Cultural & Local Practices Help in Teaching Tribal Students: Sushanta Swain

Sushanta Kumar Swain, Headmaster at the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences
Sushanta Kumar Swain, Headmaster at the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences

Sushanta Kumar Swain, Headmaster at the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), who works not just in primary and secondary but also in adult education, speaks to Education Post’s Tanay Kumar about overcoming the challenges of educating tribal youth.

Being a law graduate, please share your academic journey and inspiration behind entering the teaching profession.

I was a very bright student and would have become a noteworthy lawyer, but I never wanted to practice law. I pursued it to polish my analytical skills and be aware of everything around me with a rationale. I always wanted to be a teacher, and that I am. With years of experience now, I can tell that becoming a teacher is a very fulfilling career. I enjoy sharing knowledge and helping others learn. I always had a passion for teaching and KISS is giving me ways to fulfil it. I am making a positive difference in the lives of young people – especially the ones at the margins through quality education working under the guidance of our honorable founder of KIIT & KISS, and MP Kandhamal – Prof Achyuta Samanta – who firmly believes that education is a powerful tool for empowering individuals and communities.

Please tell us about the challenges you faced in the field of adult education and how you overcame those challenges.

Challenges in adult education may include dealing with learners who have different learning styles and needs, varying levels of education and literacy, and competing priorities outside of school. Especially in our context, we are a residential model. Our major challenges include:

  • Indigenous control of education yet promoting modern scientific education
  • Scale and scope of our work is massive, so maintaining quality is a daunting challenge
  • Balance of academics and co-curricular
  • Diverse backgrounds of the tribal children
  • Many are first-generation learners
  • Language-related problems and transitions

To overcome these challenges, we use a variety of teaching methods that cater to different learning styles, create a flexible and supportive learning environment, and provide resources and support services to help learners balance their education with other responsibilities. Two major pillars of our success are:

  • Mentor-Mentee system
  • Participation of tribal stakeholders in decision making

Instilling education in the tribal areas of India is cumbersome work. How does your institute inspire tribal children and, more importantly, their parents, for a formal education?

To inspire tribal children and parents for formal education, we use culturally relevant and responsive teaching practices, involve the community in education decision-making and implementation, and provide resources and support services that address the unique challenges faced by tribal communities. Ours is a complete solution.

In 1992-93, India was just starting to integrate with the global economy and progress in education was missing in Odisha, let alone education for tribal children. It was a grey area where the government chose not to intervene and private organizations could not muster up the courage to create waves of change. It was at that time, with limited or no finances, our beloved founder, Prof. Achyuta Samanta founded this institute with a belief that education can empower the people. It was not an easy start and he had to overcome several setbacks. The first ten years were extremely difficult for him and his team. The common man considered KISS’ initiative as an intrusion. However, he continued overcoming all adversities, and the rest is history.

But his thought process was very clear and based on two important pillars

  • Procedural – Free education from KG to PG and beyond in a fully residential campus
  • Substantive – A unique financial model for the sustainable functioning of KISS, contributed by the stakeholders of the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT) in Bhubaneswar, another institution founded by him

KISS started with 125 poor indigenous students in 1992-93 and has now grown in scale and scope, catering to 80,000 indigenous children. Of these, 30,000 students study at the main campus in Bhubaneswar, 40,000 are alumni and 10,000 study at 10 satellite centres of KISS across Odisha. It has indirectly affected over eight million tribal children and youth. The students come from 62 different tribal groups within the region, of which 13 are Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs).

In its course of inception, evolution and existence, KISS has been promoting quality, holistic education, girl child empowerment, vocational and life skill education, healthcare, scientific temper and humanism and sustainable development. It has arrested naxalism, hunger and malnutrition, child labor and trafficking, early girl child marriage and dropout to a large extent. The contribution of KISS in the field of sports is immense. KISS has groomed around 5000 sportspersons who have participated and excelled in prestigious national and international events.

Last year, the institute won the King Sejong Literacy Prize for Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE) model in the Kuvi language, a tribal language in Odisha. What procedures did KISS devise and follow to teach and train students in this language?

We follow MTBMLE program at KISS. It aims to tackle the challenges of poor retention of indigenous students in elementary schools due to classroom language barriers and teachers’ incapacity to deal with multilingual and multicultural classrooms effectively. The program is in a hybrid format, with face-to-face and distance learning modules using low-tech solutions such as television, radio, and text messaging.

KISS was integral in bringing together members of the tribal communities Kondh, linguistic & technical experts and various other fraternity to collaborate with the Motorola Software Globalization team, to develop a keyboard for the Kuvi Language. We have developed a writing system for Kuvi in four different scripts namely Kuvi-Odia, Kuvi-Devanagari, Kuvi-Telugu & Kuvi-Latin enabling 155000 speakers from these communities who are natives of Odisha and some parts of Andhra Pradesh – to communicate with each other via text.

This initiative sets the path for the revival of many more such languages, helping to preserve the rich legacy, knowledge and heritage that rests in the depths of our country. This is a commendable use of technology to create a truly inclusive world, where communities living on the fringes integrate into the larger world of opportunities.

All the provisions of the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 are splendid and have been devised after rigorous concept mapping. What are the three provisions you like the most in the policy?

Three provisions of the National Education Policy 2020 that are particularly noteworthy are the emphasis on early childhood education, the integration of vocational education and skill development into mainstream education, and the promotion of multilingualism and mother-tonguebased education. All the three are practised here at KISS.

You had visited Thailand and South Korea in your academic profession. When it comes to school education, what differences do you see between India and these countries?

At first I would like to extend my whole hearted gratitude to our beloved founder of KIIT & KISS, and MP Kandhamal, Prof. Achyuta Samanta for giving me such type of opportunity. The differences in school education between India, Thailand, and South Korea may include differences in teaching methods, curriculum, classroom management, and resources. Each country has its own strengths and challenges in education, and there is much that can be learned from comparing and sharing best practices.

I find that the differences are very stark. In India, we are very career oriented from beginning and there in those countries they are more learning oriented. The change is coming and it is good for us in India. Those countries explain importance of skill and let the child figure out ways whereas in India we pressurize a lot, which should not be the case. The spirit of enquiry is much higher there than in India.

You have attended workshops conducted by the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT). Please share with us your experience of interacting with other academicians in those workshops.

Workshops and professional development opportunities can be valuable for educators like me to learn from others and to expand knowledge and skills. I am keen to learn best practices from their side. Collaboration is the key and we develop with learning at each point.

Is there anything else about the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) that you would want people to know?

The Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) is a unique institution that provides education and support to underprivileged and marginalized children in India, tribal communities. Through its innovative and culturally responsive approach, KISS has been able to improve the lives and prospects of thousands of children and families, and is a model for inclusive and equitable education. Behind all the miracles there is a visionary person Prof. Achyuta Samanta honorable founder of KIIT & KISS, and MP Kandhamal, whose restless work, support & guidance towards the organisation makes all it possible.


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