Bhaskar Parichha

Whither tribal education in Odisha? Is it stepping forward, standing still or declining? No prize for guessing. Tribal education is in the throes of a severe crisis.

Sixty two tribes, almost a quarter of the population and just 37.4% literates (female literacy a meager 23.4%), one could easily imagine the plight of some 16 lakh school-going children in the age group 6-14. According to various studies, only 10 percent of tribal students are able to complete matriculation. The rest ninety grow up to half-literates.

Drop-out rates in Mayurbhanj, Rayagada and Koraput district are severe. Of course, the drop outs are mostly at the upper primary level. At the primary level there is some respite. When it comes to teachers, a large number of teachers are not qualified, and the proportion of female teachers is extremely low. There are other parameters to show that the situation of elementary education in tribal areas is precarious.

Various committees set up by the government also have underscored the pathetic state of affairs of tribal education in the state. Diverse measures have been suggested by the committees but the overall scenario is one of despondency.

Even after the Right to Education has come into force, the situation has hardly changed and the teaching-learning ambiance is virtually non-existent. Several things come out in the open: medium of instruction, recruitment and training of teachers and putting tribal children in private schools.

The National Curriculum Framework 2005 vouched for decentralization of curriculum. Barring a few exceptions there has not been much effort in this regard and one committee after another has pointed out that the tribal children face a  severe disconnect  between the text books/subjects and their surroundings. The text books are highly standardized and cannot address the diverse needs of various tribal groups. What is needed is customization of text books subjects and even teachers.

The biggest culprit in tribal education is appointment of teachers. The recruitment process is heavily centralized– be it the Department of School and Mass Communication, or the Tribal Welfare Department or any other agency. Instead of thrusting teachers from outside the district, ideally a local teacher can easily connect with the language and the place. But that is not happening.

How the appointment of teachers is flawed can be gauged from the fact that qualified ST teachers are not posted in the tribal districts. So, it is a double trouble: Non-ST teachers becoming diffident and ST teachers not getting the opportunity to serve in their areas.

Similarly, the appointment of Sikshasahayak (SS) on contractual basis. Because these para-teachers   are paid thrice lesser than what a regular teacher in the same school gets paid, the contract teachers are a demotivated lot. Training of teachers in tribal schools has the same fate.

Standards are essential in every sphere. When it comes to tribal education, there needs to be some quality check. Regulators like National Council for Teachers Education (NCTE) have come out of the idea of Teachers Eligibility Tests (TET) – which should widen the scope for eligible candidates from tribal and non-tribal areas. But, the efficacy of these tests in Odisha remains to be seen.

Tribals are prone to migration. This has been escalating over the years since the basic sources of their livelihoods (forests) have been shrinking and there have been a lot of controls on use of forests.

With no land to till, they migrate to nearby or even distant cities for living. When a household migrates, the immediate effect is on the education of children. Only a lip service is given to this problem and the migrant children have remained as illiterate as ever.

In such a dismal situation, NGO interventions (Sikhasandhan for example)have brought in enormous changes – changes both  in quantity and quality .Decreasing dropout rates and teacher absenteeism has been arrested to a  larger extent, children find  learning under the new environment joyful. In a sense, the school going habit has been institutionalized.

In order to improve the system of education in tribal areas, a different and radical approach is needed. Unless a distinction is made and problems addressed suitably, children in tribal areas will not be able to make any connect with the type and level of knowledge being delivered to them. The sooner the teaching community and the administrators realize this better.

(The writer is a senior journalist and currently associated with OdishaLIVE as Consulting Editor. You can share your comment with him at content(@)odisha(dot)live)