Students are keen to learn at the child-friendly Daleiguda Seva Ashram School in the Indian state of Orissa.
By Angela Walker
DALEIGUDA, India, 8 September 2011 –Krupasindhuv Pangi knows the challenges that indigenous communities face. At the age of five, his family lost their land when it was taken from them to build a factory.
Despite that, his father worked as a day labourer and Mr. Pangi was the first member of his family to attend school. Today, he is the headmaster of Daleiguda Seva Ashram School, where he is ensuring that another generation of indigenous children receive an education and the chance of a new beginning.
Changing lives, building futures
“I come from a very poor background. I know the situation of indigenous people. I’m from this community,” says Mr. Pangi. “I’m confident they can have a better life.”
The residential school is run by the Scheduled Tribe and Schedule Caste Development Department. Forty boys and 150 girls from the local indigenous community reside at the school as their homes are too far for daily travel.
The school promotes a child-friendly environment. Walls are adorned with maps of the country, the alphabet and pictures of native plants and animals. The children wear crisp school uniforms.
Under Mr. Pangi’s leadership, test scores at the school have almost doubled. “I’m proud of where my students are now,” he says. “My students have gone on to university and are teachers and lecturers. They can have other options in their lives.”
The official language of the Indian State of Orissa is Oriya, but many indigenous children don’t know how to speak the language, let alone read it, when they arrive at school. Providing learning materials in indigenous languages helps students better learn and understand, making school much more attractive.
Teaching in indigenous languages
“That makes a difference in the classroom,” says Mr. Pangi. “When you speak in their own language, they’re interested.”
Free food and accommodation are provided at the school. Teachers offer special coaching in the morning and evening to students who may not have been going to school regularly. UNICEF is also providing Desia language instructors so that children can learn in their own language – an incentive to keep them in school.
“They’re free to learn in their own language, so it’s more enjoyable for the children,” says UNICEF Education Officer in Orissa Amarjit Jena. “They don’t feel isolated. These types of initiatives are making a difference.”
India’s indigenous groups are known collectively as Adivasi. The Bonda, Dongria Kondh, Gadaba and Poraja are among more than 62 different groups that make up the Adivasi in Orissa.
Koraput District, where the school is located, has a population of about 1.2 million, 40 per cent of which are under the age of 18. Tiny villages, consisting of only a handful of homes with small agricultural plots, dot the craggy hillsides.
Women primarily cultivate the fields and take care of domestic tasks. Men generally don’t work and while away their time drinking homemade liquor, leading to high rates of alcoholism and domestic violence.
“Education is the key to the door of opportunity, especially for the children of indigenous-dominated Koraput. It can enable them to pull themselves out of the vortex of poverty and hardship that presently surrounds them” says Shairose Mawji, UNICEF Chief of Field Office in Orissa.
Improving education rates
About 18 per cent of children between the ages of six and 14 are out-of-school in the district, compared to eight per cent for the rest of the state. Drop-out rates are high in Orissa – 42 per cent of girls and 43 per cent of boys do not complete seventh grade. The rates are even worse for indigenous children.
Literacy for men is 52 per cent and only 29 per cent of adult women are able to read. Teacher absenteeism, school timing and the lack of participation of parents in the management of schools are among the reasons that education indicators continue to lag, especially in indigenous areas.
A child-friendly learning environment and dedicated teachers like Mr. Pangi are already going a long way to getting and keeping children in school, so that more indigenous children can ultimately follow in Mr. Pangi’s footsteps.
“The way he’s attached to the children, that’s making a difference,” says Ms. Jena. “Kids are learning, and they are performing better.”