Voices from the Margins: Exploring Possibilities of Connecting Formal Education to the Funds of Knowledge owned by Adivasi Communities in the Kesla Block of Madhya Pradesh

Aisha Kawalkar, Himanshu Srivastava, Ruchi Shevade  | 2023


The Adivasis or the Scheduled Tribes (STs) are a significant segment of the Indian population, not just because they form a sizeable proportion of it, but also as a group with rich and varied cultural heritage. Despite constitutional provisions for their welfare and development, and protection against violence to their languages and cultures, they are historically the most marginalised communities in the country and lag way behind in terms of various socio-economic indicators, including health and education. Ironically, the Indian education system has been a significant factor in the marginalisation and invisibilisation of Adivasi interests. The position paper concerning tribal education acknowledges that “the curriculum fails to take account of tribal cultures as autonomous knowledge systems with their own epistemology, transmission, innovation and power” (NCERT, 2006, p. 28). Further, the knowledge and skills that the tribal communities have historically accumulated and have been using for survival for generations are not just ignored and undervalued, but denigrated. Deficit discourses about them seem common among teachers and textbooks, leading to discrimination and abysmally low expectations from tribal students. Moreover, since their native language is different from the medium of instruction in schools, they face severe problems in expressing themselves and learning, in general. Consequently, mainstream schooling leads to the alienation of children from their language and culture. Thus, a wide gap exists between school culture and Adivasi students’ home culture(s). Our study aims to bridge this gap by documenting aspects of students’ everyday knowledge and lifeworlds and exploring the possibilities of connecting the same with school education. Focusing on a theme in ecology, we intend to explore students’ understanding of nature and its conservation. These ideas are of interest because Adivasi communities are known to have knowledge systems rooted in their lifeworlds, beliefs, and traditions that embody ecological harmony, and have a relationship with nature that is starkly different from the one that modern science espouses. The study is situated in four villages in the Kesla block of Hoshangabad district in Central India. Kesla has a sizeable population (46.18 per cent) of Adivasi communities (mostly, Gond and Korku). We adopt “critical qualitative inquiry” as the research paradigm for this study in an attempt to lay bare the structures of power and control that lead to the marginalisation of non-dominant groups and putting forth their voices, concerns, and experiences that are otherwise subdued. We used a strategic combination of qualitative research methods for data collection: ethnographic observations, semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions and researchers’ field notes. Further, to study how the official curriculum deals with these topics, we analysed middle school science textbooks followed in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Through this research, we conceptualised a learning module for teachers and Adivasi students of Central India, centred around locally relevant issues and aimed at developing a critical understanding of forests and wildlife conservation.