Cultural Pluralism – Need to develop Indigenous education systems for educating Indigenous communities

India is proud of its cultural pluralism and has a strong sense unity irrespective of stronger diversities. One of the most diverse sections is the tribal populations in India. However, traditional tribal societies are undergoing a rapid change with mainstream policy of government. This process has translated into tribal losing control on their cultural heritage, and control on their resources. On the other side, pushed by capitalistic economic expansion, tribal populations have been displaced from land resource – which has been the only basis of their survival. Termed as mainstreaming, this has led to a strong social exclusion for most of these communities leaving them isolated in Globalised and Industrialized society.
Education and access to information is first step towards eradicating social exclusion. There has been a vicious cycle of social exclusion and poverty and education played an important role in either breaking it or continuing the cycle. There are fundamental questions to be addressed as to how the organisational institutions are going to be able to adapt in order to give access to socially excluded communities? And what role the other players will play including local initiatives, wider civil society, and private sector. The data released by Government of India reiterates the grim education scenario. Only 15.3% boys and 12.3% girls completed their school education from scheduled tribe populations as compared to the national average of 32.4% for boys and 28% for girls coming from general populations.
It is not that there has not been enough attention given to socially excluded communities especially tribal population at policy level however, the task is to go beyond policy discussions. It is especially difficult to reach out to these communities as they are scattered, primarily live in small and inaccessible habilitations. It is complemented by absence of basic infrastructural support in terms of roads, transport, electricity etc. which makes it even more difficult for children to become part of mainstream education and development interventions.
All 573 Scheduled Tribes have their own language which differs from language otherwise spoken in state. Since, education is the key for social inclusion of tribal communities, government in fifth five year plan made education a priority in Tribal Sub-Plan. However, most of it remained as a plan and reality on ground is far from comforting. These policies have to be supported by strengthening overall education system adapted to needs of these isolated communities. One of the strong requirements is to involve immediate community in design, implementation and monitoring.
Tribal population is inhabited in harder geographies, have linguistic barriers and have limited involvement in education programmes since the priority for families has largely become survival. These communities are becoming increasingly migratory in search of livelihood which has resulted has led to failure of policies around education of tribal. The need of being gender sensitive always takes a backseat. The system dominated by male teachers in tribal areas pushes girls out of education system as they grow due to cultural factors. On the other side, there is no incentive for teachers to travel distances, develop their pedagogical skills to work with excluded communities and have no sense of belonging accompanied with attitudinal barriers.
Teachers generally prefer urban areas for postings however; most needy are semi rural and rural which long for quality teachers and checking absenteeism remains a big challenge.
This gap can be addressed with strategies which are built on local experiences and involve larger communities. Introduction to education has to be in their own language if a stronger foundation is to be built and simultaneously the state language has to be introduced for familiarization. The content of curriculum will have to be adapted to relevant context and should build on local culture. Although, the aim is mainstreaming of education, a stronger base has to be built by preparing children and their communities for establishing the importance of education and linking it with livelihood opportunities.
Since, financial security will always overpower need for education, it is important to address both simultaneously. The families have to be provided livelihood opportunities in their own environment to curb migration which otherwise is a larger development issue. Meanwhile, government has to continue strengthening education system in and around tribal areas, and provide alternatives in terms of seasonal hostels and residential schools for migratory families as an immediate action.
State and National level data has enough evidence to establish that literacy rate among tribal population is far from satisfactory and the progress has been patchy. It is not that policy makers have not given enough attention – there have been some pilot cases which have yielded positive results. These successes have come through by engaging with local communities, mobilisation and their participation. Community schools which are manned by local teachers and monitored by communities have shown progressive results. What’s required is to build on these experiences; openness to systemic changes and commitment to create an environment where financial security does not take precedence on education will definitely help in ensuring “Inclusive and Meaningful Education”!

–Sarfaraz Syed