The need to think about the education of Adivasi Children: Azim Premji University – Karnataka

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The central and state governments in India, and organizations such as Azim Premji Foundation are committed to the agenda of `quality schooling for all’.

Adivasies constitute nearly 9 percent of Indian population. Their under-achievements in education are alarming for those who are concerned about this issue. There is almost 14 percentage point gap between the literacy rates of Adivasies and others in India based on 2011 census. Though there is an improvement in their enrollment in schools, dropout rate continues to be very high. Between grades one to nine approximately 70% of these children leave the school which is 20% higher than the national average for the whole population. Nearly 50 percent of children from this social group drop out while transitioning from primary to secondary grades (based on the educational status recorded in the census in 2011). Nearly 80 percent of them stop education when they are in grade 10 or only 20 percent appear for the high-school examination.  […]  

Their situation is worse off in terms of not only education but also economic status. For example, the poverty ratio among them is 52 percent in Odisha (in comparison with 29 percent for the state as a whole). There seems to be a connection between their under-achievements in education and deprivation. According to one estimate made in 2010, poverty among the illiterate adivasies was about 56.91 percent whereas that among the same group with primary schooling was only 20.11. Another calculation shows that the odds ratio of being poor and vulnerable due to low education is 5.73 for ST in the case of Odisha state.  […]  

The fact that Adivasies in many parts of the country speak a language different from the one that is used as the medium of instruction in school is one important challenge. This has encouraged a few states to use Adivasi languages as the medium of instruction in lower grades (1-3) for these children. Though this is found to have some positive impact, there is a need to think about the duration of schooling in which the adivasi language should remain as the medium of instruction to make it much more effective, and also by considering the need for these students to acquire proficiency in the state language and also in Hindi and English. On the other hand, the language may not be a serious constraint in certain other locations (such as Western Maharashtra, where there is a significant overlap between the language of Adivasi people and that of the mainstream population). There may be a need to follow a bi-lingual instruction here.

There is a disconnection between the nature of mainstream school education and the socio-cultural context of Adivasies in different parts of India. These may include that between the timings of school and of the livelihood activities of this population, and the failure of the school curriculum to reflect the reality of the life of Adivasies. Hence their children may find it difficult to relate to what is taught in formal schools. In addition, these children may not get enough support at home for their studies since most of them are first-generation learners. All these difficulties need to be reckoned while thinking about the ways to provide an appropriate and quality `schooling’ for Adivasi children.

There are not many school teachers from Adivasi communities in certain states of India. Those teachers from mainstream communities have different kinds of prejudices against Adivasi people and these may reflect in their teaching.  […] 

Ideally, there may be a combination teachers from within and outside the community to facilitate what is called the inter-cultural education – the one that is reckoned internationally as the desirable form of education not only for Adivasi or indigenous children but for all.

The difficulties in the education of Adivasi children are known but there are two polarized schools of thought on how to mitigate these difficulties. One group of policy-makers and non-governmental activists believes that the sociocultural context of Adivasies is inherently constraining for the education and the achievement of a better life for their children. They would advocate an education which takes these children out of their familial and social context, and that may require the use of a residential school. According to this approach, the schooling is to acclimatize them to the ways and behavior of a modern society. There is a widespread recognition of the harmful effects of such an approach towards the schooling of Adivasi children.

There is an equally harmful approach on the other hand, among people who claim to be sensitive to the socio-cultural attributes of Adivasies and indigenous people. They argue for the protection and conservation of the sociocultural context of Adivasies in its pure form. The suggested strategy is to protect these people from the influence of the external and mainstream society. They may practice an education for Adivasi children, but that is one which could be inward-looking to strengthen what they call or imagine the traditional lifestyle of these people. However this approach may not enhance the capabilities of Adivasi people to deal with the mainstream society. In the absence of such capabilities, these people may continue to be the victims of different kinds of exploitation.  […]  

None of the extreme approaches is likely to get the support when they get an opportunity to articulate their needs. For example, their community leaders in parts of India are not that in favor of an education in their own language. The two approaches that we have discussed earlier are rejected by the indigenous people in Latin America. They emphatically demand education, and this is not to become modern, but to deal with the mainstream society. They know that the absence of such an education would only worsen their situation. Education and human development are at a relatively better equilibrium in the north-eastern states of India [see Seven Sister States] where these people have greater control over the governance. Hence the need to empower Adivasi people to charter the courses of their education and development.

There are interesting experiments within India and elsewhere to impart a context-appropriate and quality schooling to Adivasies and indigenous people. NGOs try out innovative approaches in curriculum and pedagogy. There is an interesting experiment in Brazil that has used universities to create more teachers from indigenous communities through a specially designed teacher-education program. It is important to learn appropriate lessons from all these experiments and to bring together governments and non-governmental organizations to scale up such efforts to make a tangible and positive impact on the educational status of Adivasi people.

The socioeconomic conditions of Adivasies in most parts of India do not enable them a decent living, and this has a connection with their education in two ways (with the socioeconomic situation affecting schooling, and the under-achievements in schooling continue to influence their socioeconomic conditions). There is a need to think about the appropriate ways to improve their living conditions. There are indications that the implementation of the so called Forest Rights Act [FRA] has the potential to improve the life of Adivasies, and this may have a positive impact on their education. The access to land and the sustainable use of forests have also empowered the indigenous people of Latin America, and in those situations, they need not become the low-paid workers in urban spaces. Hence there is a need to strengthen the implementation of FRA in parts of the country, and this may be important even for the education of Adivasi children.  […]  

Source: The need to think about the education of Adivasi Children
URL: ps://
Date visited: 24 February 2019

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

“The forest was never far away from habitation. For instance, excavations of the settlements at Atranjikhera and Hastinapur, which are not too far from Delhi, have yielded evidence of a large variety of forest trees. The Buddhist Canon states that aside from the village and its outskirts, the rest of the land is jungle. Travelling from one town to another meant going through a forest. Therefore, when in exile, the forest was not a physically distant place, although distant in concept. – Romila Thapar (Emeritus Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University) in “Forest dwellers in early India – myths and ecology in historical perspective” | Learn more >>

[T]here are three major rights on forests to be transferred to the forest-dwelling tribal people [including] Title for Forest Land Under Occupation, right of ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce, [i.e.] all non-timber produce of plant origin, including bamboo, brush wood, stumps, cane, tussar, cocoons, honey, wax, lac, tendu or kendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, tubers.

Implementation of Forest Rights Act: Towards an informed collective action by stakeholders by Azim Premji University Team, Initiative for Effective Implementation of FRA

More about India’s forest legislation: Forest Rights Act (FRA) & Illegal mining >>

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See also


Appropriate education for Adivasi children – the Vidyodaya School model at Gudalur


Books on tribal culture and related resources | Indian publishers

Childhood | Childrens rights: UNICEF India | Safe search

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eBook | Background guide for education

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