensated financially for this.

9. To ensure more openness in the functioning, each hostel should have a board indicating the various facilities available for the children.

10. Regular exposure tours for the children should be arranged.

11.  An educated tribal youth should be employed as a ‘community organizer’ and he should be principally involved in the motivating the community and ensuring their participation in the various educational activities.

12.  There should be a group of elderly tribals who can be attached to each institution, for providing inputs in the fields of traditional tribal acts, culture, medicine etc.

13.  The Government could consider funding NGOs with established credibility and ask them to run educational institutions for tribals. The NGO should be given complete functional autonomy and financial accountability to the Government could be maintained.

14.  Considering the fact the tribal cultures are permissive and children begin sexual activity in their teens itself, sex education and counseling would be a necessary imperative.

15.  Being first generation learners and coupled with the fact that most of the children are at a cultural crossroad, the psychological stress on the child is severe to warrant the need for a professional psychiatrist / child psychologist on a part-time basis.


Categories: Musings
  1. March 19, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    It was nice reading your article on empowerment of women in the villages and it was nice to meet a person with this positive concern
    Uma reddy

  2. Padmashree
    March 3, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Respected Sir,
    Thanks a lot. Gained enough insights from your article. I feel that there would be marked differences, when enhancement of capabilities in every human is the focus of education. Hope to learn more from your wonderful experiences.

  3. Vijay kumar
    February 21, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    hello sir,

    Thank you for the article.The education system prescribed in the article for the tribal people is the need for the hour. With my short experience with the tribal people, my observation is that people in the mainstream who are near to the tribal hamlets see the tribal people as mere laborers and nothing else. If this changes the people who can dedicate themselves to the tribal welfare by involving themselves in the process would emerge.The social behavior of the mainstream people also play an important role in the education of the tribal people.

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