Education and the problems of the tribals in the hill districts of Manipur

Wangdibou *

SACSAS School at New Dampi In Churachandpur district about 28 kms from Moirang
SACSAS School at New Dampi In Churachandpur district about 28 kms from Moirang :: Pix - SACSAS

As commonly believes that education is a key to development. The Progress of Tribal population in the Hill, therefore, is largely depends upon their educational advancement. It is noteworthy that government of India had no direct programme or specific for education of tribal till 1950. With the adaptation of the Constitution, the promotion of education of the schedule tribes has become a special responsibility of the central as well as of the State Governments.

The Indian Constitution had given the compulsory education to all children upto the age of fourteen. It directs the state to promote the educational interest of the tribal people (Article 46); and that every local authority is required to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary stage (Article 350 A).

However, for a tribal family, to send their child to school is essentially a matter of economics and thus, many parents cannot just afford to send their children to school. The parents were left with no other option but opt for means of survival as priority rather than to educate their children which runs the risk of their whole family to acute poverty and starvation. For a place like Tamei sub-division in Tamenglong District is one of the worst cases in Manipur.

The place is far isolated from the main District where every development centres. There is either private or government Secondary/College in the area until recently with the announcement of government to set up college was a great relieve for the people of the area. One will be interesting to note that people from the area seldom visited or pass through its main district unless for some official purpose and it was only the service walla who often go to withdraw their salary. The route was never preferred by the rest, who only, by means of good road and transportation sustained livelihood.

The locational disadvantage of the tribal habitats in the hills is another impediment to tribal education in Manipur. Almost without exception tribal villages in the hills are scattered. Long travel and difficult terrains to attend schools become dissuading factors. As a young boy of class three I have to leave my village in search of better schools at the urban. There were hardly any private schools in most villages but dependent on the government schools that are unreliable for students to excel and compete the outside world.

The very situation similarly compels majority of the students to leave their native village with much extra burden on their family economically. Not to mention of finding a better school, I still have to travel more than ten kilometres more to reach our school, to and fro every day. My new shoe could hardly last a month or two and worn out in no time since I've travel more than 600 kilometres by that time. There was a short-cut route leading our school but never was the route preferred by anyone as the route was difficult and tiring with exhausted climb to the Hills to reach the school in time.

Only the bigger and stronger children can take this route, a route like soldiers as part of their training. However, I have to take my worn out shoe to the cobbler for a repairing but that couldn't last for long. But, I knew, I can't afford to throw them. The most difficult time was the rainy season, the worn out shoe that could not resist the water, leaked through the broken and torn shoe, stitched with iron strings below that will dam wet my shocks. The same continues until I could wear them any longer.

It was such a long, difficult and tiring walk for students in the Tribal Hills of Manipur. Thus, enrolment in schools of roadside villages is more than what it is in the interior villages.

The existing structure and content of education do not very much attract tribal children to the schools. The education imparted in the school is not only linked to job opportunities but also poor is the standard lending no chance to the educated tribal boys and girls to stand in competition. Consequently whatever skills are acquired from formal education and training is not adequate to earn a living.

The medium of instruction is a constraint in as much as primary text-books do not exist in many tribal languages and it is difficult for small children to comprehend subject teaching along with language learning. The text-books used in tribal schools are largely the same as in other areas and the content of education does not take into account the socio-cultural environment of the area and the people. The tribal students are not attracted to the curriculum as it is not their life oriented.

Steps need be taken to improve the performance of students through tutorial, special coaching schemes and book-banks. Special grants may be given for this purpose to the institution. This scheme may also help the tribal students to compete with general students on better terms. However, a balance has to be maintained between the needs of education and needs of the tribal family. Therefore, the tribal education programmes should have schemes for 'earning while learning' so that a student is able to supplement, however, small it may be, the earning of his parents.

It has been very difficult to find teachers with suitable backgrounds to serve in the schools of tribal dominated areas. The vast majority of teachers in tribal areas can neither speak nor understand the local tribal dialect. Consequently there is little communication between teachers and students outside the class room. When the non-tribal teachers find it difficult to learn tribal dialects how can it be expected that a tribal student acquires expertise in language other than his mother-tongue?

Often the non-tribal teachers serving in such areas remain busy in pulling strings to get themselves transferred to urban places. They are out of tune with the tribal language and culture which they often denigrate with impunity; and usually possess a negative attitude towards the tribal students. The communication gap between the teacher and the taught alienates the tribal child from the school.

The residential facilities for the teachers in tribal areas are poor. Often they find it difficult to keep their families with them. Consequently they remain homebound and are generally not found at the places of their duty. The schools are seldom visited by inspecting staff. Further still many primary schools in the tribal areas are single teacher school where neither teachers nor the students are regular in attendance.

There are instances where the educational incentives mean for the tribal children do not reach them. There is also a considerable delay in the sanction and disbursement of scholarships. Further, in view of the rapid escalation of prices in recent years, the quantum of scholarship is rendered inadequate. It is seen that a large share of the scholarships goes to such tribes of sections there of which are already educationally advanced.

Most tribal students are first generation learners. As such the home does not supplement the education input given in schools. Few in the family understand the importance of education and give the student adequate facilities for study at home. The generation students also lack the required motivation and it is among them we find the largest number of drop outs. Seldom do they realise that education will add to their self-confidence, improve their self-image and performance.

It needs great efforts to draw them out. Exposure to mass media is poor. Consequently they remain shy of most extracurricular activities. Therefore, sustained effort to draw them out is necessary. Large numbers of tribal students suffer from 'inferiority complex'. They do not feel bold enough to resist discrimination. So they remain entrapped in their socio-cultural traditions and economic deprivations.

In many tribal areas, agricultural and wage earning facilities act as barriers to education. As agricultural activity of the tribal is family oriented and is mostly at the sustenance level, every family has to contribute her or his mite to family earning. Again the traditional festivals and games such as the football or tournaments especially to young boys are considered to be very significant in tribal society.

I remembered as a young boy with intense enthusiasm for sports like football during tournament that many times I have to confront my parents as the holiday leaves gets over. Never would I leave the football ground until dark and not visible enough for my sight to find the ball. Many of the tribal students abscond themselves from their classes on such occasions lending discontinuity and irregularity to their studies.

An important scheme to educate the tribal students has been the setting up of residential institutions aiming at providing a system of education related to tribal life. This will not only ensure adequate attendance and minimise waste in education but also encourage tribal children to joint such schools in order to save them from long travelling to attend their schools. The tribal students do not have access to career guidance.

Consequently, a small number of tribal students pursue higher studies. Enrolment of tribal students in the professional courses such as medicine, engineering, agricultural science, computer science, space science, etc; is very low. In the absence of proper guidance, some scholarship holding tribal students discontinue their studies as soon as they are able to secure ordinary jobs.

In the successful formulation of the policy for the tribal education text books assume great importance. These should include lessons depicting the life of the tribal's, their folk lore, songs, history and the lives of their cultural heroes. These lessons should be woven into ordinary text books in order to enable the non-tribal and tribal students to understand each other. This will add to respect for tribal life and inculcate in the tribal student a sense of confidence that his way of life, history and culture are not inferior and it has the adequate support from other members of the society.

* Wangdibou wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on February 09, 2015.

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