Indigenous Education

The onslaught of globalization, industry and a modern mainstream worldview has historically spelt disaster for the indigenous people of the world. Every interaction with the ‘mainstream’ forces has reduced the indigenous identity even while the state celebrates special days or pushes further the tribal focus in their ‘welfare’ programs.

Officially, India has a 9% tribal population (this figure recognizes only those who are classified as Scheduled Tribes). As per 2011 Census, less than 3 percent of STs are graduates. Formal education has an important role to play today in tribal struggles. In 1960, the Elwin Committee report (among the earliest tribal policy statements of independent India) recognised that tribal people have their own institutions of learning, and that a policy of ‘integration’, as opposed to ‘assimilation’, should treat these as allies, not rivals, of schools. However, denial of territorial autonomy and imposition of Hindi has led to destruction of indigenous knowledge systems and has been a hindrance towards access to quality education. 

The question is: how to integrate academic learning in a way that ensures the learner to remain anchored in their tribal identity with all dignity, without erasing Adivasi knowledge and value systems?

Multilingual Pedagogy – We believe that language is the core of formal education, and that people learn best in their own language. For children and youth whose first language is not the regional language (as Hindi) or a global language (as English), our philosophy remains that their language is used not merely for bridging to the mainstream, but as a resource in the classroom.

Thus our learning spaces do not follow any language medium; we wade through the pool of languages that are known to the teacher and the children. They are encouraged to express in their own language where possible, but there is an environment and push to learn the languages that would give them inroads into the ‘mainstream’.

Content from an Insider Perspective – The politics of knowledge production has been such that interpretations of realities of tribal people have been distorted from an outsider perspective of a colonial mindset. “In the absence of written literature and accounts of our narratives produced by ourselves, our voices are largely absent in representing our identity and voices.” (

Moreover while we work with a majority of tribal children, the other critical aspect to their identity is also their being amongst the more marginalized groups within the urban poor. Living in this culture, there is an erosion of roots. But as they study here and grow, a respect and a political understanding for their people settles in as they navigate the various activities and life in Muskaan.

As much as collectively critically examining all texts is a continuous exercise, texts written by people who represent the communities and oral narrative sharing are made part of our curriculum. Some chapters have been adopted from writings of others from those who have centered themselves within the community in understanding and documenting lives.

Solidarities to People’s issues – Meaningful education is premised on people’s lives and realities. Therefore we, in our school and education interventions, encourage learners to bring their own lives into the classes and also understand the happenings around us, particularly amongst the marginalized sections of our country. Build solidarities across marginalized populations and find ways to support their own and others in their struggles for dignity and equality is part of the organizational curriculum.

Indigenous Values – Environment, friendship, cooperation, care, connection with oneself and with nature, giving back through relationships – these are some values that are consciously brought in through discussions and activities and unconsciously through the way we all function in our daily routines. Working from an urban environment, this does become challenging but we try as much as we can.

Mental Health – We recognize that colonialism has resulted in inter-generational trauma that has been exacerbated by the conditions of poverty and deprivation, more so in urban contexts. Therefore our programs are premised on caring and undoing the damage that has been caused by external forces and has lead to dysfunctional mechanisms of surviving.

Residential Educational Endeavours – We strongly believe that children need to be anchored within their community roots, and recognize that residential arrangement has a risk of dislocating children. But as communities, where deprivation is at extremely high levels and cultural norms of early marriages are not changing at the pace that would have been helpful for children, parents and individual children struggle to make formal education a real option for themselves. In these circumstances, we find that residential spaces can prove to be a support but the functioning of this arrangement should not be disdainful of community life.

In Muskaan, the boundaries between the community and the school are not at all rigid. Parents come here at any time they want to meet the children or may be just passing by, and similarly, children are encouraged to go back home on weekends or when their parents need them. We also discourage children from joining the hostel in the first decade of their lives, where the parental and community bonding is what would hold them in life.


बहुभाषीय कक्षा में व्याकरण के नियमों को ढूँढ़ना

*this is also in the section in classroom experiences in communicables, so if it is to be linked to the same file.

Lesson Plans

Possessive NounsWord Order Manual 

Workshop Report

Final Report – MLE workshop 2015 

Are mega residential schools wiping out India’s adivasi culture by Malvika Gupta and Felix Padel