Education of Indian Scheduled Tribes:A Study of Community Schools

By Dr. K. Sujatha, IIEP Research and Studies Programme: Strategies of Education and Training for Disadvantaged Groups, UNESCO/IIEP, 1999, 197p.

The book by Dr. K. Sujatha of NIEPA is based on a quantitative and qualitative study of community schools in the Vishakhapatnam District of the State of Andhra Pradesh in India. Launched some eight years ago, this project was developed through a close co-operation between village dwellers, who have to find the premises, select and pay the teachers, and local authorities, responsible for providing school equipment, producing teaching material, training and supervising teachers. During its development, many new measures were added, aimed at better adapting the teaching process to the needs of the community, development of specific training materials, application of child-based teaching methods, etc. It should be noted that this project was destined for a particularly disadvantaged portion of the Indian population: the Scheduled Tribes, living poor, isolated areas and deprived of basic services. Their rate of illiteracy is 17 percent, compared to 46 per cent for the general population in Visakhapatnam.

Dr. Sujathas study is based on data collected from 926 community schools, together with other schools located in the same sector, thus allowing the author to make precise comparisons and draw solid conclusions. The book is organized in 12 chapter. The author paints a critical picture of the project, and draws attention to its main failings which include: the over-representation of some tribal groups among teachers, the non-democratic procedures of some village committees, the slowness of authorities to provide much needed material, the frequent shift of teachers due to the previous status and low salaries, the cost of the project to families who are already living below the poverty line, etc. Furthermore, he sounds a warning about the trend to gradually bring community schools more into the line with formal establishments, especially under the pressure of teachers who would like to see their status and salaries improve, and would prefer to be put under the authority of public bodies rather than of the latter. However, she also highlights the success achieved by community schools (expressed in the attendance and punctuality of teachers and students, high survival rates, etc.) She identifies several key factors for success based on an analysis of the data gathered from the most successful schools, which could also serve as a source of inspiration for the formal education system.

The study concludes with a list of recommendations which should provide food for thought for those curious about, or actively involved in, the development of alternative education strategies for disadvantaged groups: giving more autonomy to authorities responsible for running the education system at the local level; assisting communities to better evaluate their needs and to fulfil the educational responsibilities they are given; limiting local influence by defining clear norms concerning the recruitment and payment of teachers, etc. The author ends by advocating the further adaption of educational standards, models of organization and functioning of educational services in keeping with the characteristics of the populations concerned, without relieving the public authorities of their main responsibility: to ensure equal assess to education for all.

Review by Muriel Poisson, IIEP News Letter, January-March, 2000, Paris.

Copy Right: IIEP, Paris


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