A Concept Note

Education for the Underprivileged

Pranjali Bandhu

[In the following is presented a concept note for the schooling of primarily Adivasi and Dalit children and children of other poor and marginalized groups in the Nilgiri region of South India. While working towards an equitable Common School System we also realise that in India ground level realities differ from region to region, and from community to community. Apart from the strong cultural and linguistic differences, the development/underdevelopment pattern has also not been uniform. Marginalized groups like the Dalits and Adivasis also have their own specificities, and hence have to be approached differently on the education front. A single strategy model will not work and special packages and implementation processes have to be evolved according to the ground level realities that have to be thoroughly studied and understood.]

Aforeign language is a foreigner's language at all levels." English medium education was introduced at the time of the British, and it was a clear-cut tool for mental slavery. An alien language as a medium of instruction with an equally alien content is counterproductive inasmuch as the children being forced to learn in it will never learn to think creatively and productively, maintain their links with their community and enable it to benefit from their learning. Self-expression becomes difficult in a foreign language. It encourages rote learning and imitativeness, which are not the hallmarks of a true learning process.

Dropping out takes place also because children are unable to follow the teacher, who is usually from another community and does not know their language. The need of the hour is to prepare primers/teaching-learning materials in the respective mother tongues of the children attending the school. Initially, till such time as this can be done—for which we would need committed teachers from the respective communities—the medium of instruction would be Tamil and the mother tongue would be taught alongside. Only once these are learnt well by the children and they are comfortable in all the skills of listening, reading, writing and speaking in these languages, we should proceed to teach foreign languages like Hindi and English. Even then the aim of this teaching would be learning for communication, interaction and building up a fraternity with people from other linguistic regions of the country as well as from abroad. For teaching both these 'foreign' languages too appropriate content has to be carefully chosen.

Documentation and development of the oral folklore, musical and other traditions of the concerned Adivasi communities in their own languages is a must. India tops UNESCO's list of countries with the maximum number of dialects in danger of extinction and this trend requires to be stemmed. A school for the underprivileged and marginalized will be a nodal centre for this and for training teachers to produce the appropriate teaching materials and textbooks in the languages concerned. Preparation of dictionaries, grammar books and glossaries is a related task.

Mother tongue instruction will help in realizing the vision of fostering the values of self-reliance, self-confidence and pride in one's own roots and identity among the Adivasi and Dalit communities.

Role of Work in the Education Process
Man expresses and develops himself through the work he does. On the one hand, the school will provide a general education that makes the world, and their own lives, intelligible to the children and ensures their full participation as citizens of their State, country and the world. On the other hand, it will also teach each child a useful handicraft and familiarize them all with forest-based economic activities and with agricultural and animal husbandry practices. What vocation/craft the child will choose will depend on the individual child's interest and aptitude. Caste, gender or community background will not be allowed to bias this choice.

Such an approach will have many benefits. There is a very strong need for reviving and developing the traditional artisan and handicraft activities of the Adivasi people. This is so for aesthetic as well as for employment reasons of improving their livelihood base. Learning and pursuing these activities will keep the children in touch with their heritage and offer potential future employment and income earning opportunities. In the course of learning the handicraft or artisan activity the child will develop a familiarity with his/her environment and its resource base. If taught scientifically and not just mechanically, it will be a window to the sciences and will help the children understand their social and natural environment in a scientific way. It will show them the reasons for the deterioration in the environment and will give them practical ideas as to how to improve the resource base.

Teaching the children modern technical skills should also certainly form part of the curricular agenda. This is with a view to acquaint them with modern technological inventions (such as electrical gadgets and computers and their uses and applications) as well as open out a path for possible employment in modern industry as well. They will be encouraged to think about appropriate application and adaptation of modern technologies for improving forces of production locally. In this way the possibilities of future possible employment as mechanics and technicians and shop floor level workers in industries, but also in the engineering field as inventors and developers of appropriate and environmentally sustainable technologies will open out. Future work possibilities in the field of medicine combining traditional health giving and healing practices with modern medicine will also be encouraged.

While working with the hands and learning life skills the child develops an understanding of society and nature and the necessity for social change and its possible and desirable direction. The school's aim should be to place trained men and women in the village and community situation, who are enabled through their all-round mental, physical, social and spiritual education to contribute to the welfare and well-being of their community and society in general. To ensure learning in this manner the school campus should represent the rural setting that includes all the communities and indicates their lifestyles and cultures. The new formal education of Adivasi children must absorb and retain the best of their traditional methods of educating and training the children to become mature adult members of their respective communities.

In earlier times, the education of the child began almost before it could walk. The child accompanied the parents in their daily tasks of sowing, hunting, food gathering, wood cutting, thatching and so on. That is how the child learnt these activities, came to know about the lay of the land, the names of plants and animals and their qualities. At puberty, the adolescent children learnt about sex, marriage and parenthood. They sat with their elders in the councils and during ceremonies, and learnt about their history and art, values and morals. Thus education was completely integrated with their lives and was for life and a living in sharing, serving and loving without any exploitation or oppression. This learning heritage should not be lost.

This is possible only if the learning process is not confined to the school alone, and the role of the parents and the communities in the education process is retained and integrated with it. One of the ways in which this can be done is by relating the school timetable to the village calendar so that the children can participate in the harvesting and other agricultural work of their homes and villages. The school should be an integral part of the community where the parents make their contribution as well as benefit from it.

Art as a Basis of Education
"When I see the universe through music (song), it is only then that I know it, I understand it." —Rabindranath Tagore
For a full, free and creative development of the child's personality self-expression through art plays a crucial role. Just as indispensable as art is in the life of a community, so it is an indispensable part of the educational process. Only creative learning can be joyful learning and contribute to peace rather than conflict. When creativity that is based on freedom is curbed, destructive tendencies in the child can surface.

While schooling should definitely emphasize crafts, particularly the traditional community based crafts, the sense of beauty and aesthetics can be cultivated in every way. Art education is the best way to develop creative and design skills in addition to practical skills. A well-equipped art studio and a trained art teacher, who has a good knowledge and understanding of tribal arts and crafts, will be essential. As far as possible, locally available materials should be used for the art and craft work and the teacher would need to be well acquainted with these. The school will be designed so as to showcase the art heritage of the tribal communities. Simultaneously, it will expose them to the best of the art works of India and the world through prints and books. Apart from the Creative or Art room there has to be an atmosphere of free creativity in the school itself.

Of course, art includes not just drawing and painting but also literature and theatre, music and dance. Adivasi cultures are rich in all these art forms; and all these art activities will be channels for the children to express themselves and discover themselves, which is important for their healthy development. Unfortunately, the integration of the Adivasi communities into modern industrial societies has not only robbed them of their resource base and market for their artisan and craft activities; it has also debased their aesthetic tastes and made them into consumers of modern aesthetically poor, indeed ugly, products and environmentally destructive goods such as plastic pots and chappals; synthetics instead of cotton and wool clothing; steel tumblers and vessels instead of earthenware; toys made of poisonous and injurious substances and other costly/cheap consumer goods. Their paintings, embroidery works and crafts are sold to the more wealthy middle and upper classes in a monetized economy. This impoverishment of Adivasi culture needs to be done away with, whereby the beautiful products of the Adivasis are available only to those better-off or are in museums, replacing them with factory-made products for their own use, and in some cases are simply allowed to die away. The school can play a role in the revival of the craft traditions of Adivasis and the production of beautiful household items.

Adivasi culture has evolved from living in and learning from nature; so also their art and artistic products. New forms are arrived at by a deep study of nature and a feeling of oneness with if to understand its inner rhythms and harmonies. Art education inculcates the kind of sensitivity needed to understand and enjoy nature, to be one with her. Modern art and literature also need an understanding of modern society and its dissonances. What is urgently needed is to expose the children to the contemporary art works and literature of Adivasi and Dalit children from other parts of the country and aboriginal works from other continents. For this, some translation work into their languages or into Tamil will have to be done, wherever these do not already exist.

Ethics cannot be taught or learnt except on the basis of understanding beauty. Beauty itself cannot be understood and created without freedom or at least inner freedom, where the mind is without fear. Freedom is also the sense of responsibility and the caring to do the right thing at the right moment. This requires a perception of truth. Beauty and grace one learns by observing Nature and being in tune with her. Therefore, the good, the true and the beautiful have been linked by philosophers. Nature teaches balance, it teaches not to unduly waste. Creating beautiful artworks following nature gives pleasure and self-confidence to adults and children alike.

"When a child realizes that within him there is a rich source of creativity, he feels strong and is drawn to beauty and courage, and eventually becomes a fulfilled person, therefore, one who is naturally predisposed to goodness, peace and cooperation. Experiencing joy through creative activities is an extremely important element for child development, and the major reason behind children taking interest in art activities is the joy it provides them... If the teacher realizes that joy and satisfaction, Aanand, is the major objective of education, art should logically become the basis of education." (Devi Prasad, in : "Art, the Basis of Education")

Art activity helps to develop the emotional side of being and helps in creating balanced personalities who will contribute to peace and not strife on this earth. When there is the approach of making art as the basis of education it means that every subject taught in the school should be taught as a creative activity with a practical aspect resulting in an integrated growth of mind and body, the hand and the heart, the individual and society. If all educational activities become exploratory activities linking theory with practice then the teacher and the taught learn together and there is mutual consultation. The child then does not experience the teacher as an oppressor but as a friend, who has greater experience and can help one to grow and develop. The teacher can benefit from the child's insight and queries. A relationship of trust and cooperation and mutuality can then develop.

Inter-Cultural Approach to Education
The UNESCO International Commission on Education for the 21st century has identified "Learning to Be" and "Learning to Live Together" as two among the four pillars of education. In a society as the Indian one, which is heterogeneous and divided by caste and class, nationality and ethnicity, creed and culture, a common school system is the best way to foster the spirit of "learning to live together" without undue hostilities and prejudices, but in mutual respect and toleration of differences. This alone can ensure an education which fosters democratic and secular values.

An intercultural approach to education ensures that culturally differing groups are exposed to one another whereupon a dialogue ensues and everyone embarks upon an understanding of the culture of the other. This involves comparisons that enable the uncerstanding of differences as well as commonalities. Such an approach would help a plural society such as the Indian one to remain a multicultural one. In the case of religion, emphasis on commonly shared religious truths and values would lead to mutual respect of religions. Universalism, humanism and rationality are considered to be the three pillars of secularism according to the UNESCO report cited above. The core belief of universalism that all religions are essentially the same and differences exist only in their external manifestations is a necessary value to cultivate in a multi-religious society. The place for religion in the formal education system is in the form of education about religions rather than religious education. Moral and value education can be derived from religious teachings, but also from humanistic literature, which emphasize values such as equality, love and compassion and mutual respect.

The Adivasi religions and the values that they uphold need to be taught and understood in the school. Also their relationship to the Hindu religion has to be made clear. While there are positive elements in this traditional culture, particularly in its relationship to Nature and community values, that need to be cherished and retained, there is no place for the sense of hierarchy, purity-pollution concepts and patriarchal values linking them to the caste system, in a democratic casteless and classless society, which is the ideal. These notions of particular tribal groups being higher or lower than others has consistently to be discouraged and the school is an area where they can commingle and discover each other and come together in friendship.

The significance of intercultural education in the context is that in all fields indigenous knowledge and culture is privileged, but not in an uncritical manner. Its possible place in the modern world has to be synthesized and this can be part of the educational process. In this way indigenous world views with relation to religion, healthcare, nature and environment, can be incorporated in the study programme along with mainstream and other conceptions and knowledge; the two can be compared and a fusion or combination be distilled out in a manner that is most conducive to social and economic advancement. Mass media induced commercialised consumerist culture and unhealthy practices that are permeating into these communities undermining them would be dealt a heavy blow.

Intercultural education would also mean that non-Adivasi children would get to know and understand the place, role and contribution of Dalits and Adivasis to Indian culture, civilization and history. This means, the educational process does not undermine the Adivasi sense of identity, self-confidence and pride based on it, or foster feelings of inferiority and backwardness with relation to mainstream culture. On the contrary, it will emphasize the fact that there is much to learn from Adivasis and Dalits in building a sustainable society and environment. In the words of an Australian aboriginal woman:"If you came only to help me, then you can go back home. But if you consider my struggle as part of your own survival, then perhaps we can work together."

Vol. 47, No.11-14, Sep 21 - Oct 18 2014