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TRIBAL EDUCATION AND TRIBAL LANGUAGES:A New Strategy
Orissa occupies a unique position in the tribal map of India. The 62 groups declared as scheduled tribes in the Presidential Order of 1956 constitute 23.22 of the population of the State. The Scheduled area constituting 46.8 per cent of the total area of the State houses 60.65 per cent of the total tribal population. The rest are distributed among almost all the districts. The tribals in Orissa are either speakers of languages belonging to the Munda family or Dravidian. Orissa with 56.58 per cent of its population below poverty line presents a bleak picture as far as severe destitution of tribals are concerned. This should be treated as a national problem. Orissa needs to seek solution which would show the way to other states having similar problems.
The old approach to education is so overwhelming that even tribal educators of India have pointed out the 'need for a well thought-out uniform policy for the whole of India with regard to education in tribal areas'. Their pleading that 'this policy need not be interpreted or applied too rigidly' is a grudging recognition of local and regional variation of problems and sounds almost pathetic. This is typical of the mind of the educated middle class elite which speaks of progressive plans but check effective implementation. The so-called progressivism is utopian and romantic and not based on the needs and plan is intended.
One could take one of the two conventional approaches while discussing education. Following the sectoral approach one could talk of the primary, the secondary and the higher education and provide statistics to show growth or retardation of education in each of the sectors. One could present statistics regarding stagnation and wastage in each sector of education and relate it to societal factors. One could also talk about adult education, formal and non-formal education and assess the achievements and failures over a period of time. Alternately, one could talk about structural problems of management and inspection. For example, in some states tribal schools are run by three agencies, the education department, the tribal welfare department and voluntary agencies. As education departments have no special staff, the tribal welfare departments have no expertise in the field of education, one could cite examples in different states where tribal schools have not been inspected for ten years if not more. However, unless one is clear about the goals of education and is familiar with both the macro and micro context of the tribal societies it is not possible to talk meaningfully about tribal education.
Education is a tool of transmission of culture, accumulated knowledge and experience of a society. It is also the tool for economic betterment and societal change. Today all educationists are talking of uniformity in design, content and structure of education. There is no wonder that there is such confusion about the purpose and goal of general education, not to speak of tribal education.
There are many worlds within our world. There are also many worlds within India. There appears to be a continuum between the developed and the developing, between the rich and the poor. As in the international field there are the developed countries in relation to which India is developing within the developing world, India is developed in comparison to say Mali, the GNP of which is so low that it does not find a place in the GNP map of Africa. Within a developing country, the great divide seems to between the rich and the poor. The poor in its turn, is divided between the urban and the rural poor, the tribals coming at the bottom of the rural.
India provides a very interesting case study for social change. A melting pot of several language families, ethnic groups and a mosaic of cultural patterns, India present a unique case of cultural pluralism bound by a single thread of cultural homogeneity. Therefore one would expect variety rather than uniformity in education, both as flowering and expression of the cultural diversity and as strategies to meet the diverse needs and aspiration of different cultural groups. But the existing uniform structure and content of education caters to neither and is by and large irrelevant to most sectors of the society.
The elitist base of present education strengthens the metropolitan and rural vested interest, which has little commitment to the developmental needs and economic priorities of the rural sector in general and rural poor in particular. On the contrary the vested interest groups are against fundamental economic change which has the slightest possibility of threatening their interests and privileges.
The rich are almost always identified as elites and the elites hold the passport to rank, status and wealth in most societies. Their behaviour is not only the model, their language is invariably the standard to be emulated by others. If one looks at the Indian scene one can see that the economically rich areas within each state are the focal areas as far as standard languages are concerned. Thus as Krishnamurthi points out, in Andhra Pradesh "The Central area-Krishna-Godavari river belt being economically rich has produced a conscious elite" (Krishnamurthi 1972) and this is the area the language of which is the standard for Telugu. For the tribal who is in the owest rung poverty and social hierarchy, the distance from eliticism as well as the standard form of the language is so great as to be insurmountable.
In the classification of poverty, the tribals come in the lowest rung and are below the subsistence level. But it must be remembered that richness and poverty are not facts of tribal life. They are implanted by the non-tribals and by the educated. Therefore, the tribal looks both with suspicion. While the tribals are made conscious about their poverty, neither a will to change not dissatisfaction at the rate of change is created in them. They are neither a party to the planning for change nor have they any role in its implementation. Therefore, the education system which engenders such planning, pulverises their social status and self-respect and converts them into masses is regarded by the tribals as irrelevant.
One can also see this process of dehumanization as a spectrum. As a man from a developing country, no matter how qualified he is, is willing to subject himself to relatively lower status and low income in comparison with comparable categories of citizens in developed countries, a person from a village is willing to give up the pride in traditional social status in favour of a salary earning menial job in the city. A tribal who is taught about his inferior status in the caste ridden hierarchical society of the non-tribal, is forced into seeking menial jobs like peons or attenders outside their own area after coming out of Ashram Schools/Secondary Schools. As Desai (1975) puts it, education "creates occupational differentiation affecting role differentiations and consequently social interaction". The alienation of the educated tribal is thus complete, while the uneducated fatalistically resign themselves to their poor lot.
Thus it will be seen that whether it is from the point of view of economic development or social betterment, the present educational system offers very little to the tribal community.
Why separate attention need be given to tribal education?
a) Tribal social structure is different form that of the non-tribals. Different ethnic groups have different structural problems.
b) The tribes are at different levels of economic organization. By and large they are food gatherers, hunters, shifting cultivators and artisans. Their life cycle is different from the non-tribal.
c) The tribes are dispersed in large areas in large areas, not always easily accessible. This, coupled with the fact that a tribal village consists hamlets make rational organization of schools difficult.
d) The tribes encompass all the four language families. Many small groups speaking diverse languages and dialects which are mostly unwritten find communication and education difficult. Both education managers and teachers erroneously consider economic and societal reasons responsible for low achievement. The fact that language plays a major role in the low performance and consequent low self-image of the tribal child has not been properly appreciated.
e) As there is no education in the family background for generations, and the tribal child living in the fringes of non-tribal society finds himself cognitively unequal to the non-tribal child, the inferiority complex is built into his mind right from the beginning of formal schooling. In this connection it may be pointed out that although the country has an overall literacy of 29.35 per cent, the ST literacy is only 11.29 per cent. This is one of the factors responsible for the lower educational achievement of the children. As the adults are not convinced of the benefits of formal education, it is not possible to escape the large scale wastage and stagnation.
f) In the absence of trained ST candidates, outsiders are appointed as teachers and administrators, who without access to their language, lack first-hand communication.
In view of all these tribal education can never be uniform. It must seek solutions to group specific problems in different states. There is a misplaced apprehension in some quarters that in finding separate solutions for integration of different groups, the seeds of disunity may grow. It must, however, be understood that the distinction is between apathetic attitude leading to inaction on the part of the planners which gets response of dissatisfaction verging on hatred towards the system and its mangers and a conscious strategy based on empathy leading to a national unity based on self-fulfilment of small groups. A conscious strategy of unity in diversity cannot lead to disunity.
Anthropologists and welfare workers have added to the confusion in no small measure. Some anthropologists and social workers are responsible for the notion that the tribal represents a twentieth century old stone age culture. Some want this culture to be preserved and are dead against modernity affecting it in any way. Others want tem to be modernized and civilized. As one group in the name of reservation of culture has no compunction in making them perform in state capitals on festive occasions, the other group in the name of development has no compunction in depriving the tribal of his land, his vocation and destroy his social institution. The debate among the change oriented and the non-changers among anthropologists has perplexed the education planners. Is the kind of education imparted today instrumental in destroying the social fabric of the tribals? Can it be used to protect them against the threatening urbanization? These value loaked questions and the debates on them neither help the tribal no the planner.
The welfare worker who is mostly guided by a guilt complex or a false sense of sympathy towards the tribal considers every activity as liberal charity. Thus all their activities are amied at solving the immediate need of the tibal rather than creating muscle in them to bear their own burden. The attitude of the Union and state governments, which have Article responsibilities for promotion of tribal education under Article 46 of the Indian Constitution, is by and large guided by welfare consideration. As LRN Srivastav sums up the facilities extended by the government, they are provision of 'school buildings, teachers, free studentship, free textbooks, and at selected places free board and lodging facilities and midday meals'. All of these may create conditions for education, but certainly none of them singly or all of them jointly could be called education.
A section of people in the government treat the tribal problem as one of law and order. Whether it is shifting cultivation, utilization of forest produce or tribal justice, which are intimately connected with their life style are treated as transgression of laws promulgated by and for the non-tribals. The tribal is then punished for his cultural values, his life style and his ethos about which judgement has already been passed by a ruling society which he naturally considers enemical to his interest. There is no wonder that the tribal people are not keen to take advantage of facilities of education which then appears to be calculated to destroy their social fabric.
The educationist who confuses educational goals with the above is naturally led astray. When an educationist talks of oppositions between 'science based' and 'culture based' curriculum for the tribal, he is a victim of confusion. First of all, science and culture are not exclusive concepts. Secondly, it is wrong to think that as regards the prevalence or otherwise of scientific attitudes, a tribal society is in any great measure different form the non-tribal societies. Thirdly arts, crafts and floklore are as important components of education as tales of scientific inventions. There is no reason why both cannot be given for both tribals and non-tribals.
One of the major problems confronting tribal educators is the mixed school. Those who take tribals for granted use this as excuse for inaction and those who which to do something are baffled. The problem arises primarily because education systems today put all students in a uniform mould, expecting them to reach a specific target within a single time scale. Educationists have no solutions for the socially oppressed, for those who are first generation school goers. Unless structural changes are made in the present schools and flexibility of approach adopted, this problem cannot be solved. The only solution lies in breaking the curriculum into courses and credit and permitting the children to complete the required number of courses at their own pace. Unless education gives a chance to the socially deprived and economically backward to overcome their past deficiencies, it will remain a club of the privileged. It is then bound to crumble under the weight of its own irrelevance.
Educations have often spoken of the problem-solving education. The problems posed by the elitist teacher and the textbook is not the problem of life. If at all such problems have any relevance, then they are relevant to the lives of the privileged. As the formal education system expects the child to conform to the logic of the present which has kept him submerged in ignorance and poverty, he has little motivation for giving attention to it, not to speak of pursuing it with any seriousness. Education for tribals and other such socio-economically under privileged can only be meaningful if it is problem-posing rather than problem solving.
In the context of tribal education, a ridiculous notion is work experience. To waste formal education time for a child coming form a working class family and engaged in productive work at home on work experience or some fancy programmes under vocationalisation scheme is nothing but preposterous. Unless the tribal culture is related to productivity in a manner relevant to the tribal social life and economy, credit is given to the child's work at home and his latent skills are recognised and developed in the school as part of the educational programme, education would remain an empty slogan for the tribal.
The tribal child is in some ways different from the non-tribal. So is the adult learner. This difference stems form the differing socio-economic and cultural pattern of the tribals. Unfortunately, most educated people confuse this difference with deficiency in the tribal mind. This confusion stemming largely from ethnocentricism finds its expression in statements like 'Saora has 700 words', 'It is not possible to discuss high culture in tribal languages', etc. This mentality also finds its expression in the insinuation that the tribal is less social and less national if not anti-social and anti-national. Therefore, experts on tribal education time and again have recommended that "both primary education and social education should be given wide coverage especially in educationally backward tribal areas are communities", and in stating the aims of tribal education have emphasized that, " the educational institutions and processes should strengthen forces of national integration." In a country as diverse in ethnicity, language, religion and regional culture, national integration is a necessary goal. But to single out the tribals for education in national integration betrays a mind which is basically parochial and ethnocentric. As has been pointed out earlier, problems in tribal education is an extreme case of education of socially oppressed, tribal or non-tribal. Therefore, to submerge the tribals not only does not give any new insight to the solution of their problems, but promotes and sustains separatism.
Tribal education must be viewed as an integrated programme, both form the point of curriculum and distribution of the gains of education. For example, the tribal schools must have and integrated curriculum in which science, social studies, arithmetic and language, etc., not compartmentalised, but form part of well defined object of learning. Following this approach the textbooks should contain topics on physical environment, personal and social hygiene, social institutions and the like. The skills of language as a subject and language as a medium should be concurrently developed.
The school language of the tribal is invariable different from that of the home language. Even if he speaks variety of the dominant language it is invariable different from the standard variety which is the language of the books. The language textbooks in the school seldom teach the skills; even the very primary level books attempt to teach literature, very often badly organized and seldom touching contemporary writing. It is no wonder that the child is taught to learn the textbook by heart. The tribal child coming from a poor socio-economic background and from families where there was no education for generations does not have a chance to use an elaborate code in diversified circumstances. The cognitive skills of abstraction, deduction, argumentation, etc., which are essentially language based and which the child is not taught at elementary education, but also felt at the end of formal higher education. There is no wonder that the school at Latiachora in Tripura, during the last 25 years of its existence, has produced only 3 SSLCs and not a single graduate.
The present education system has not adopted any conscious strategy to remedy this deficiency. Even conversation and discussions using the spoken school language which would stimulate students to question and thus result in grater classroom interaction has not been made to teach tribal language as well as the dominant language either both are taught in parallel streams of the student is taught entirely through the mother tongue medium in the elementary stage to be confronted with the dominant language at the post primary stage. Unless a conscious strategy for transition form the home language to school language is built into the formal elementary education of the tribal children it is almost impossible to meet their educational needs. This transfer programme has to be effected not only in the spoken material, but also in the reading material. Unless special reading manuals are prepared keeping in view the difficulties of the tribal child he is bound to lag behind.
A question is generally raised about the feasibility of primary education through the 400 tribal mother tongues with all their local variations. In this connection it must be remembered that he actual number of tribal languages in the country is lees than 100, Moreover, a call for mother tongue education is not a political slogan when talked about by educationists. It is not so much to maintain the political or legal rights of the linguistic minority as ensuring a good and creative education for the minority child and ensuring the full flowering of his personality. If the language the child brings to the classroom is derided and he is asked to learn a new language for classroom interaction as well as for reading books, then he is in a disadvantageous position in comparison with the one whose home language is the same as the school language. It should now be clear that a school need not start teaching in the tribal language for the form shake, if the child is already bilingual and controls the school language. What is important is to adopt a strategy for giving the sense of self assertion to the child and ensuring a smooth transition to the school language wherever necessary.
The teacher is the kingpin in any innovative educational programme. But the teacher who is ill-equipped both from the point of content and methodology, who is called upon to handle four classes simultaneously while looking after administration as well as feeding programme, has very little chance of being innovative. His handicap with the tribal language and his ignorance of the newer discoveries in the fields of teaching and learning further restrict him in his professional performance.
Tribal education is not altogether a different kind of education. It is education to suit the special needs and aspirations of tribal groups who are in different stages of development. Tribal identity is not a matter of shame. It is true that many groups who are completely acculturated wear it as a badge of privilege. But there is no reason to expect or demand that the tribal should either wholly retain or loose all of his culture. If the educated go through a basically western education but retain something which can be recognised as Indian, there is no reason why the tribal, no matter how highly educated he becomes, could not retain something of the tribal heritage. The education system offers little by way of tribal culture in the school curriculum. It has not recognized diversity as a basis of educational planning for the tribal and evolved any strategy which will ensure a smooth transition from the home language to the school language by the end of the primary school. The plea here is for ameliorative planning which will make education relevant to the life of the tribal and help him take advantage of the mainstream education as equal without a sense of deficiency and social oppression.