Tribal Children: Back to School

Tilsu Dasari


    I am very grateful to you for giving me this opportunity to make a presentation here. 

    I am Tilsu Dsari. I come from Koraput district in Orissa. I am teaching at an alternative education centre run jointly by Agragamee and Sikshasandhan. 

    Most of the villages in Koraput are inhabited by people belonging to tribes such as Paraja, kondh and Jhodia. Newspapers reports on the sale of children and acute poverty have brought Koraput to public attention. 

    In the block where I live, male literacy rate is around 48% and female literacy rate is around 29 % and 68% of the population here live below poverty line. 

    Many villages in Koraput have no schools. Teachers remain frequently absent in whatever schools there are in the district. In some schools a single teacher has to manage five classes. 

    Tribal areas face other problems besides this. Most people here remain unaware of what the Gram Panchayat is doing, why teachers stay away from schools, why the doctor does not come to the dispensary. They are utterly ignorant about their rights. 

    If someone from outside visits their village, they feel too scared to talk to him. They think that government people have come to take their land away and harass them in different ways. They are afraid of going to the market place and village fairs alone and go there in groups. 

    Their children feel scared of going to school. 

    In tribal areas, as soon they reach the age of five or six, children help their parents with housework. When I started working as a teacher in a village called Mankadmundi I found it difficult to get them to come to school. I talked to the members of the local youth club about this problem. They told me that their children wont do any manual work if they went to school. What would they eat if they did not work?

    I told them that I was educated and I do manual labour. They asked me what work I could do. 

    I told them that I am a tribal boy like them and that I could do whatever they do. They asked me to join others in reaping paddy. At first they thought I was not as good as the others at this kind of work. I proved them wrong and showed them that I was as good as they were. 

    On another occasion, they took me on a hunting expedition. I carried logs of wood which were needed to block the escape route of four porcupines who had slipped into a cave. They were now convinced that I did not shy away from manual labour although I had received education. 

    After this a meeting of the villagers was held and it was decided to set up a school in the community building. 

    School timings were fixed: from 7 A.M t 9 A.M and from 6 P.M. to 8 P.M. in  winter. In  summer : 6 A.m to 8 A.M. and 6.P.M. to 9 P.M.. In the rainy season 6.A.M. to 9.A.M and 2.P.m to 4 P.M. The school was closed on market days and during local festivals. 

    On the first day only 14 children came to school. I felt that my presence frightened them. Around 4 P.M. the same day I brought a football and played with them  and told them that we would play again the next day. In a short time the children made friends with me. The number of children attending school increased. I taught them by telling them stories. As it was summer time , classes were held in the village street and villagers listened to the stories and enjoyed them. 

    Shortly afterwards I went to Bhubaneswar to undergo training. Here I learnt about how tribals were exploited, aims of education, how to motivate children and ensure community participation. I was also encouraged to use local language, local myths and songs as  teaching materials. I was asked to collect information on the history of the village , its flora and fauna , food etc. 

    I came back and resumed teaching my students. Whenever they found an Oriya word difficult to understand I explained it to them by using its equivalent in their dialects. First I told stories to the students. After few days I asked them to tell stories and sing songs in their own language. After this, I asked them to learn the alphabet.

    My school consists of five classes and I teach students belonging to all these. There are twenty-nine students in my school. 

    In government schools teachers confine themselves to  prescribed text books . But, while teaching subjects such as science, environment, mathematics and geography, I take my students out of the classroom. I discuss animals and plants. I discover that the range of information possessed by my students on these is much wider than that given in the text books. 

    I teach my students mathematics with the help of pebbles, stones, twigs and leaves etc. The examples I give relate to their daily life. 

    I use the history of the village as a starting point of the teaching of history. From here I proceed to talk about regional and national history. I have found that children enjoy history when they are taught in this way.  

    I teach them geography by taking them on a tour of hills, fields and rivers. They identify various types of soil, their colour, texture and uses to which these could be put. Children prepare  a seasonal map to learn about months, and seasons. From that map they also learn about various crops , deseases, what foodgrains are available in what season etc. I also teach them about food habits of people in different parts of Orissa, India and the world. 

    I ask children to prepare a social map of the village identifying houses, tanks, community buildings, roads, canals, ponds etc.  I initiate discussion on types of houses, condition of people, causes of social   disparities and ways of addressing these etc. 

    I take children to the nearest post office, police station, bank, Gram Panchayat office , dispensary to acquaint them with the role these institutions play in our lives. This also helps raising the confidence level of students. 

    A monthly health check-up of students and other children of the village by a doctor is carried out. This has brought about visible improvement in the village. 

    A children's library consisting of more than five hundred books has been set up. It is being used not only by students of our school but also by literate youth of the locality.  

    As I teach children  in their mother tongue , they learn quite fast. Besides teaching them, I encourage children to sing, dance, act in plays and make various things such as toys with their hands. 

    Sikshasandhan organizes creative workshops for children. Our students participate in these. 

    Our students are  involved in the management of the school. They serve as chief minister, health minister, education minister, sports minister, minister of tourism, minister of light  and so on .   

    A village education committee consisting of six men and four women has been formed. The committee helps me in running the school. The committee sits once every month and discusses the performance of the school and prepares action plans. 

    Interfaces at the Gram Panchayat level are organized inviting sarapanches, ward members, members of youth clubs and women, government school teachers, and local level education experts to share our experience with each other and also to hold a dialogue on various issues affecting the universalisation of elementary education.     


Thirty three(15 girls and 18 boys) students from  from my education centre joined formal schools and have been enrolled in higher classes. The details are given below: Six(three girls and three boys) students in third standard; five students(three boys and two girls) in fourth standard, ten (five boys and five girls) students in fifth standard; two (one boy and one girl) students in sixth standard, five (two boys and  three girls) students in seventh standard and six(one girl and five boys) students in eighth standard. 

I have been informed by their teachers in government schools that they are doing better than the other students in their class. 

The confidence level of the people of the village while interacting with other people  in the marketplace  has risen. Health and sanitation awareness has been raised among them. They are now much more involved in the political process.

Once again I express my sincere thanks to the organizers for inviting me to the workshop. 

N.B. Sikshasandhan is a resource centre education working for the improvement of standard of education of weaker sections of the Indian society. It has formed a consortium consisting of  seven voluntary organizations working in remote tribal areas for providing  primary education to tribal children through  alternative education centres. Besides, it prvides support services to voluntary organisations and government departments as and when required. It has already published forty reference books on education and books for children. It brings out a bi-monthly magazine  highlighting educational issues, various innovations, the experiences of teachers. It has developed  local specific teaching learning material for its education centres. It has set up a good reference library containing books on education and  Orissa. It networks with government, NGOs, universities for furtherance of its objectives. It is engaged in advocacy for policy changes in the  education sector.