Education for Children of Tribal Communities in Orissa, India: Experiences
Sikshasandhan has been working in the field of education since 1995. It has formed a consortium consisting of seven voluntary organisations operating mostly in tribal areas. It runs alternative education centres for elementary age group of tribal children through consortium members. Sikshasandhan does the overall coordination of the programme, conducts training programmes for teachers, monitors the programme, etc. Our consortium partners look after day to day monitoring of the schools and organises health check-up camps for children, conducts training programmes for women and liaisons with local self governance institutions, community, teachers and government officials.
The most important problem we have identified in the tribal areas is language. There are certain tribes (Kohla, Kondh, Saora, Bondo etc.) in Orissa within which it is extremely difficult to interact with their children and women. As for male members of these tribal communities, they are some how exposed to the market, therefore, making it a little bit easier to interact with them. In most of the cases language creates problems of communication among children and teachers which in turn causes drop-out of children. To bridge the gap we have selected teachers in consultation with community who are well versed with local language and culture. We have established certain criterion for selection of teachers. First, the teacher should have a positive attitude towards the community, be ready to learn from them and be prepared to engage them in extra–curricular activities such songs and dance. Second, s/he should be eager to self-learn. It has been our experience that when a person is interested in self-learning, s/he can be an asset for schools. Third, s/he should not be over qualified which means their academic qualification should not be more then +2 level. When over qualified, s/he generally feels reluctant to stay in the village and wants to impose his/her values on the tribals, rather than learning from them.
Before posting of teachers in the centres, Sikshasandhan conducts pre-service training programmes for teachers. Our training programme has two components: motivational and subject teaching (mathematics, language and social science). Under motivational aspects, Sikshasandhan offers inputs which help participants to understand society, inter–linkages and enable them to reflect on the social problems. Under subject teaching, we cover how to teach various subjects relating to the immediate environment, socio-economic situation and from real life experience and how to practice joyful learning process. In addition, we update teachers about the various government schemes and programmes and the concept of local self governance.
Teachers are the kingpin of the whole programme. They not only teach children in the education centres, they act like change agents in the villages.
Teachers are trained to collect local history, folk tales, stories, indigenous games, riddles, and use them in the teaching process. Our teachers have already collected the latter and they are being published in our bi-monthly magazine Sikha regularly.
The school runs for four hours a day. The timing and holidays have been decided by the community in accordance with their suitability, weekly market day and festivals seasons. Tribals have their own festivals which are very much different from non-tribals.
Sikshasandhan has prepared a framework of a syllabus, in consultation with our teachers and community members. They use it as guidelines for preparing a syllabus for their own school. Teachers prepare a social map of the village where they teach. It contains information on institutions, their location and their characteristics, population, literacy, facilities available in the village, geographical situation etc. They use it when teaching social science. They teach geography of the village including soil, fertility, crops, rivers, etc. They also teach about village history and on occasion teachers invite elder persons of the village to tell stories to illustrate the history. They also teach history of tribal people, their participation in social and freedom movements, as well as their language, culture and various exploitative processes which prevail in the tribal areas. They teach about the environment, both physical and social. They analyse the situation of environment in their immediate surroundings. It was also taught that if the social environment will improve, physical environment situation will also improve better.
Tribal children are also taught about the rest of the society, so that they can interact with them confidently. Many educated tribals do not speak their own language and never identify with the tribal community, as they feel inferior to the non-tribals. To reverse this trend we have included these aspects in the curriculum, so that children will be able to think about what is good and bad in their society and rest of the society.
Tribal society continues to be based on agriculture. With the introduction of formal schools there is a disconnection between study and work in the field; in turn education is disruptive and detrimental to the culture. To restore this culture, children work in the field in groups which equips them with agricultural skills and knowledge and fosters collective work and group living. group income generating activities have been started in each education centre.
Tribal children love songs, dance and music. Therefore emphasis has been placed on incorporating these components into the school curriculum.
By adopting all these strategies, we have succeeded in bringing tribal children in to schools. Children feel more comfortable with their teachers, as they are seen as members of their community and conduct lessons in their mother tongue. This provides a more welcoming and comfortable learning environment. Further, children gain confidence and understanding that tribal culture and language are no way inferior to the so called mainstream language and culture; rather it is in many ways a superior form to the latter.
Children being taught in their mother tongue are learning faster. When they start attending government schools, we have observed that the AEC children are academically stronger than the government schooled children who have not taught in their mother tongue.
Children from AECs, on occasion, face problems when they interact with formal school teachers. Out teachers (in AECs) treat children as younger brothers and sisters and work with them as friends. But when children are admitted into the formal schools, teachers behave differently and sometimes children are scolded by the teachers. Due to such type of behaviour of government school teachers, children drop-out from schools.
For the last sixteen years I have been working in the Education sector of Orissa. I found the state of education in tribal areas in a deplorable condition. Although, many commissions have been set-up at central level as well as the formulation of many plans and programmes, there is still a vast lacuna in educating tribal people. I have identified certain problems on tribal education as follows:
Sikshasandhan has conducted an evaluation study of high schools run under the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes Department. We found that these schools are functioning like any other schools with the exception of adding residential facilities. There is no separate curriculum and activities for tribal children in these schools which will promote and raise their confidence level.
Government should learn from these field experiences and redesign school programmes for rural communities and tribals accordingly, in order to build a knowledgeable society in Orissa and join hand with rest of the people . (to have a inclusive society with social justice)
· Member-Secretary, Sikshasandhan, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India, Email:firstname.lastname@example.org