The Adivasis are the aboriginal people of India. There are more than 8 million in the state of Orissa alone, in 62 distinct tribes each with their own language and culture. The characteristics which unite them are unfortunately the least impressive. They live mostly in remote villages, deep in the forests and high in the hilltops, where most government services, such as education, do not reach.
Since 1975, the state government of Orissa has established hundreds of what it calles Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) centres in rural, Adivasi-dominant areas of the state. These centres are supposed to be a kind of multi-purpose daycare for young children (aged 3-5), providing Early Childhood Education (i.e., pre-school), health care and immunization, playground facilities, and nutrition (i.e. a free lunch). Each centre should have a staff of one teacher and one supervisor, be open for at least 4 hours per day, 6 days per week, and be centrally located and well-known in the local area.
Unfortunately, surveys conducted over the years by PREM and other non-governmental organizations have found that these ICDS centres are operating far, far below acceptable standards. Just some of the problems associated with ICDS centres in Orissa include that:
- Most ICDS centres are located on the outskirts of villages or between villages, requiring foot travel by the young children as much as one kilometre each way;
- Most ICDS centres are built in relatively large hub villages, around which are clusters of smaller hamlets whose children are not able to access the centres due to distance;
- Teacher absenteeism (and associated corruption, such as teachers paying bribes to supervisors) is prevalent if not widespread;
- Many ICDS centres are open only a few hours per week, usually long enough for the teacher to show up, serve lunch, and go home (i.e., there is no actual pre-school at all);
- The vast majority of ICDS teachers and supervisors are not from the local community, meaning they likely do not speak the local tribal language and have difficulty communicating with children, parents and community leaders;
- Child abuse in the form of neglect and corporal punishment is reported.
Urged by Adivasi community and people's organizations who are frustrated at the inefficacy of government development, PREM in 2007 launched its CBCD project which has, at present, constructed or renovated more than 350 new community centres in rural Adivasi villages and hamlets. PREM provides training, helps develop Adivasi-focused curricula and materials, and pays initial salary to the staff of two facilitators per centre while initiating a fund for the community members to pay the costs in the long-term. The facilitators are without exception young women from the same tribal community if not the same village. The pre-school education in the CBCD centres is conducted in three languages: Oriya, English and the mother tongue (i.e. tribal language) of the children.
Concurrently, PREM organizes workshops and seminars in the communities for parents and local leaders on child rights, education policy, child-centred health care from pre-natal through adolescense, forming village education committees and parent-teacher committees, and monitoring the implementation and quality of educational provisions.
PREM also lobbies state education officials to take its CBCD project as a model for future ICDS, arranging exposure visits and encouraging local communities to advocate for the program's continued implementation.
Though a relatively young project, it has already yielded positive results. CBCD centres are open an average of four times more per month than ICDS centres. Children who transition from CBCD centres to primary school have a lower dropout rate than children who previously attended ICDS centres or no pre-school at all.
Most importantly, the entire concept of the CBCD centres is constructed from the bottom up, with the participation of village leaders, parents and even children's clubs in every stage from building construction to teacher training to monitoring. As a result, the process is less likely to fail the needs of the children, because the entire community has taken ownership of the program to educate young tribal children.