Nature Talk


Educating the tribal children in India

Educating the tribal children in India has entered into a contentious phase and this relates to the medium of instruction. Almost three decades ago it was realized by the policy makers that the tribal children should be imparted education, at the early stage, in their mother tongue rather than in the regional languages that the government schools of the respective states accepted as medium of instruction. It was felt that this would cause increase in their attendance and make the schools student friendly. Even it was proposed that the tribal teachers speaking the language of the students should impart the instruction with instruction materials prepared in tribal languages. Such arrangement, it was argued, would enable a wholesome display of their cognitive ability and comprehension. Further such arrangement, if implemented, would also demonstrate the resolve of the government to recognize the heterogeneity and diversity of the tribal society and the importance of mother tongue as medium of instruction. Not surprisingly, therefore, in the New Education Policy 1986 and Programme of Action 1992, such arrangement was prescribed for educating tribal children. Pursuing such prescription, across the country, in the states like Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharastra, Kerala, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Bihar, various projects of preparing teaching learning materials in tribal languages, developing tribal language dictionaries and glossaries, preparing Bridge Language Inventories etc were undertaken. Also began appointment of teachers from the local community under schemes like Shiksha Karmi Scheme (Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan), Shiksha Mitra Yojna (Uttar Pradesh), Lok Shikshak (Bihar), Andariki– Vidya Volunteer Scheme (Andhra Pradesh). Vidya Upasak Yojana (Himachal Pradesh), Shikshan Sevak (Maharashtra), Guruji (under EGS in Madhya Pradesh) Shikshak (under Basti Shala Scheme in Maharashtra) etc. Interestingly, many evaluation reports on the implementation of such arrangement are found to be quite encouraging; the class attendance has increased appreciably and also has increased the classroom performance of the students.

But in the past few years one finds the state governments eager to get the tribal children educated in English medium schools. Maharashtra government has a scheme that ‘aims at providing an opportunity to tribal students hailing from remote hilly areas, who otherwise are educated in ashram schools that are located away from the urban buzz, of mingling with students from cities.’ This scheme ‘envisages admission to tribal students in order to provide quality education right from Class I to bring them into the mainstream. This scheme has already been implemented by selecting private English medium schools with residential facilities for tribal children from class I onwards, and by promising to spend towards tuition, boarding and lodging fees Rs.50, 000/- annually per student. This scheme, it is expected, would enable the tribal students ‘to overcome their fright or inferiority complex, if any, and prepare themselves better to face the world like their counterparts in cities.’ (2 English schools to admit tribal students finalized - Times Of India .). Even the government of Maharastra has been toying with the idea ‘to start dedicated English medium schools for tribal students’ ostensibly, as the tribal development minister of the government Babanrao Pachpute said ‘ to bring them to main stream by giving them quality education’ (Maharashtra mulls over English schools for tribal kids - Academy - DNA Almost at the same time with Maharashtra government, Andhra Pradesh government was also contemplating to convert its tribal welfare schools to English medium schools, albeit from class V; the reason remains almost same: to enable the tribal students to cope with competition ( Tribal students yet to get access to English medium - The Hindu ...). The government of Kerala is also planning to open in each district an English medium school for tribal children (English-medium schools for tribal children - The Hindu ). The government of Odisha has proposed to set up model residential hostels for the tribal students in the cities to enable them to pursue their studies in English medium schools (Meritorious tribal students in Odisha to read in English medium schools... Recently, the Chief Minister of Odisha sanctioned Rs 56.25 lakhs that too from the Chief Minister’s relief fund to the meritorious tribal and dalit students of Malkangiri, a tribal dominated and Maoist infested district, who are pursuing their education in English medium schools ( Funds for poor students.. The New Indian Express-Bhubaneswar, 29.09.2013 : read where

One wonders if such eagerness on the part of the state governments does not run counter to the commitment to provide education to the tribal children in mother tongue?

May be the commitment, which was made in a pre-LPG (liberalization, privatization and globalization) Indian society, has in the eyes of the governments become undesirable in the post LPG era. May be on these governments have recently dawned the realization that mainstreaming the tribals through regional language medium instruction is quite narrow in comparison to their mainstreaming through English medium instruction. May be the increasing left wing activities in the tribal areas, which were not so much visible three decades ago, is the raison d’ etre for moving away from that commitment. May be the governments believe that with such arrangements that ensures removal of the tribal children from their local environment into consumerist cities can prevent their slide into the left wing fold. But what ostensibly emerges out of such shift is the conviction of these governments that quality education is only available in English medium schools, not in the schools, which are imparting education in regional languages or in the languages that the communities speak. It is another matter that such schools are largely government schools labouring under the allegation that they are breeding grounds of Naxalism (Didn't say all govt schools breed Naxalism: Sri SriRavi Shankar | ..)

But is this conviction correct? Are our policy makers not aware of various studies that give primacy to the mother tongue as the medium of instruction at least in the early stages of education? One such study, which may be relevant to mention here, is entitled ‘Mother tongue matters: local language is a key to effective learning’ authored by Dörthe Bühmann and Barbara Trudell and published by UNESCO. Relying on the research evidences on the effectiveness of the mother tongue as medium of instruction, it is held in this study that ‘mother tongue is crucial to effective learning’. It is also averred in this study that ‘the only countries likely to achieve EFA (Education For All) are those where the language of instruction is the learners’ mother tongue’. Further this study also reports a very significant observation by two researchers Wayne Thomas and Virginia Collier that the ‘children who had first six years or more of formal instruction in their own language fared the best in later academic achievement.’ Beyond the effectiveness of local language in the process of learning, the larger issue of protecting the languages and cultures from disappearance and preserving the world’s linguistic and cultural diversity, according to this study, can be better addressed by the explicit inclusion of ‘local language in formal education systems.’

So, providing education to tribal students in English medium schools may prove counterproductive to their later academic achievement, besides holding out a threat to the survival of the local language. No body can deny, in the current phase of ‘globalization and democratic ideals’, the necessity for tribal communities to gain access to a wider society and participate in it, and this certainly requires their learning of an international language like English and a regional language of the state to which the tribe belongs besides the mother tongue. The UNESCO, in order to meet such necessity, prescribed in 2003 the implementation of Multilingual Education (MLE) with emphasis on the central role of mother tongue instruction. So the state governments, instead of subjecting the tribal children to English medium instruction, should more widely implement Multilingual education in their schools. Needless to say, it demands a ‘sustained political commitment’ by the national and local authorities. (BKN)