Porblems in Educating Tribal Children; The Dongria Kondh Experiences

Akshaya Kumar Kanungo

The Dongria Society Education: Formal
Education: Social Suggestions


After India attained its Independence and Constitution framed in 1950, the universalisation of Primary education has become one of the priorities of development. Huge amount of money was earmarked and spent on undertaking many schemes and programs that went begging with little success in areas of educational development. Analysis of the educational scenario of the country reveals that there is a huge gap between rural and urban literacy. Further going down the ladder, the educational attainment and literacy of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes are dismal. Development practitioners and academia relate poverty and underdevelopment to lack of spread of education as the foremost reason. The Government at Center is always under pressure to revise policies and devise new strategies to wipe the regional disparity that exists in educational development in the country.

    Orissa is the homeland of as many as 62 tribal communities who reside in nooks and corners of the State. 13 such communities are declared as primitive, basing on their low educational achievement and economic success. The "Dongria Kondh" which is a sub-tribe of ‘KONDH’ is declared as primitive tribe. They are mainly concentrated in the Niyamgiri hill ranges, which covers parts of Kalyan Singpur and  Bissam Cuttack blocks of Rayagada district. They live in hill slopes surrounded by dense forests. They live in hill ranges situated at height ranging from 1000 to 4970 feet above sea level. Two micro projects on Dongrias have been established. They cover 112 villages and hamlets and 1813 families with a total population of 8042 as per the latest survey. (Source D.K.D.A., Chatikona and Parasali). The male and female ratio stands as 1000:1030. Though their economy was based mainly on shifting cultivation and hunting and  gathering but now they have become skilled horticulturists. The somatoscopic and anthropometric data of the Kondhs relate them to the proto-Australoid racial stock with some Mongoloid admixture. 

The Dongria Society
    The Dongria choose to live amidst forest where land for shifting cultivation and streams will be available. A village has minimum two separate wards, one inhabited by the Dongria Kondh and the other by Domb, a scheduled caste community. The houses are generally mud-built and straw-thatched, although now a days, some brick-built straw-thatched houses are made by the Dongrias. The road communication network has not been developed even after 50 years of independence of India.

    The dress and ornaments, which adore the Dongrias, are distinguishable from other sections of the tribe. Dongria males put a narrow scarf wrapped around the waist and often a leaf rolled cigarette (pika) will be seen tucked in the hair-knot at the back. Invariably all of them carry an axe on the shoulder and a knife is kept hanging from the waist belt. The women wear a lower garment not long enough to hide their knee. They cover their breast with a small band of cotton cloth tied at the back. All these garments are woven by neighboring schedule caste community. All the male and female members wear hair-clips on their head and often pierce their ears and love to wear as many earrings as they can. The women folk wear big neck rings made up of aluminum and iron. They beautify themselves with traditional hand-woven multi coloured embroidered scarf, which is a rare specialty of the Dongria Kondh tribe.

    The installation of "Dharnipenu" and her consort "Kotiasal" in the centre of the village street is a typical feature of Dongria settlement. Invariably the maiden’s dormitory, which is present in each Dongria settlement also, adds to the specialties of Dongria social structure and culture. In the dormitory, the maiden girls are trained about the norms, values and taboos by senior women who is the leader of the dormitory. The dormitory is the source of mostly cultural education orally transmitted for learning folklore, riddles, proverbs, legends, myths and songs amidst singing and dancing with boy and girl friends that take place every night. They are grown there until they attain marriageable age and by the time they acquire all the skills and knowledge that are expected from a good ideal wife/woman in their society.

    Dongrias have a distinct skill of horticulture. They know their soil condition and grow many fruits of high commercial value. They grow pineapple, banana, jackfruit, and papaya in plenty. They also grow high quality turmeric and ginger that has the highest demand in the state. Despite that, due to no marketing facility they often get very low price for their produce and all the profit is usurped by the middlemen.

Education: Social

    Education (Modern) does not seem to be the priority of Dongria Kondh community. They disvalue formal primary education because of lack of awareness and cultural orientation. Studies on their view of a happy life reveal they certainly prefer to have more of, forestlands where shifting cultivation can be practiced, fruit bearing trees for collection and consumption, wild animals and birds to hunt and more nos. of children to work for the household and run their progeny. It is worth describing their system of education here. In Dongria Kondh, the dormitory system is there to orient boys and girls to acquire skills and knowledge that is required to be a full phased member of their society. There are separate dormitories for boys and girls in each village. After returning from fields, they stay together in the dormitory and in an informal ways i.e. through songs, dance, riddles, proverbs, gossip etc. which are transmitted orally from generation to generation. The whole night in spent amidst dancing and singing, traveling to other dormitories and interacting with boys and girls over there. By the by when they turn to adulthood they master their arts, traditions and customs and command respect as a bonafide member of their community. Therefore sending children to school is a worthless investment for parents. Because, not only he/she is deprived of helping their parents in sibling care and household works and learning basic skills of their society but also the family looses an able hand from the household and by thus a lot of income.

Education: Formal

    If we consider the teacher and taught relationship, the teacher or instructor (most often non-tribal) is like a foreigner and looked suspiciously by the students and the community. His language, etiquette and manners are regarded as unusual and quite different from the tribal ways of life. The ethnocentric attitude of the teacher towards tribal society and culture also aggravates and worsen the situation. He does not have meetings and interactions with people around him to gain their confidence. He often creates fear psychosis among pupils by castigating and punishing them in classrooms using derogatory and sensitive comments about their life styles. That fear and inferiority complex created among students cause massive scale dropouts among Dongria Kondh students, specially the girls who are enrolled at an over-aged stage and close to the age of puberty. Therefore, at one end the school environment and attitude of teachers pushes them out of schools and all the other their love for freedom and forest based life pulls them out of the formal schooling environment.

    The situation is not better of or different where even a tribal teacher having a positive out look and dedicated approach is working. The tribal children have a year round season of forest based collection and festivals. Accompanying parents at tender ages to forest yield more forest collection of fruits, roots tubers and leaves, which in turn gives better economic property to family parental care is ample for children except sending children to school which has no tangible immediate gains for parents. There are few parents who have been mobilized and have got the conviction to educate their children. But in school the children find language as the greatest problem hence other curricular transactions meaningless. The standard language text book, its unfamiliar contents, contexts and picturisations depicts a whole range of foreignness and unfamiliarity for which the students lack interest and achieve nothing. The teacher centered monologue class room transactions throws the pupils into absolute poor achievement in tests fear or it is sea ore of and failure in examination is another most important reasons of dropouts from school among Dongria Kondh children. Above all, the students find the subjects, contents and contexts not linked to their real life experiences and extremely monotonous and boring. Those reasons are so strong that, even in residential schools run by Department of Welfare, Govt. of Orissa, with all sorts facilities like free food, free reading- writing materials and other basic requirements like sitting mat, uniform, blankets, beds etc., the enrollment, attendance and achievement of students are far from satisfactory.

    The irony is that there is no supervision or monitoring of the works of Teachers and school management by the personnel who are supposed to be the decision-makers in the system. The lack of performance of the schooling system is always attributed to the lack of interest of the poverty and community for their children’s education rather than the whole range of faulty planning and implementation by the Government.


     The schooling facility must be provided on demand of community and community must be mobilized enough to spontaneously come forward to run and manage the school. The children should be provided text books in their own language in initial stages of their schooling and gradually they should be exposed to standard textbooks in state language at a later stage. The textbooks should be local specific contents, contexts and narration by which the children can relate their learning to their real life situation. The timing of the school should be as per the availability of children and holiday calendar as per the holiday pattern of the locality. The teacher belonging to the community should be posted if not a teacher having a positive attitude and some understanding about tribal community should be employed in the area. Moreover the education administrators should be more responsive and responsible to the education of the children with special needs close and continuous monitoring of schools (academic and administrative) would definitely render insights to the problem and it’s solutions at the earliest.

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