Learning from the community
Dr Mahendra Kumar Mishra
I went to Kondhmal , a tribal district of Orissa in 22- 26 February, 2010 to visit some tribal area schools where the Multilingual Education Programme is going on. The district is populated with 51 % scheduled tribes belong to the Kondh – a Dravidian language group. There are more than 400 schools with 100 % kondh children and the state government has adopted 60 such schools in Kothgarh, Baliguda and Tumudibandh Block. Kothgarh Block is situated in the most inaccessible and remote area connected to Chandrapur Block of Rayagada district in the south and Tunudibandh is in the west .
First of all I went to Kothgarh. This is the most back ward block in the district.75 % people of this Block are tribal and belong to Kondh community only. Rest of them is Oriya speaking people.
The name of the village was Jakeshi – (means a huge stone). This village is 30 kilometers away from the Block headquarters. After a long drive in the zigzag ghat road about an hour, I reached in the village. The villagers invited me with their music and dance. School girls welcomed me with wild flowers. The girls were in a light blue uniform and everybody had worn a green leaf crown on their head, looking like the olive leaf of Olympic game.
After the dance was stopped I went in to the classroom where the kondh children were studying in class I and Class II .This was a MLE school. This was an upper primary school and had 130 students enrolled. There were two teachers. Both of them were belong to Kondh community. After introduction the junior teacher asked me for two additional teachers. He alleged that the district administration was not listening to the villagers in spite of their repeated demand for another two teachers . The teacher also said that the educational rights of the villagers are ignored and unheard. He was
abnormally at rage. His argument was that the village education committee has assigned a young matriculate as a community teacher assuming that someday the volunteer will be regularized as a government teacher. This was not accepted by the government. (In Nepal, community assigns the teacher and transfers them. Salary of the teacher is placed in the account of village education committee.) But in Orissa, education is controlled by the state authority , so when the villagers assigned a teacher it is not possible to ensure that the teacher can be taken as a government servant. I consoled them assuring that from coming June- when the academic session is started two teachers will be given.
I found the classroom of class I and class II under MLE approach. The walls were white washed recently but there was no wall painting. But there was an almirah supplied by the district education office where the reading materials are available. Training modules were not available to the teachers though these were supplied amply from the state education office. Headmaster was ignorant of what is called MLE. He was not trained, not that he was deprived of training. He did not have time to go to the training since his wife is a Gram Panchyat Reprehensive (Sarpanch) so he was busy with his wife’s political work and through that he was so extra powerful that he was careless to his teacher responsibility.
Jakeshi school is 30 kilometers away from the Block head quarters and except these two kondh teachers no body from the plain land would like to come and stay there. So the two teachers were the savior of the school whatever the weaknesses they do have. The junior teacher was vibrant and active, assertive. He complained me against the headmaster that the latter is always busy in helping his wife- the elected public representative. It was uncommon in our burocratic system where an assistant teacher would complain against his headmaster before the whole community; that is when a state level officer is present. The Headmaster, instead, grumbled that how he can manage the schools where two more teacher post is vacant, also he was helping his wife.
I ended the story of teachers with assuring to post two teachers through the district administrator by the end of June 2010.
Community members, irrespective of men and women were involved in the meeting. The villagers discussed on education and I asked them about their health facilities during rainy season. Since no bus or van runs to this remote village, they hardly manage to handle the health problems in emergency. They said, if someone is seriously ill, they use to turn a rope cot upside down and four people use to hold up and walk the long distance to reach a hospital. Due to dense forest, coupled with Naxals (terrorists) no officers visit the villagers. A new sub collector regularly visits the village The Member of legislative assembly use to visit the village. There is a beautiful waterfall and the local MLA has constructed steps to go down the hill side to enjoy the fall.
I knew from the villagers that the village is hundred percent tribal (kondh) and the speak Kui language. Some of them have been converted to Christianity. But they live together and share their everyday life.
Next I asked the community to speak of their forest and agriculture. They answered me how they earn their livelihood and still life was not easy to live in an isolated plateau.
I asked the community members about the schooling and education. They told me that earlier their children were made to taught in Oriya and since last two years their children are taught in Kui language. Community members told that why government again thought to teach their children in Kui when Oriya was taught in the schools. I asked them; can your children able to understand the knowledge of the text book clearly? They said we don’t know, may be teachers can answer it. Next I showed them a big book that was written in their language. It was a 20 pages big book( a/ 3 size ) Left page was illustrated and right page was a sentence narrating the illustration. I asked a boy to read it. He could not. Even I was also not able to understand the text unless I got the story from the picture. The theme of the big book was a Kondh story which I had collected some time ten years ago when I was preparing tribal primers during 1999.
The story was,
There was a python. The python was eating the calves, goats etc. One day it ran after a school boy who was coming back from the school. The boy was escaped and ran away to the village. The villagers knew this and had a meeting. What do they do with the python? It was eating the deer, calf and goats. How would they get rid of it ?
They thought ahd discussed to kill it. BUt they were not able to conclude. There was a kondh old woman in that village. She was very old.
She heard this and came to the meeting . She told the villagers that she can kill the python ,if she is given some help. Listening to her , every body laughed at her. They said that how an old woman like her can kill the python. The old woman has gone mad. The old woman said, no, I am not mad, I want to save the life of the animals and human . Tomorrow lead me to the cave where the python is staying. I will bring it out from the cave and you will kill it when it will attack me.
Next day the vilagers came prpeared with spear, axe etc to kill the python.
The old woman collected some cassuew not seed and melted it and brought out oil. She poured the oil in a wooden pot. Before she went to the forest to get the python , she heated the oil and took the pot with her. Rest of the people followed her. When she reach ed near the cave the snake smelled the human presence and came out of the cave. While the snake came out the old woman just placed the mouth of the hot oil pot in fornt of the cave and sudeenly the python’s head entered in to it. The pythons two eyes were lost. Looking at this, the people pierced their spear and axe on the python and brought it out , killed it.
After killing the python , people cheered and holding up the old woman on their shoulder they danced with joy.
Briefly this story was presented in ten sentences with ten pictures . Each picture representing one sentence.
The kondh woman did not know the tale earlier. This was a kondh tale written down in Kondh language. since I was in the preparation of the big book, I was aware of the theme. Once I got the story looking at the big book, I got the substance of the story. I just read out the story to the whole community members, turning one page after other ,in kondh language. Some of the villagers tried to correct my utterence of some kondh words. After one rendering, every body could understand the story since it was in their language.
I told the community ,”I don’t know kui language but listening to you and looking at the pucture I could know the story. Now can any body among you read the book ? I would like a woman to come forward to read it.Just to read one after another page showing the picture and narrating it in her own langauge , not necessarily to read out the sentence of the book.
A woman of 35 came forward hesitatingly. Many of them encouraged her to pick up the book. I was standing aside her. She started showing the first picture and started narrating the puctire.She turned the next picture in next page. She also hold the book like me.
Amazingly after 5 minutes she completed the book. The book contain ten sentences, but the woman narrated in her own language and she spoke more sentences. Each pucture was revealinig and she was narrating the picture which was some thing more and uncommon to the text that was written.
Thus a non literate woman who has never hold a book in her life could read the big book since the content was known to her, and the illustration was revealing the sequence of the story. I asked the community ,if this book were written in Oriya and narratied in Oriya , had the woman read this book with such confident ?
The community response was that since it was their story and was in their language they could know it, present it and retell it adding their thoughts and ideas.
I was satisfied with the performance of the woman and the audience along with the Block and cluster educataion coordinator. They were unable to understand why I was doing all these.
A woman read the Big Book. Retold the story of the book and proved that without reading the letters and sentences , she can read the picture and create a variation of the same content closer to written text.
She was confident before the video.
After she read it many of the villagers were astonished that how a woman is able to read the big book. Teachers were looking at the reading of that woman amazingly. Community was surprised.
Children were proactive to the teaching.
They asked me how this happened. I said, since it was in your mother tongue, the woman could imagine new situation and freely explained the story. Had this been in other language would this had happened?
This was a nice example for the community to understand why mother tongue matters in learning. Community members said that they can tell such stories which can be made big book. The junior teacher assured me to prepare some big books. This led me to say that , It means you want your parents to tell the story to your children in the classroom which can be encoded and illustrated by your teachers and you can be a good oral teacher to your own children ? They said, of course, true.
That day all the community member took their lunch in the school in which I joined and enjoyed the food in the leaf plate and cup.
Next day I visited Kutia Kondh Development Agency. It was a solitary valley where the scattered small villages and habitations are inhabitated by the Kutia Kondh tribe, known as Primitive tribe Group ( PTG ). The name of the village I went was Gulubari. Small children were going to their small work, holding, either an axe, or a bamboo basket in one hand and a small child on their lap in other hand. Sibling care by elder brothers and sisters is very common in this region. I found a couple sitting there and the father was combing his daughters’ hair and mother was sitting aside. I found a priest who was about 70s. I asked him, what could be your age?
He said, I can’t say. Another man said,” I am five year junior to him”. I am now three kodi five ( one kodi=20, 3 kodi means 60) means , sixty five, I think he is three kodi ten= 70 ). Next I asked how you slay the buffalo. He said normally, in one stroke, or else we will face danger from the goddess.
Earth mother goddess – Dharanimata is their supreme mother goddess. The central place of the village is called sadargudi – worship place of the Earth Goddess -Dhrnimata , symbolically animated in a stone.A sacrifice post was found there to place the buffalo’s neck on it and sacrifice the buffalo.
The priest narrated me about the Meriah – human sacrifice festival. He said, now we don’t practice Human sacrifice. It is an old story of 150 years ago. But still people blame us of Meriah. He said, we even don’t offer buffalo and offer a goat or a sheep to the Earth Mother Goddess.
I met an aged man of 55. He was combing his 6-7 years old daughter’s hair. His wife was sitting aside him. Normally women folk use to comb their daughter, but I found a father combing his daughter. The hut was small and the doors were small. I peeped in to a house and found three persons were husking paddy to get rice out of it. The rhythm of three mortars was creating music of dhak dhak dkak
dhak. Two of them were women and another was a young man of 21- 22. There is not gender disparity or division of labour between male and female in this village.
There I met the villagers. A teacher from other village came in a motorcycle and when he saw me he thought to stop there. I was interviewing a child about the names of the hills looked around the horizon. The Kondh child started telling the names of the mountain. A senior man assisted him. The name of the hills and mountains are Seruwada, Gunjikata, Baman Deu, Sriram Deu, Gunji Jodi, Domsala, Bhujmi, Saat kasha,Damkipada, Gandatpuru, Kukhipata, Dulabanga, Bandali, Bagarbali, Barikunda.He was also spelling out the direction of the hills in his own language.
I curiously asked the teacher, where do you teach? He said the name of the village. I asked him, can you tell the name of the hills of the village that you have seen?
The teacher said, NO. Unless our officer suggests how can we collect those names.
I asked why you don’t teach the children on local geography. He said, it is not in our text book and it is not required for the children to appear the examination.
I asked the child about the birds and animals, fruits and flowers and the child spelled out many names in his own language.
Young children were going to the forest plantation. I found the forest department has started preparing the saplings of different forest seeds and tribal people are engaged in the farm to earn their livelihood. This engagement is also helpful for the children. Sometimes they also join in the work. They learn on sapling and earn and get some money.
I was moved with the landscape, villager’s response and the children’s activities. One thing I learnt that , education can be made purposeful and meaningful to life provided the schools and the teachers be made free from their traditional pedagogic system of learning. I was worried of the teacher I met who was ignorant of his local geography and local history.
One can enjoy the natural beauty of the ghat road and also feel the fragrance of wild flowers. Spring season has appeared and the mango trees have filled with flowers. Trees have started sprouting soft leafs and many trees have started looking beautiful with colourful flowers. I came with a lot of experience.
Mahendra Kumar Mishra
106, Manorama Manor,
Bhubaneswar , 751010, India