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Mainstream, VOL XLV No 31

Educational Development through Participatory Orientation in Indigenous Schooling in Northern Canada and Orissa

Saturday 21 July 2007, by Sujit Kumar Choudhry



Indigenous Education at Crossroads: James Bay Cree and the Tribal People of Orissa by Lauren Alcorn; published by Sikshasandhan, Bhubaneswar, Orissa; 2006; pp. 132; Rs 120; ISBN: 81-87982-32-2.

The book Indigenous Education at Crossroads presents a brief comparative analysis of two case studies of the James Bay Cree in northern Canada and the tribal peoples of Orissa, India. It seems to me that the author has done intensive fieldwork in both areas by taking participatory ideas and a developmental perspective in her mind. In fact, indigenous education refers to the examination of historical, political, economic and sociological aspects of indigenous ways of life. The author, however, tries to find out the way in which indigenous peoples have been getting education through the existing systems that create a kind of conflict of identity and generate notions of inferiority. In her work, she advocates alternative methods of teaching and learning in addition to existing systems of education for the betterment of indigenous societies. Alcorn finds that there is lack of commitment on the part of government and formal school system to teach tribal peoples on the basis of their ways of life, cultures and their languages. In addition, she also finds lack of community participation in the affairs of the school. At this juncture, schools run by Sikshasandhan provide a ray of hope by bridging the gap between tribal communities and the school systems by motivating teachers toward their duties.

This monograph provides a detailed overview of not only the educational situations but also the socio-economic and historical perspectives of both the communities. The book consists of different headings and sub-headings; the major headings are introduction, problem formulation, methodo-logy, case studies, theoretical concepts, analysis, conclusion and perspectives in addition to the preface, a foreward by Ananta Kumar Giri, bibliography, appendix and postscript. It is a small book but it presents a detailed analysis of fieldwork that can provide a guideline for researchers, academicians and social workers. In fact, I find some mismatch between theoretical orientations and the empirical investigation. She could have done better research by making specific interlinkages between theoretical and methodologi-cal orientations with empirical reality. She tries to analyse her empirical investigation with the help of developmental perspective but it is not clearly stated.

IN the introduction, Alcorn makes a point that
in spite of the advocacy work and acts of self-determination and helping hands of NGOs, the tribal people continue to suffer. In both cases change is taking place, but it is difficult to see the positive aspects of change over the more prominent negative ones. (p. 17)

It clearly indicates that the need of the hour is to understand the basic problems of indigenous peoples and at this juncture social capital, as Putnam used, must be activated so that they get maximum benefit from the system. Of course, education is used as a tool of development but the author on the basis of quantitative and qualitative data, argues that this tool has proven to be ineffective for indigenous populations. She questions the existing system of education by taking into consideration the notion of pedagogy and its practicality and usefulness so far as indigenous groups are concerned. It seems quite true to me because during my own fieldwork on tribal education in Jharkhand, I have also observed the same kind of problem. However, missionaries, especially Christian missionaries, have been playing a key role in the educational development among the tribal peoples in the different the tribal areas in India. In both her case studies, Alcorn finds these systems of schooling are very complicated, but at the same time she accepts the initiatives of Oriyan NGOs and the Cree School Board which are useful and effective for sustainable development of their education.
In the data collection methods, I find a mistake that the author commits by outlining the terms ‘theoretical and empirical data’ rather than theoretical orientation and empirical data or investigation. It is quite relevant if she would use the terms ‘primary and secondary data’ in place of ‘theoretical’ and empirical data. The author mainly discusses six theoretical approaches in her analysis, that is, Development/Imperialism/Globalisation and Indigenous Societies; Human Development; Eurocentrism; Knowledge, Language, and Learning Systems; Paulo Freire and Development Education; and Indigenous Education and the Integration of Two Systems. However, she takes her position in the developmental theoretical orientation as an eclectic approach. In the fieldwork analysis, she also mentions about her constraints of time, language and identity.

The pedagogy and methodology of the two cases are different because of different backgrounds and systems of government. For instance, there exist two systems of education: the traditional education of hunting and modern system of Western life in Eastern James Bay Cree of Quebec which is the major cause of absenteeism in schools among children. On the other hand, the tribal people in India in general and Orissa in particular have been facing a major problem of poverty due to which participation of the tribal children in the process of education becomes limited. The author also finds common problems in tribal education: teachers are commonly absent from the schools; the curriculum does not pertain to the needs and culture of the STs; the funding and lack of dedication of governments and officials contributes to the decaying ST school systems; parents do not think that schooling is a priority; teaching materials can be considered insufficient; school costs (uniforms, registration, examinations, travel, etc.) are not feasible for STs who tend to live a subsistence lifestyle; the language of instruction is different from that of the students’ mother tongue. (p. 59) The above described reasons are definitely very much general among the deprived sections of Indian society. However, a number of NGOs have been working for the cause of the deprived sections, especially among Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and women in India. As the author also rightly points out, the non-formal education system of Orissa is being facilitated by local grassroots NGOs who seem to be effective in community-based educational efforts. NGOs like Agragamee and Sikshasandhan have been working with the STs since the 1980s under the framework of community participatory development. (p. 60)

She also emphasises on the implementation of non-formal education through Alternative Education Centres (AECs) which are really useful and pragmatic.

In conclusion, the comparative analysis of both the cases can be viewed as a good example for development projects in the sense that the Cree have taken great initiatives to create a relevant school system for their children; and the tribal peoples of Orissa have been participating in methods of development education at the AECs that they seem to benefit from. The author, in fact, concentrates on the educational development through participatory orientation in both cases through her supporting data. Despite there being some theoretical, methodological and empirical mismatch between the different variables, the authors’ intensive fieldwork is supposed to give broader orientations and guidelines to researchers, civil societies, educationists, developmental activists, social workers and governments. Such works will definitely help us to look forward in the days to come to the pragmatic overall development of the deprived sections of our society.

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