A balanced curriculum that helps children “retain the tribal values that have relevance even today and accept the good brought in by modernization”: Interview with the founders of the Vidyodaya School for Adivasi children – Tamil Nadu

The Vidyodaya School

Tucked away in the Blue Mountains, close to Ooty, the tourist destination of Tamil Nadu in southern India, is the small sleepy town of Gudalur, the home town of Rama and B. Ramdas. Gudalur is a land of tea, coffee and pepper. The region is home to the Betta Kurumba, Mullu Kurumba, Paniya, Irula, Katu Nayakan tribal communities who have their roots in the forest belts bordering Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It is in Gudalur that Rama and Ramdas have set up a very distinct and unusual learning centre for the tribal children of the area the Vidyodaya School. […]

Besides tribal children, the school also caters to the education of children with learning disabilities. The medium of instruction initially was English, but the school switched to Tamil. Surprisingly, the children have no difficulty whatsoever in dealing with this. […]

Nyla: Isn’t teaching in English, a foreign language, to tribal children, inappropriate?

Rama: As far as tribals are concerned, any language other than their mother tongue is a foreign language, but since they use Tamil, the regional language, to communicate with non-tribals, teaching in Tamil would have been a better option. In fact, our initial plan was to have Tamil as the medium of instruction. But at the time the Government regulations did not permit it. Now the rules have changed and the school is being converted to Tamil medium (to the disappointment of some parents). We have made the switch this year, starting with kindergarten.

Paniya tribal dialect script

The Paniya tribal dialect script is a derivative of Tamil with some slight differences. It was introduced in the tuition centres and other learning centres under ACCORD throughout Gudalur. Kannan, one of the volunteers of ACCORD says, ‘People welcomed the idea when we introduced the script for our language teaching. It is like magic – children started to learn very easily and fast!’

Every English speaking visitor is an English teacher here. […]

Nyla: The general opinion is that the mainstream curriculum does not prepare a child for life. Yet at Vidyodaya, tribal children study the mainstream curriculum. Have you thought about this?

Rama: This is a debate we have had within the group. The tribal peoples’ access to forest has almost gone. Their life-style is changing rapidly. They have already mingled with the non-tribals and imbibed their culture and life-styles. The fact of the matter is they can no longer live like their ancestors, no longer depend on the vanishing forests for their sustenance. It will be to their advantage if they are equipped to meet these changes with a balanced approach; otherwise they will just be swept over. We hope they will retain the tribal values that have relevance even today and accept the good brought in by modernization. It is a question of survival.

At Vidyodaya we have tried to draw the attention of our older pupils to ‘non-tribal’ behaviour such as competition, aggressiveness, etc. […]

Therefore we try to see if we can jointly create a situation in which their own creativity, talents, backgrounds will find meaning. The flowering of this selfworth, the dignity to be able to say, ‘Yes, this is who I am’ is much more important. Gaining an understanding of one’s history and culture, being able to live with a certain degree of stability is what we believe is worth working towards. We don’t want the tribals to remain marginalized. Probably the next generations will benefit, but one has to work towards it now. This is how I see the entire process. […]

We would like to establish a completely different social, economic and political system. For the tribal communities, their own system exists. The problem is to come back to it at an advanced and sophisticated level because the entire economy has changed. If they don’t understand that economy sufficiently, they will be crushed by it completely.

One cannot avoid globalization. The moment an adivasi in the remotest village plants tea or coffee, he is connected with the market in London. He has no choice. He is already living in the global economy. The issue is how to help him understand the global economy because if he can’t understand the mainstream, he is going to be at a terrible loss in a few years time. If they are to survive and benefit from the present economic trends, it is essential that they first understand them. Our effort is therefore to help them stay plugged into the mainstream economy and yet remain separate from it. We have talked with them about reorganizing their indigenous social system so that they are more sensitive to the issues they face and can develop a sense of balance to be able to withstand the forces of the mainstream.

There are several common issues that require the community’s attention – care of the elderly, the sick, widows, orphaned children, etc. Previously they were looked after by the community, but today with changes in their way of life, these concerns have to be addressed separately. We have suggested establishing a community fund. […]

Education Network

The nation wide network of educators working with learning centres and alternative schools was initiated by a number of people including Rama and Ramdas, Vasant Palshikar, Malathi of Viskasana, Gurveen Kaur of Centre For Learning, Hyderabad, Valli Seshan and others. The network is a support group for educators. Their first meeting was held at Gudalur. Ramdas coordinates the network’s activities, its yearly meetings and publishes its yearly report for private circulation to its members.

Source: Work and Wisdom of Vernacular Educators from India 7
Rama Sastry & B. Ramdas
Supported by: UNESCO (Under the Search/Research Programme in Education) India 2004-2005
Date Visited: Tue Jul 12 2011

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]


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See also

ACCORD – Action for Community Organisation, Rehabilitation and Development

Articles by Mari Marcel Thekaekara (writer and Co-Founder of ACCORD-Nilgiris)

Ashwini community health programme

Childhood | Childrens rights: UNICEF India | Safe search

Community facilities

eJournals, eBooks & reports | eLearning

eBook | Background guide for education

Education and literacy | Right to education

Forest Rights Act (FRA) | Legal rights over forest land

Gudalur | Communities: Paniya | Kattunayaka | Mullukurumba | Bettakurumba

Health and nutrition | Recommendations by the Expert Committee

Shola Trust | Nilgiri biosphere

Success stories

Tribal elders

Viswa Bharati Vidyodaya Trust

Western Ghats – tribal heritage & ecology

What is the Forest Rights Act about?
Who is a forest dweller under this law, and who gets rights?

“Who are Scheduled Tribes?”: Clarifications by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes – Government of India