Education of tribal children lost in translation

DHENKANAL, March 5 : The government has continually made tall claims about the implementation of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), saying it can bring tribal children into mainstream education; the ground reality here, however, is quite different.

Dreams of bridging the gap and reducing social and economic inequality in tribal-dominated Kankadahada and SC/ST-dominated Hindol blocks, and certain pockets in Parjang and Gondia blocks, have yet not been realised for a slew of reasons.

In Dhenkanal district, the academic needs of tribal children are not properly addressed. The increasing communication gap between teachers and tribal children is said to be one of the major reasons for students’ lack of interest in studies. 

According to official sources, 228 schools function in Kankadahada block in Kamakshyanagar subdivision. Of them, while 169 schools are operating under the department of schools and mass education of the state government, nine schools come under the department of welfare. The combined strength of all these schools is 26,456 students. Additionally, about 7,000 students stay and study in 38 residential schools, ashrams and seva ashrams in eight blocks under the welfare department; most of the students in these institutions are from tribal communities. 

Despite surveys about various aspects of facilitating SSA having been conducted, the concerns and needs of tribal children are yet to be addressed. Many tribals feel that as the children are more acquainted and comfortable with the Santala dialect, education in that medium would be desirable. 

“As that is our mother tongue, we feel that education through Santala would bridge the supposed communication gap. We do not oppose the present system of education, but teaching our wards in the language and dialect they are comfortable with would be more helpful. Imparting education through Santala would be of great help to the children,” said Mr Dusa Murmu.

“Santala would act as a great motivating factor in learning. Mid-day meals can assure that they go to schools, but the language dear to their heart would certainly involve them in the education process,” he added.

This apart, the teachers, most of whom are non-tribal and are not well-conversant with tribal languages like Munda, Santala, Matia, Mankedia, Juang and Gadabparda, also do not feel comfortable.

At present, the schools funded by the National Child Labour Project also face the same setback in Hindol and other tribal-concentrated villages. 

Kamakshyanagar district inspector of schools Mr Mayadhar Pany acknowledged the plight of tribal children in SSA schools. He said other residential schools, in some cases, had experienced the same difficulties. Hindol district inspector of schools Mr Saroj Kumar Dora informed that there is no bilingual teacher posted in any school in Hindol education district. He also admitted the communication gap is a major hindrance in motivating children towards education. Even capable teachers find it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand in tribal-dominated communities. Besides, in many schools, teaching-learning materials are not used to motivate students. Parents are not invited to schools to discuss the progression of their children in academics.
Educationist Mr Ghanashyam Dash of Kamakshyanagar, who knows four tribal languages himself and used to impart training to teachers, said the government must include Dhenkanal district in multilingual category like KBK and five other districts in the state.

“It should also think of opening a tribal training centre here to educate teachers for successful implementation of primary education in tribal-dominated blocks,” Mr Dash said.

Ms Susandhya Mohanty, a research scholar of training and education, suggested follow-up action and said that concerns of tribals should be given top priority on a long-term basis. She also reported experiencing a communication gap during her research in Hindol.
To tackle the communication gap, tribal leaders demanded posting of bilingual teachers or teachers adequately educated about tribal languages. Without these provisions, they said, the existing SSA structure would not help children in building their future.