Integrate traditional wisdom with educational methods to empower tribal students
A proven way of inculcating a range of life-skills among tribal children is investing in sports. As part of a project, tribal children in Jharkhand, Mizoram, Manipur and Assam were engaged in football and hockey. There was a visible increase in their self-efficacy and team spirit. Additionally, inviting community members to teach handicraft, or share indigenous knowledge of herbal medicines, or storytelling have proven to be powerful ways of connecting schools and communities.opinion Updated: Dec 25, 2017 16:00 IST
The Dongia Kondhs are among the remote tribal communities in Odisha. They featured in the state’s categorization of “Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVGT).” This year in May, 14 girls from the community cleared the class 10 exams –a first for the community. (Vipin Kumar / HT Photo)
American philosopher John Dewey said any education, in its forms and methods, is an outgrowth of the needs of the society in which it exists. Therefore, the educational methods adopted in a developed European nation would be different from those in an underdeveloped country in Africa. For a nation as diverse as India, one size fits all could be the most disastrous approach to follow, especially when it comes to education.
Case in point: the weak learning outcomes and poor educational statistics among the tribal population. About 8% of India’s population is tribal. As per the 2011 census, the overall literacy rate among the Scheduled Tribes (ST) is 58%. However, these averages mask the diversity among tribal-dominated states. For instance, Mizoram is among the top five literate states in the country while Jharkhand, which also has a large tribal population, is among the bottom five.
A major factor in the weak educational foundation among tribal population is the poor rate of school completion. Out of every 100 students, 67 complete primary school, while only 42 complete the eighth standard. The completion rate of tribal students in class 12 is an appalling 14 out of 100, according to the Statistical Profile of Scheduled Tribes in India, 2013 by the ministry of tribal affairs.
The statistics are even more alarming for women. According to the findings of the National Sample Survey’s 66th round, only 1% rural tribal women complete graduation. Despite education being the single-largest expenditure among the centrally sponsored programmes of tribal development, the situation remains grim.
Lack of access to high quality education from pre-school is at the heart of poor educational outcomes and alarmingly low secondary school completion rates among tribal children. Despite constitutional guarantee for access to primary education in mother tongue, teachers in only 7% schools communicate with students in tribal languages, according to a 2016 study by the National University of Education and Planning. This communication gap leads to a lack in comprehension which ultimately weakens the entire school education for tribal children.
Various pilot projects and studies have, however, confirmed that the educational experience and learning outcomes in tribal children can be radically transformed by engaging with the community, schools and teachers. Encouraging examples from Lanjigarh, and Thuamul Rampur in the Kalahandi district of Odisha; Murhu and Torpa blocks in Khunti district, Jharkhand; Dhadgao block in Nandurbar district of Maharashtra, and Abu Road and Pindwara blocks of Sirohi district in Rajasthan reinforce that community engagement and integration of native wisdom in educational methods can do wonders.
Conscious inclusion of mother-tongue in classrooms in early grades, especially class one and two, and use of engaging storybooks in tribal or bilingual format which assist acquisition of regional language with the help of the child’s command over her mother tongue have proven to be effective methods. Creating a print-rich environment in the school through display of children’s drawings and writing, poetry posters and collection of local songs, and lending storybooks to children to engage with print in non-literate home environments are some of the strategies that have worked.
Besides, training teachers and community volunteers in child-centered, experiential pedagogic methods can potentially improve school completion rates among tribal students while improving learning outcomes.
There is ample educational research which establishes the importance of self-efficacy i.e. leaner’s own belief in one’s ability to succeed, in determining learning outcomes. Similarly, teacher’s belief in a student’s abilities also influences learning outcomes. Our own research among tribal communities in central India showed that a large majority of teachers have low expectations from tribal students and believe that they are incapable of learning at par with students from so-called educated backgrounds. Children are socialised to believe that tribal language and culture, are inferior and being ‘educated’ means moving away from their cultural, linguistic, and psychological identity. Education of tribal children, therefore, needs to affirm tribal identity while opening doors for engaging with the wider world.
With an aim to understand the challenges and educational barriers facing some of the most academically and socially marginalised students in the classroom, the Literacy Research in Indian Languages (LiRIL) was conducted over a period of three years (2013-16). The research contains important findings from sites in Palghar district, Maharashtra, and Yadgir district, Karnataka about children’s literacy acquisition in grades one to three. This report establishes how teacher education and curricula must focus, simultaneously, on a variety of languages and literacy skills from the earliest grades. Listening, speaking, reading and writing need to be taught in inter-related ways and used for communication, expression, analysis and discussion. Both higher order skills like composition and comprehension as well as lower order skills such as decoding needs to be nurtured together, from the very beginning.
A proven way of inculcating a range of life-skills among tribal children is investing in sports. As part of a project, tribal children in Jharkhand, Mizoram, Manipur and Assam were engaged in football and hockey. There was a visible increase in their self-efficacy and team spirit. Additionally, inviting community members to teach handicraft, or share indigenous knowledge of herbal medicines, or storytelling have proven to be powerful ways of connecting schools and communities.
The purpose of education, as John Dewey said, has always been to give the young, the things they need to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society. Therefore, modern educational methods must be designed keeping in mind the requirements and sensibilities of tribal students. The pursuit of quality education entails a strong commitment to the wholesome development of students and this can only be made possible by engaging schools, teachers and communities as central pillars.
Amrita Patwardhan is head, sports and education, Tata Trusts and Divya Tirkey, programme coordinator, education, Khunti, Jharkhand
The views expressed are personal