By Dhaatri Resource Centre for Women and Children

India has one of the largest tribal populations in the world with over 100 million tribal people spread across nine states in the Fifth Schedule areas and seven states in the Sixth Schedule areas of the country. Marginalisation of these tribal communities due to development neglect and exploitation by mainstream society continues today with majority of the population being below the poverty line, experiencing economic exclusion and social disintegration. The development contradiction lies in the fact that few modern facilities or basic amenities have reached these forest and hill areas while external influences are causing serious erosion of traditional knowledge base and access to resources. Largely, this has implications on the nature of policy and development interventions that are being imposed on these areas with little consultation or consent from the indigenous communities and with even lesser recognition given to their customary systems and practices. 

This marginalisation is reflected most visibly in the tribal or ST children's poor levels of literacy, mortality, and other development indicators. Of foremost concern is the status of Primary education among ST children, especially that of the girl child and those from VTGs. The education of ST children is challenged not only due to various socio-economic factors but also because of serious lapses in policy, governance and implementation. In almost all the states having a tribal population, school drop-out rates for ST children are high with very few students accessing High School education. Some of the serious problems found in Primary education for ST children largely relate to access, quality and context/content but several conventionally identified problems continue to exist with new challenges posed by shifting policies or lack of policy focus specific to education. Questions of economic viability, parity in quality, cultural identity, changing aspirations, mainstreamisation and transitional trends are some of the conflicting areas that remain unaddressed and yet, the governance machinery continues to restrict its primary focus on meeting the challenge of access to Primary education, which is also still a remote opportunity for many of these children.

The lack of policy related to education is perhaps also linked to the insensitivity of governance to acknowledge the need for recognising the significance of customary knowledge and to incorporate this into the curriculum framework of education for tribal people. Dialogue with government and policy makers on this subject reflect the lack of clarity over approaches to contextualising education, lack of capacity and conviction to innovate and replicate and to a large extent, disrespect for its relevance. Most of the state Tribal Welfare Departments in the country house tribal cultural and research institutions, but these do not have any focus on tribal education. Serious efforts today remain within the purview of alternative education models by civil society groups in an experimental manner. Convergence of these efforts for a policy level impact at the national level and state levels is much required for a more effective state responsibility towards the ST education. 

With the enforcement of the RTE Act, the children of India, particularly the children from the ST communities have a new opportunity to enjoy their fundamental right of Primary education, even with the given loopholes in the law itself. While there has been a marked progress in the number of ST children enrolled in school and an increase in the number of schools in ST areas, these numbers and public investments far from meet the existing demands or what is the anticipated growth and what should be the direction in terms of quality and relevance.

To start with, there is very little data available to get a clear picture of the exact status of Primary education of ST children and the inter-state, inter-tribe and sex disaggregated variances in their status. Therefore, implementation of the RTE Act for ST children is one of the major challenges for the government.  Unless there is more accurate data on their status, preparing a road map for implementation of the Act in the Scheduled Areas would be difficult at a national level as well as at the state level.

Two states that have a considerable population of STs are that of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. Andhra Pradesh has 35 tribal communities who number nearly 50.24 lakhs and constitute 6.59% percent of the total population of the state. Orissa has the second highest population of STs in the country. The 62 communities comprise 22.13% of the total population of the state and constitute a population of 81.45 lakhs. The current study focuses on selected districts coming under the Fifth Schedule area in these two states and attempts to assess the status of education among the ST children in the age group of 6–14 years.

The present study aims to work towards improving the quality and access to education for these ST children by undertaking an assessment of the status of ST education at the elementary level. The study is a process of action research and consultation with government and civil society on specific concerns and problems of elementary education for ST children in the two states. The study was conducted in the context of the recently enacted RTE Act that gives all children in India, including ST children, the fundamental right of free and compulsory Primary education. While the Act does not provide an all encompassing solution to addressing the education needs of the ST children, taking advantage of the new rights given under it while also linking the concern with other important strategies for quality, access and equity in education that are covered under the National Curriculum Framework, is critically needed. The study is intended to understand the extent to which state governments are applying the rights and Rules provided in the Act for the improvement of the education of ST children their implementation strategies at the state level.

(For the Executive Summary, contact