Methods of education that create enthusiasm for learning and reduce the school dropout rate: A success story – West Bengal

“The goal is to prepare some model students in our villages, so that others will be inspired to follow them.” – Santal educationist Dr. Boro Baski >>


The issues in tribal education are the conflict between the state’s policy of assimilating minorities into the mainstream culture and the tribal people’s reluctance to abandon and insistence on maintaining their identity. Rural tribal children face a severe dilemma when they are forced to reject their own culture and accept the schools’ middle-class values. This conflict results in high dropout rates, low educational aspirations and in a diminished self-esteem.

Other problems lie in the medium of instruction in a language which is not the mother-tongue, in the curriculum based on middle-class Bengali requirements in case of West Bengal, in the method of evaluation, the lack of quality teaching and a defective administration. Everything seems to be set up against tribal children. For example, schools tend to become painful for children when they face a teacher who does not understand their language and who speaks in a language the children do not understand. Children have to memorize lessons without understanding them. They get bored and prefer looking after the family’s cows or goats to attending school. Most teachers come from non-tribal communities. They hail from a middle-class background and are hardly aware of the socio-cultural background of their pupils. This lack of understanding creates serious problems. Unfortunately, the primary goal of formal education boils down to getting a salaried job through competitive examinations. Tribals, however, live with minimal consumer interests and material requirements. Their concept of pleasure differs from the ‘mainstream’. They have hardly any urge to compete for material and academic success. Their life is not marked by the sense of formal discipline and punctuality that schools require both at the individual and the family levels. Tribal village culture gives more scope for independently moving around at random than is typical of mainstream life. Hunting, fishing, roaming, drinking, singing and dancing all have an accepted role to play.

Our School

To address the problems Santal tribal children face in our villages our organization Ghosaldanga Adibasi Seva Sangha started a Non-formal Santal School Rolf Schoembs Vidyashram (RSV) in 1996. At present, it has five classes – from kindergarten to class IV. Moreover, it runs two hostels for secondary school students, one for girls and another for boys who attend government schools. Since, Santal life is moulded by various socio-cultural and religious intricacies the shift from tradition to modernity is loaded with difficulties. We therefore have taken a holistic approach, trying to address all relevant aspects of village life. For example, in education we do not only pay attention to our students, but we take their family-situation into consideration as well. We realize that illiterate parents can hardly guide their offspring academically. We have built village-style open classrooms and we encourage students’ involvement in campus cleaning and its development. Children come to RSV from eleven different Santal villages. The school has a big campus with a playground, a bio-orchard garden, a fishery pond, agricultural land and an oven to bake bread.

Method of education

The children are first taught in their mother tongue, Santali, not in Bengali. After 18 months of schooling, the medium of teaching gradually switches to Bengali. Since there is no unanimous Santali script in our area we choose to use Bengali alphabet from the start. Learning in their mother-tongue at first builds up enough confidence in the children that they can cope with the Bengali language and with an educational world most of their parents are not familiar with.

We have prepared several Santali Primers to teach Bengali letters and numbers through traditional Santal melodies. Santals traditionally learn their customs and rituals from their elders in the family and society through oral and informal methods. The learning process takes place mostly during group activities in a natural and pleasant atmosphere. Taking our inspiration from this tradition and from Rabindranath’s ideals of education, we have begun to inculcate dance, music, Santal myths, folklore and history in our teaching programme. School starts in the morning with prayer and meditation in Santal manner. Then the children study, do gardening, play, sing, dance, paint, take lunch and return home. In the government school books, students read about the lives and work of great Indians like Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, and in the present generation, Amartya Sen.

“The smart boy or clever girl who is deprived of the opportunity of schooling, or who goes to a school with dismal facilities (not to mention the high incidence of absentee teachers), not only loses the opportunities he or she could have had, but also adds to the massive waste of talent that is a characteristic of the life of our country.” – Nobel Awardee Amartya Sen in The Argumentative Indian (Penguin Books, 2005), p. 344 | Find this and other books published in India >>

Related: Tribal Children’s Right to Education | Video documentary: Lifeworld of an Enlightened Villager >>
Childhood | Childrens rights: UNICEF India >>

We at RSV, however, feel that in addition to knowing great national and international figures, it is important to know about the lives of good and successful people in our own community. This will encourage self-confidence and a sense of pride of one’s community and heritage. Santal students need Santal role models with whom they can identify. Therefore, we give utmost importance to excursions and visits to historical places of the Santals. An annual trip to Bhagnadihi, the birth place of two Santal heroes who started guerilla warfare against the landlords and local police administration in 1855-56, is one to mention.

The parents of the students have a forum in the school, where they come together once every two or three months to discuss the development of their children and the school. They also render free service on the school campus, such as cleaning the bio-orchard, working in the vegetable garden or leveling the road and the playground. Parents also pay a small monthly fee. Those who cannot pay in cash may pay in kind giving rice, potatoes, vegetables or rendering service in the school campus. Parents also actively participate in the various cultural activities of the school.

The goal of our hostels is to prepare some model students in our villages, so that others will be inspired to follow them. We are also aware of the problem that educated Santals are often isolated from their community after adopting a different value system through formal education. Therefore, the RSV school and the hostels are situated within one kilometer from the villages, so that the students can go home to spend weekends with their families


Our methods of education have drastically reduced the school dropout rate, and children discover a lot of joy and enthusiasm for learning. While our villages were basically illiterate up to my generation, all children now learn to read and write. Many ex-students of our school are doing very well academically in higher-level schools, colleges and universities. Some of our alumni have government jobs; many more are self-employed. Many educated youths have also taken up the school and organizational responsibilities to carry on the initiative we started a generation ago. Santal villagers are beginning to understand that education makes a difference.

More information

For further information about the school, organization and recent publications please log on to our website-
Friends of Ghosaldanga and Bishnubati e.V., Frankfurt (Germany) (in German)

Source: Courtesy Boro Baski (M.S.W., Ph.D.) co-founder and principal of Rolf Schoembs Vidyashram,  personal message 23 October 2014

Dr. Boro Baski works for the community-based organisation Ghosaldanga Adibasi Seva Sangha in West Bengal. The NGO is supported by the German NGO Freundeskreis Ghosaldanga und Bishnubati. He was the first person from his village to go to college as well as the first to earn a PhD (in social work) at Viswa-Bharati. This university was founded by Rabindranath Tagore to foster integrated rural development with respect for cultural diversity. The cooperation he inspired helps local communities to improve agriculture, economical and environmental conditions locally, besides facilitating education and health care based on modern science.

He authored Santali translations of two major works by Rabindranath Tagore, the essay “Vidyasagar-Charit” and the drama Raktakarabi (English “Red Oleanders”), jointly published by the Asiatic Society & Sahitya Akademi (India’s National Academy of Letters) in 2020.

Other posts contributed by Dr. Boro Baski >>

Ghosaldanga Bishnubati Adibasi Trust
Registration under Trust Registration Act 1982
P.O. Sattore, Dist. Birbhum
West Bengal-731 236

For inquiries on Santal cultural and educational programs, please contact:
Mob. 094323 57160 or [email protected]

Report on the First Indian Training Course in Education (1939)

Dr. Maria Montessori expressed her thanks for the splendid reception and said that she had not come to India for the sole purpose of teaching her Method of education but above all to spread the message of the child, to stress the great values hidden in childhood that can give such great help to the adult world in these times of confusion.

Only the collaboration between the children and the adults, she said, will be able to solve the problems of our time. […]

This question of education is very keenly felt in the new nations of Asia and it is touching to witness the efforts of governments and private institutions to bring knowledge and learning to the illiterate masses. Their difficulties can best be summed up in the words of Mahatma Gandhi who once told me, ‘We should welcome your collaboration, but in devising something you should not lose sight of the fact that there are seven hundred thousand villages in India. They are not villages in the Western sense – dung heaps would better describe them.’ It is the appalling conditions under which these masses must live, the lack of teachers, the immense expense involved in providing buildings in such imposing numbers that form an almost insoluble problem, particularly for India and Pakistan. But both these countries are facing these problems bravely, and with such tenacity of purpose that they deserve the full sympathy and support of all the more fortunate nations. […]

[Asia’s] so-called backward countries are peopled by millions of souls, sensitive souls, peacefully and nobody inclined, but so distressed and poor that they can best be described in the words of that great Indian philosopher, Dr. Radhakrishnan [the second President of India], who recently called them ‘souls without a body’.

Source: “Report on the First Indian Training Course in Education” (Madras, 11 November 1939) by Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) quoted in Maria Montessori Writes to her Grandchildren: letters from India, 1939-1946 (Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company, 2020), pp. 37-38 & 160-161

On India’s 73rd Independence Day, we need to grapple with the shameful fact that over one-third of the world’s malnourished live in India. In Outlook this week, our I-Day special cover story asks- what about azadi from hunger?
Poshan​ #OutlookThisWeek​
Posted: Aug 15, 2019 on >>
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Discussing the challenge ahead for millions of India in the foreseeable future:
How to bring down the rate of stunting and wasting to single digit rates? [5:35] >>

“Tribal languages are a treasure trove of knowledge about a region’s flora, fauna and medicinal plants. Usually, this information is passed from generation to generation. However, when a language declines, that knowledge system is completely gone.” – Ayesha Kidwai (Centre for Linguistics, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi) quoted by Abhijit Mohanty in “Seven decades after independence, many tribal languages in India face extinction threat” | Learn more about the work done by the People’s Linguistic Survey of India and endangered languages worldwide >>

“The notion of ‘mainstreaming’ needs to be challenged not just because Adivasi culture is being crushed, but also because Adivasi values and ways of life offer insights that the ‘mainstream’ needs. If we are to halt the destruction of ecosystems, we need to understand how closely biodiversity and cultural diversity are intertwined. Perhaps it is time to reverse the gaze and begin to learn afresh from Adivasis.” – Felix Padel & Malvika Gupta (The Hindu) | Learn more about the role of tribal communities in fostering biodiversity, ethnobotany and cultural diversity | Success stories | Tribal identity >>

“I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and … toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.” – George Orwell | Learn more: Childhood | Customs | Games and leisure time | Literature – fiction | Storytelling >>

“The theoretical debate on caste among social scientists has receded into the background in recent years. [C]aste is in no sense disappearing: indeed, the present wave of neo-liberal policies in India, with privatisation of enterprises and education, has strengthened the importance of caste ties, as selection to posts and educational institutions is less based on merit through examinations, and increasingly on social contact as also on corruption.” – Harald Tambs-Lyche (Professor Emeritus, Université de Picardie, Amiens) in “Caste: History and the Present” (Academia Letters) | Learn more: Accountability | Democracy | Education and literacy >>

Two major figures in the history of modern India were deeply influenced by Vivekananda’s ideas about spirituality: the great Indian political leader Mohandas Gandhi and the Noble Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore. The first developed the nationalist strand in the idea of spirituality while the second developed the international strand, both showing the extent to which the national and transnational are actually interwoven. They argued that the materialism of the West created warfare and colonial exploitation, while the spirituality of the East provided an alternative that would lead to world peace and equal prosperity for all. After the Second World War some of these ideas entered into the ideology of the Third Way, especially exemplified by the Bandung Conference of 1955 and the Nonaligned Movement.

As in the West, Indian spirituality transcends institutionalized religion. It uses and transforms existing traditions, but goes beyond the authority of priestly lineages and monastic institutions. Gandhi used the ideas of Tolstoy, Ruskin, and Nordau concerning civilization, spirituality, and industry to transform the Hindu traditions in which he had been socialized. His political actions against the British colonial state were meant to pose a spiritual alternative to materialist exploitation. Since one of the biggest problems in the Indian subcontinent that continues today is the relation between Hindus and Muslims, a transcendence of religious difference in universal, all-embracing spirituality is of the utmost political significance. Interestingly, Gandhi found a way to tie this universalist spirituality to the nationalist project by arguing that since one was born in a particular tradition and civilization, one should not proselytize or convert. Instead, each person had to find the Truth in his or her own traditions.

Source: “Spirituality in Modern Society” by Peter van der Veer (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity), in Social research (Vol 76, No 4, Winter 2009)
Date Visited: 21 December 2021

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