Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 4 : 4 April 2004

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai

An Experiential Learning Process
Mahendra K. Mishra, Ph.D.


The National Policy of Education 1986 and the Programme of Action 1992 specified objectives and strategies for the education of the children hailing from the scheduled tribes and scheduled castes. The cultural variations noticed between various ethnic and caste groups, the gaps or the gulf between the home language and the school language, the comprehension of the relationship between space and time from the specific tribal or caste point of view, and the construction of knowledge from one's own cultural context were cited as some of the relevant points, which determine the education of the children hailing from the scheduled tribes.

Cultural plurality, thus, is suggested as the basis of contextual differences in primary education. School as a system is to propagate knowledge and wisdom to open the gateways to education and to enable the children to understand the meaning of one's own world around them.

In a multicultural, multiethnic, and multilingual society, using a culture-free textbook or adopting common curricula largely based on the a dominant language environment challenges the efficiency and competencies of the children of different groups.

The cultural context and the common curriculum content in a language other than the mother tongue of the children is not only a contradiction in any learning system but also it is a serious threat to cohesive cognitive development in the child.

The content must have a context and this must support the language of thought and the language of speech of the children, if it has to be a child-centered learning. A child understands her own environment from her own mother tongue, around her own cultural context, and in the school the same experiential knowledge helps her to enter into a new world of hitherto unknown knowledge. Association of experience with the classroom knowledge helps the child in constructing a broader knowledge in her mind.

In the Indian situation, the content and process need to be adaptable for the children of special needs. Due to the gap between the home language and school language, and due to the gap that exists between the content of the curricula and the external context in which the tribal children live, the pedagogy followed in teaching the children from the non-tribal and the non-tribal dominant language situation will not be effective. As a result, in many a places we are unable to reach out to the tribal children and introduce effective learning processes for the targeted children. Thus, the competence and the performance of the children remain at the lowest level, and achieving the minimum levels of learning by the tribal children has becomes a distant goal or dream.

The National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE) advocates the use of culture-specific and teaching pedagogies through mother tongue. The NCFSE argues,

Pedagogy is perceived not merely as a source of instruction but as a culture or as a set of sub-cultures, which reflect different contexts and different teaching behaviour- inside and outside classrooms. (p.18 of NCFSE)
... as cultural specificity should get embedded in the pedagogical practices, which should be evolved for tribal, rural, urban and other ethnic groups and communities. (Ibid)

In the context of education of tribal children at the primary school stage, the home language of the tribal children is wholly different from the school language in many areas. Acquisition of an unfamiliar language as the medium of instruction takes precedence over the acquition of the knowledge about the world. So, this terrible gap, indeed, determines the teaching. The questions relating to content, process, teaching, and learning follow only when the issues of language is addressed at first. If the issue of language, rather the acquisition of the language through which content is to be taught is not adequately learned before hand, then, the children's progress in understanding the world around them and effectively communicating their understanding and interacting with the world become handicapped.

The National Curriculum Frame Work recommended that mother tongue or regional language should be children's first language to be learnt right from the first standard (p.39). The reason being "their natural creativity and imagination must be encouraged and fostered that will make them realize the basic difference between their verbal language and the language of mathematics. Thus, learning of language should find a central place in the total educational process" (p. 38).

In the light of the above objectives, this paper tries to examine the situation in the tribal area schools of Orissa and the status of pedagogy in the tribal context of the district of Gajapati in Orissa. Here, the experience that I gained while attending to the education of tribal children in Orissa under the DPEP will also be discussed.

Education of Tribal Children in primary Stage: An overview

Consider the following:

  • Tribal population in Orissa constitutes one-fourth of the total population in Orissa. There are sixty-two tribes having twenty-two distinct ethnic languages among the fourteen primitive and transitory tribal people in the State. Out of 314 Blocks, 118 Blocks have more than 50% tribal population and have been declared as tribal sub-plan area.
  • Tribal languages are distinct from the Oriya language. At present, the Santal, Munda, Ho, Saora, Kishan, Khadia, Didayi, Gadaba, Bhumia, Paroja, Mundari, Kuvi, Kui, Bonda, Juang, Kutia, Dongria Kondh, and Bhunjia form the major ethnic groups. They have their home language, and the children speak these languages in their home and society. They also construct their knowledge through their mother tongue.
  • Attitude of non-tribal teachers towards tribal children and, tribal language is stereotyped. The social distance between is very wide. Teachers, who are mostly non-triabl, impose their own culture too on the tribal children. Teachers' attitude towards tribal culture is indifferent. Teachers from the tribal communities have been de-tribalised to a great extent and they don't understand the role of mother tongue in teaching in the primary school stage. No teacher, either from the tribal or non-tribal communities, has raised the issue the issue of the tribal children facing difficulties in understanding the school language. I have no doubt that they do intuitively feel how the language gap between the home language and the school language hampers the construction of knowledge. But no systematic articulation of this intuitive recognition is not made.
  • Tribal children are not exposed to school language at the primary school stage. Even the content of the book is alien to them since it is non-contextual. The content and the process do not attract the tribal children. The socio-cultural environment of a tribal child is different from that of non-tribal children. The children of tribal areas see, feel, and understand their visible world through their language. Their language of thought and language of speech is entirely different from the textbook language. The meaning relating to space and time in a tribal area is not reflected in the teachers' behaviour or in the content.
  • Fear and threat of unforeseen challenge is another aspect, which prohibit the tribal children from attending the school. Even in the Ashram Schools, the children's self-image or self-confidence is not built properly to help the tribal children maintain their self-image and feel their self-esteem.
  • Classroom content and process in teaching is wholly non-contextual. Language is alien. Communication is a big issue between the teachers and the children. The purpose and meaning of teaching by the teachers and learning by the learners become meaningless. Teaching is one-sided, teacher-centered. When the teacher does not understand the language of the child, the child-centered approach becomes an unattainable goal.
  • Teachers' performance: Teachers perform their duties with out understanding the learning difficulties of the children. Even they rarely discuss their teaching difficulties in the monthly center meetings. The entire process does not reveal any awareness of the special needs of children.
  • Academic support in addressing the bi-lingual classroom, preparation of tribal Oriya bi-lingual teaching learning materials is not undertaken at teachers' training level. Continuous upgrading of the knowledge of teachers on language teaching, and understanding the diversities of socio-linguistic aspects are not taken up as a priority area. In stead, a common curriculum is used for all children irrespective of cultural or linguistic diversities.
  • Teacher training Institutes are yet to extend academic support to the Block level and District level.
  • State language policy (three language formula) on using the mother tongue is not clear. Therefore the diverse cultural and linguistic areas of the state have also been ignored, and so, a common curriculum, which is not context-sensitive, is not child-centric, but teacher-centric.
  • Lack of long term planning and sustainable efforts to implement the education of tribal children at the academic domain.
  • Parental attitude towards teaching the children in mother tongue.


The NCERT, New Delhi, in 1985, undertook a scheme for the education of Saora tribal children in Orissa. Textbooks for Class I and Class II were prepared for language and Arithmetic in Saora and Oriya languages. Hoever, the effectiveness of this scheme is not readily seen, nor any report is available.

Thereafter, the SCERT, Orissa, also prepared some area specific primers in tribal languages with the help of the Academy of Tribal Dialects and Culture. The books were distributed among the children, but, unfortunately, the teachers did not use these books, considering these to be simply supplementary readers for tribal children.

The main reason for such failures is that even though in a classroom majority of the students were from the tribal background, and only a minority of the students came from the non-tribal children communities, teachers somehow tended to give importance to teach the students only in the regional language. They tended to ignore using the language of the majority (the tribal language). Agencies that had the responsiblity to supervise and enforce policies tended to be ambivalent in their approach.


After the introduction of the DPEP in Orissa during 1996-97, education of tribal children was treated as one of the "interventions" to be undertaken by the State. The experience was like, "We make the road by walking". With the help of the Academy of Tribal Dialects and Culture, and also with the help and active participation of some eminent tribal educationists, the issues, strategies and intervention were conceptualized. The steps taken up to implement this process of intervention was more like experiencing an initial process than a camera-ready Programme. The learning was initiated through the dialogues with the teachers from the tribal areas. Experience of the teachers helped identify the needs of the tribal education.

The first workshop with the teachers aimed at the identification of training needs of tribal area teachers. Major issues discussed in that workshop were

  • Gap of home language and school language
  • Non -contextual text books,
  • Teachers lack of knowledge on bi-lingual education
  • Teachers attitude towards tribal language and children,
  • Lack of academic support from the top
  • Lack of course content in the teacher training Programme to address tribal children as a special focus group

When the initial attitudinal assessment was administered it was found that the teachers have their own beliefs regarding the tribal languages and tribal children, as follows:

  1. The Tribal language is inferior to the Oriya language.
  2. Mother tongue should not be used in the classroom.
  3. Children should be discouraged to use mother tongue in the class rooms.
  4. Tribal children are docile.
  5. Tribal children are weak in arithmetic in comparison to others.
  6. If a child uses mother tongue, he will be dull.
  7. There is no science or scientific knowledge in a tribal village.
  8. Arithmetic isn't used in the village.
  9. Illiterate people are ignorant people, and they don't have knowledge
  10. Girls are dull in arithmetic.
  11. Tribal children are afraid of schools.
  12. Knowledge is found in the books only
  13. There is no knowledge beyond textbook.
  14. Oral Folktale/song/riddles are not knowledge because they are not written texts.

It was found that about 70% teachers have these types of make beliefs. The initial attitude of the teachers towards the tribal children, tribal language, and learning were captured to know the mind set of the teachers.

The findings of the workshop demonstrated that that the teachers needed training to eliminate their wrong assumptions about the tribal children. The need for such training was was necessitatated also because,
  1. Tribal children are first generation learners.
  2. Tribal children do not have a proper study atmosphere at home as their parents are non-literates.
  3. There is a visible disparity among the tribal and non-tribal.
  4. The ethnic prejudices and biases are high in society and school, and as a result of which the tribal children have little hope of competing with non-tribal children.
  5. Most of the teachers working in the tribal areas are non-tribal and have a number of beliefs and false assumptions on tribal society, people and tribal children.
  6. The ethnic biases among teachers, the traditional process of teaching learning, lack of knowledge on tribal culture and society among the teachers, and their inability to relate to the children in their language and socio-cultural context are the main reasons for educational backwardness of the tribal children.

Hence it was felt that the teachers teaching in tribal areas must possess a healthy attitude towards tribal language and culture. They must be free from any type of biases and prejudices, which may come in the way of their interaction with the tribal children.

Therefore, it was resolved that unless the attitude of the teachers was changed and a new vision towards tribal children and culture was developed, a simple content-based and process-oriented pedagogy will not serve the purpose. The attitudinal training aimed at making the teachers rethink their traditional teaching practices and styles, questioning their personal beliefs and assumptions which they initially took for granted, and remove some of these prejudices - thereby making them more endearing to the tribal children and culture was necessary. When such changes are in effect, this would automatically reflect in enrollment, retention, and greater achievement.

To address these issues, a training module on attitudinal aspect was devised with the help of resource persons some of whom were the tribal area teachers. The training module consisted of the following content.

  1. Initial attitudinal assessment on language.
  2. Understanding about the children.
  3. Likes and dislikes of children.
  4. Enrich the natural land cultural environment of tribal children with context specific content.
  5. Knowing that the children construct their knowledge from their own cultural context.
  6. To make sure that experiential learning is extended to the classroom content and is helpful to children in knowing the unknown.
  7. To know how language is learnt in context.
  8. Use the community resources for pedagogical improvement.
  9. To explore the rich folklore of the tribal community and to use them for teaching learning materials.
  10. Understanding tribal society and ways of using local knowledge for classroom teaching.
  11. Ways in which the village can be made a living classroom for a tribal child.

After this, the training module was prepared and 320 master trainers were trained. These master trainers were the teachers from the field. They trained the other teachers in the field. This was a one-slot training, which gained momentum, and many teachers said that they could get a new vision to see their children's potential and the special needs of tribal children.

The universal demand and need from the teachers was that unless the tribal children were provided with context specific books and materials, teaching learning was not possible.

This led to another step. Preparation of primer for the tribal children was initiated. The attitudinal training was immensely helpful for such a process. Teachers from tribal communities came forward to prepare the primers.

The changing scenario of introducing a new pedagogical vision has enabled the teachers to focus on child-centered, activity-based and participatory pedagogy. This helped the teachers to help prepare the tribal primers.

The experience of Ekalavya, DPEP-I reveals that the expertise of language pedagogists was helpful in preparing the primers and the language materials.


Meanwhile, before preparing the primer, linguistic mapping and survey was taken up to assess the gap between the home language and the school language. This study aimed at the following:
  1. Reconnaisance of language variations, typological and areal.
  2. Identification and classification of speech varieties.
  3. Grasp of the different forms of speech on the basis of structural and genealogical affinities; mutual intelligibility, and geo-physical distribution.
  4. Evaluation of bi-lingualism; its nature and extent.
  5. Evaluation of the process of Oriyanization and tribalization in operation in the tribal language speaking communities in tribal dominated areas.

The main areas covered under the questionnaire were language proficiency, language use, language maintenance and shift, language identity, teachers' attitude towards tribal language and culture, and students' attitude towards schoolteacher.

I give below the findings of the linguistic survey and mapping in 26 Blocks known for their linguistic diversities:

  1. Villages with 100% tribal people speak their mother tongue. The children frpm these villages do not have any access to the Oriya language.
  2. Parents in these villages are exposed to the Oriya language through the market place.
  3. Children in school do not understand the Oriya language; they are also reluctant to speak the Oriya language in the class.
  4. The gap between the uses of the Oriya language and the tribal languages is high in the districts of Gajapati, and Rayagada, in comparison to the situation prevailing in the Kalahandi and Keonjhar districts.


47 percent of the total population of the district of Gajapati is tribal. Out of this tribal population, 90% is monolingual. There are 87,086 children of 6-14 age group enrolled in the schools, out of which 48,051 come from the scheduled tribes. And out of them 90% are monolingual.

Schools having 100% to 90% ST children with monolingual situation is given in ANNEXURE (Please Click on it to go to Annexure. Do not worry, you can easily come back to this main body of the paper!)..


The following table indicates the gap between the home language and the school language, between the teachers, the children, and the textbook.

Type Medium
of Instruction
Mother Tongue
of the child
School -I Oriya Saora Oriya
School-2 Oriya Saora Oriya,
School -3 Oriya Saora,
School-4 Oriya Saora,

The difference between the languages used by the teachers and the children in relation to the medium of instruction is a major issue in Gajapati district.


The findings of the Linguistic Survey in the district revealed that Gajapati district is a challenging area in bridging the gap between the home and school languages.

The findings are as follows:

Name of
the Block
% Of ST
% Saora
% of


% mono-
% of
Mohana 56.91 19.19 26.09 43.7 56.3
Nuagada 73.06 64.74 -- 75.00 25.00
67.31 47.79 -- 90.9 9.1
Rayagada 77.14 65.56 -- 95.00 5.00
Guma 71.69 62.37 -- 95.00 5.00

The teachers and the children were also interviewed separately. It was found that the teachers were not well conversant with the language of the children and that the children were not familiar with the language of the teacher. Understanding a text is therefore a challenging task for a child in the classroom.


Therefore, the Gajapati district was taken up for study in the first instance. Primers in tribal languages were reviewed. It was found that only a few words were administered in the textbook, which were non-contextual. The focus was only on association of word and objects and then learning the letters. In the field, some schools were taken up on an experimental basis and there was, however, no sustained effort.

The District Resource Group of Gajapati was vibrant in attitudinal training and their first hand experience in teaching the bi-lingual classrooms helped in this programme.

The teachers from Gajapati were trained how to prepare the primers. The principles of preparation of primers were followed as per MLL guidelines with the cultural context.

The basic principles adopted were:

  • Content were to be adopted from the MLL guidelines.
  • The approach was integrated MIL, Arithmetic and EVS, combined together to understand and receive the knowledge from a holistic point of view in the early stage of the child. Information was not fragmented.
  • Bi-lingual approach was adopted.
  • It was activity-based and child-centered.
  • Visuals from the context were drawn.
  • Local tales, dongs, riddles are used as texts.
  • Space for the children in the texts (to write).
  • Exercise was inbuilt in the text.
  • Understanding the purpose was important.
  • Teaching the meaning of a lesson was child-centered.
  • Preschool experience of the children was reflected in the texts.
  • Creativity, logic, imagination, memory, challenge, reality and fantasy were maintained and presented in the textbook proportionately.
  • The sequence of teaching-learning was listening, speaking, understanding, reading, and then writing.
  • Classroom was the center of mutual learning, both for the children and teacher.
  • Physical and mental exercises were given place in the text and exercises.
  • Tales, songs, play, actions, pictures were used to make the text child-friendly and enjoyable.

The primer was prepared and the field-testing was made in 30 schools for 15 days. After fine-tuning of the lessons, it was published and distributed to the children.

Teachers were trained on the use of the primers. The use of primer was supported by the following activities:

Support teaching learning materials to the teachers.

1. Teachers' handbook in which the whole textbook was translated with a note to the teachers with steps on teaching and the TLM to be used.

2. Conversational chart with 100 common sentences in Saora and Oriya for non-tribal teachers and tribal children to familiarize the language speaking among them.

3. Picture dictionary of three hundred common words in Saora and Oriya language with pictures (object-word).

4. Ten days training module for the teachers on how to use the tribal primers.

Self-learning materials for teachers.

The tales are from popular Oriya tales and popular Saora tales. The Saora tales were transliterated into Oriya for the teachers. Then some simple exercises are given in the book to help learn Saora. One advantage in this self-learning material is that the teachers learn Saora through Oriya, and, after mastering it, the tales are told in the classroom.

Story telling attracts the Saora children to come to the classroom.

The primers are used by 15,000 children in five Blocks of Gajapati District and Gunupur Block of Rayagada district, both of which may be considered Saora language area.


It is a common demand from the tribal educated and semiliterate parents/leaders that the tribal children should be taught in the regional language rather than in their mothertongue. The parents are unable to understand that taking the help of mother tongue helps learn in the process of learning any foreign language. But the urge for modernization among the educated tribal has led to a great demand for the non-contextual teaching-learning rather than for the contextual one. Therefore, if mother tongue instruction in and through the tribal language has to succeed, such efforts and pedagogy should have the support of the tribal people.

In Guma and Nuagada Blocks, where the Saora population is more than 90 percent in the schools, Jati Mahasabha and the VECs were made to understand that learning in and through the mother tongue helps the children to grasp another language more easily than learning an alien language in a vacuum.

However, the Jati Mahasabha and the VECs have mixed reaction in some areas where, as in most Saora populated areas, the leaders wanted to teach the children translating the content in Saora language into Oriya.

The effect of the textbook in the context of the children is exemplary.

Consider one instance in a lesson of Saora Primer Erai Erai. There is a Folklore text, in which there is a lesson entitled "kadan Da kaka"-(the Heron and the Crow). This is a folktale from the Saora community. It is an etiological myth explaining why the crow is black and the heron is white.

The tale is as follos:

"Two birds were living in a tree. One day they quarreled. Fighting each other they fell down on the ground.

"An old woman, after coking food, had stored the ashes in one place and the charcoal in another place.

"One of the birds fell on the ashes and the other fell on the charcoal. The bird on the ashes became white, heron, and the other was crow."

The tale was recited by the teacher, and the children followed the teacher repeating it, without much effort. It so happened because the teacher and the children were from the same language group. If this tale was in the Oriya language the response would have been different.


Then the teacher started asking the children about the picture in the textbook. The purpose of the picture was to give a visual image to the tale.

The creative Saora children gave a new perception to the tale and picture. Their content was given in a new context, which was even unthinkable for a teacher.

1. That tree in which the birds are staying has a hollow. A snake is there. When the birds are away, the snake will go to the nest and eat the eggs.

2. The hut is under the tree, and because of the hearth outside of the hut, the hut might catch fire.

When will this happen?

The woman will cook food; will go to have her bath. Meanwhile, the hut may catch fire and it will burn.

The woman will have no house when she will come from the pond.

These two creative imaginary episodes of the Saora children were experiential, and from their own cultural context.

The knowledge that a snake eats the eggs, and that huts are burnt in fire are two things, which attracted or instigated the imagination of the Saora children.

The teacher (Philip Mandal), who also was a writer of the book, was initially clueless. But given the hint, he could find that it was the actual child-centered classroom that allowed the children to express their ideas in their own language. Children could perceive other texts within a text. Their language of thought helped them to discover their own experience and they constructed knowledge of their own.

If the basic objective of pedagogy is to achieve the desired goal of speaking, listening, understanding and reading, and writing, children in class I have done more than 80% work by creating new ideas and combining the given situation with their past experience. It was possible because the expression was in their language, which was easy to understand and use.

Freedom of speech, which is still censored in the classrooms, is possible, for language matters in understanding the texts with purpose and meaning.


  • Children are open when they are given opportunity to speak in their own language.
  • They know many tales and stories.
  • They understand the social life.
  • They accept the things which interests them.
  • No fear psychosis.
  • Total physical response, action, play way is possible.
  • The parents know content of the book.
  • Text is discussed in the home and peer groups.
  • Songs and tales of the book is known to the parents.
  • Understanding Oriya is easy through Saora.
  • Shift from Saora to Oriya is meaningful than memorizing the blurred /distorted ideas in alien language.
  • Teacher's effort is more in bi-lingual classroom.
  • Parents can help the children and teachers in learning.
  • Village environment becomes interesting when the parents watch their children are active.
  • Enrollment is increased.
  • School is no more a boredom.
  • Teacher is close to the heart o the child.
  • Teacher teaching from the children Is a real teacher.


Discussion in CRCs and BRC meetings on the difficulties faced by the teachers and the opportunity created for the tribal children should be discussed.

It is necessary to sustain the efforts through local initiatives, and academic support. The DIETs and This can play a major role in preparing more bi-lingual TLM.

The BRC and CRC need more help in bi-lingual teaching.

Teachers perception and attitude on tribal society and culture, and his knowledge on addressing bi-lingual classroom understanding the tribal situation as a special group can bring the tribal children in to the mainstream keeping their level of achievement intact at par with the other children of other contexts.

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION. This version includes the annexure!


Mahendra K. Mishra, Ph.D.
State Tribal Coordinator
Orissa primary Education Programme Authority
Bhubaneswar - 751001, Orissa, India

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