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‘Educating Tribals of India’

Published: 28th Dec, 2020

Tribal communities in India have been historically deprived of access to resources and opportunities, including the ‘opportunity to get educated’.


Tribal communities in India have been historically deprived of access to resources and opportunities, including the ‘opportunity to get educated’.

For such historically deprived communities, providing ‘access to education’ is simply not enough. However, it is important to analyse the status of tribal education with literacy rate, gross enrolment ratio and dropout rates in India.


  • Since India’s independence, the Union and state governments, have initiated several schemes and programmes to educate the country’s tribal population.
    • These include the establishment of Ashram Schools, Ekalavya Model Residential Schools, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, pre-matric scholarships and vocational training centres, etc. 
  • Policy analyst and educationists have been meaning to recognize tribal culture, language, cognitive strength, curriculum and inherent learning ability of the tribal children.
  • They believe this could revamp the tribal education system in the country.
  • There is, however, a long way to ensure holistic education in the tribal hinterlands.


Who are ‘Tribals’?

  • In India, the indigenous communities are commonly referred to as tribal (adivasi) communities.
  • Recognition: They are recognised as Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution of India.
    • Although the Constitution does not define Scheduled Tribes as such, it designates these communities as those which are scheduled in accordance with Article 342 of the Constitution.
  • Who designates: According to Article 342 of the Constitution, the Scheduled Tribes are the tribes or tribal communities or part of or groups within these tribes and tribal communities which have been declared as such by the President through a public notification.
  • Criteria: The criteria followed for specification of a community, as scheduled tribe are:
    • indications of primitive traits
    • distinctive culture
    • geographical isolation
    • shyness of contact with the community at large
    • backwardness
  • At present, 533 tribes in India have been notified under Article 342 of the Constitution with the largest number of 62 tribes belonging to the State of Orissa.

What is the literacy trend of Indian tribes?

  • Literacy is an important indicator of development among tribal groups.
  • Overall literacy: The percentage of literacy of tribes was only 8.54 percent in 1961 which has increased to 63.1 percent in 2011.
  • Male vs Female: But female literacy of tribes is only 54.4 percent compared to male literacy of 71.7 percent.
  • Drop-out: Nearly 50% of the children from this social group drop out while transitioning from primary to secondary grades (based on the educational status recorded in the same census).
    • Nearly 80% of them stop education when they are in grade X in other words, only 20% appear for the high-school examination.

What are the major issues/challenges of tribal education?

There are various critical issues and problems in the field of tribal education. They are as follows:

  • Medium of language: Language is one of the important constraints of tribal children which prevents them access to education.

Medium of instruction

  • Article 350A of the Constitution of India states that every state must have adequate facilities to teach children in their mother tongue.
  • It is commonly assumed that tribal students are slow-learners. Overcoming the language barrier requires concerted efforts.
  • The Odisha Government and civil society organisations have made some promising efforts to educate the Gonds, Bhils, Santals and other tribal groups in their mother-tongue.
    • Tribal children are responding well to such innovative programmes, according to educationists.
    • The literacy rate among the Koyas, Santals, Bhuyia, Bhatudi and Bhumiji, has steadily gone up over the years.
  • Article 351:  Article 351 provides a directive for development of the Hindi language.
  • Location issues: The physical barriers create a hindrance for the children of a tribal village to attend the school in a neighboring village.
  • Financial burden: The economic condition of tribal people is so poor that they do not desire to spare their children or their labour power and allow them to attend schools.
  • Family issue: As education does not yield any immediate economic return, the tribal parents prefer to engage their children in remunerative employment which supplements the family income.
  • Teacher absenteeism: In the remote tribal areas, the teacher absenteeism is a regular phenomenon. It affects largely the quality of education.
  • Lack of proper monitoring: Proper monitoring is hindered by various issues and mainly by poor coordination between the Tribal Welfare Department and School Education Department.
  • Inadequate funds and human resource: The biggest lacunae noted in the field of tribal education is the inadequate funds and human resources devoted to teacher capacity building and sensitisation on tribal context.

How educating tribals will impact the country?

  • Improving the overall conditions: The country has the single largest tribal population in the world. Education is the only light which can bring transformation in the overall condition of the tribal people in general and country in particular.
  • Enhancing capabilities: With education, tribals will become capable of collectively bringing in significant changes and improving the whole community.
  • Economic growth: Furthermore, education will not just benefit the tribal population, it will benefit the entire economy. As education will provide them with diverse employment opportunities which in turn drive their consumption pattern leading to consumption driven growth in the economy.
  • Improved standard of living: Education will also bring immediate changes in tribal’s state of living and will further improve their future living conditions.
  • Human development: Addressing the educational gap between the tribes and the mainstream society is important for improving human development indicators of the country.

Concerned Ministries and Organization

Ministry of Tribal Affairs

  • The Ministry was set up in 1999 after the bifurcation of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment with the objective of providing more focused approach on the integrated socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes (STs).
  • The Ministry of Tribal Affairs is the nodal Ministry for overall policy, planning and coordination of programmes for development of ST’s. 
  • It covers all tribal people and all areas with tribal population across the country.
    • Social security and social insurance to the Scheduled Tribes
    • Tribal Welfare:  Planning, project formulation, research, evaluation, statistics and training
    • Promotion and development of voluntary efforts on tribal welfare;
    • Development of Scheduled Tribes
    • Scheduled Areas
    • Monitoring of Tribal Sub-Plan, based on the framework and mechanism designed by NITI Ayog
    • National Commission for Scheduled Tribes
  • The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (Article 338)
  • Commission to report on the administration of Scheduled Areas and the welfare of the Scheduled Tribes.
  • Issue of directions regarding the drawing up and execution of schemes essential for the welfare of the Scheduled Tribes in any State

What are the Government initiatives for Tribal Education?

  • First FYP: Starting from the First Five Year Plan Period1 (1951?1956) the government is steadily allocating financial resources for the purpose of tribal development.
    • Towards, the end of the plan (1954), 43 Special Multipurpose Tribal Development Projects (MTDPs) were created.
  • Third FYP: During the Third Five Year Plan Period (1961?1966), the government adopted the strategy of converting areas with more than 66 per cent tribal concentration into Tribal Development Blocks (TBDs).
  • Fourth FYP: By the end of Fourth Five Year Plan (1969?1974), the number of TBDs rose to 504. Additionally, in 1972 the Tribal Sub?Plan Strategy (TSP) was implemented by the Ministry of Education and Social Welfare.
    • TSP was based on twin objectives of socio?economic development and protection against exploitation.
    • It was generally implemented in the areas where the Scheduled Tribe population was more than 50 percent of the total population.
  • PESA: The PESA (The Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 in fact, has made it mandatory for the States having scheduled areas to make specific provisions for giving wide-ranging powers to the tribes on the matters relating to decision-making and development of their community.
  • Janshala Programme: The Janshala Programme is a collaborative effort of the Government of India (GOI) and five UN Agencies – UNDP, UNICEF, UNESCO, ILO and UNFPA.
    • It is a community based primary education programme, aims to make primary education more accessible and effective, especially for girls and children in deprived communities, marginalised groups, SC/ST/minorities, children with specific needs.
  • Ashram Schools: The educational needs of tribal children are primarily addressed through residential schools called ashram schools.
    • There are more than 800 centrally-sanctioned ashram schools spread across the country. These provide boarding and lodging facilities to children in tribal areas until they complete their secondary education.
  • Eklavya Model Residential Schools: Apart from these, government has also started Eklavya Model Residential Schools on the lines of KGBVs and Navodaya Vidyalayas.

What is the role of United Nations in tribals education?

  • United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been promoting quality education and employability amongst marginalised children.
  • Quality education for all: UNICEF, in collaboration with UNESCO, is supporting the Union government to achieve quality education for all children between 6 and 14 years.
  • Some of the key areas for cooperation include
    • reaching out to vulnerable and deprived children
    • adapting international practices
    • supporting care providers and community advocates to demand inclusive and quality education.
  • Child-friendly schools and systems (CFSS): One of the promising initiatives by UNICEF is to support for the development of the child-friendly schools and systems (CFSS) guiding principles, launched in 2014 and approved by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development.
    • To ensure effective implementation of CFSS, assistance has also been provided for monitoring tools and the integration of CFSS indicators into state plans in support of making child-friendly schools. 
  • Promoting the Rights of Disabled Children to Quality Education: Similarly, in collaboration with UNESCO, UNICEF is implementing a project titled Promoting the Rights of Disabled Children to Quality Educationfinancially supported by the UN partnership to promote rights of persons with disabilities.
    • Under this project, UNICEF provides support to states to make primary education curriculum more inclusive for children with disabilities and building technical capacity of teachers.

How Government can improve the tribal education?

  • Literacy awareness: To create the awareness about the importance of education, proper awareness campaign should be organized.
  • Counselling tribal parents: The attitude of the tribal parents toward education can be improved through proper counseling and guidance.
  • Focus local languages: Study resources and material should be supplied in local languages of tribes to increase engagement.
  • Financial assistance: Special scholarships should be provided to the tribal students perusing higher education, particularly in medical, engineering, and other vocational streams.
  • Residential schools: More residential schools should be established in each states and districts and extended up to PG level in tribal areas.
  • Social security: Social security of students, especially of adolescent girls is of great concern in residential schools. Enough focus should be given to improving social security.
  • Proper Monitoring: The functioning of schools should be frequently monitored relating to the teaching methods, working hours, and attendance registers.
  • Teacher-student relationship: A cordial relationship between tribal students and their teachers is one of the critical factors to promote meaningful learning in classrooms. It is important to understand that tribal children do not have the same backgrounds as their non-tribal schoolmates or teachers.   
  • Tribal leadership: Integration of tribal youth in their culture is imperative.


The present situation demands for effective collaboration and strategic discourse between government, policy-makers, civil society organizations and international development institutions to collectively put efforts to address the chronic problems and allocate adequate funds for tribals education. A long-term strategy is required to enhance educational status of tribal children.

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