Education of tribal children, from social mobilisation to poverty alleviation

Francis M. Hult fmhult at
Wed Mar 8 02:24:55 UTC 2006

OneWorld South Asia

Education of tribal children, from social mobilisation to poverty alleviation

Anjali Noronha

07 March 2006

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 decentralized 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 

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 education 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 numbers 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. 

Anjali Noronha 
Madhya Pradesh 

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