Nomads: Excluded from Inclusion

Caroline Dyer

In 1990 India endorsed the Jomtien commitment to provide Education for ALL (EFA) through a strategy of Basic Education. Basic Education was defined as 'education to meet basic learning needs...it encompasses early childhood and primary....education for children, as well as education in literacy, general knowledge and life skills for youth and adults'. The modes by which EFA is to be attained are the formal school system, its non-formal counterpart, and adult literacy programmes. The current target date is 2015. This article is based on almost 3 years of field work among the Rabaris of Kachch in Western India - a nomadic group. While the example of nomads might seem an extreme one, the educational issues raised here have echoes for migrant and ethnic minority groups in the UK and other countries with multi-cultural populations.

EFA programmes assume that to have access to schools or literacy classes a learner should live permanently in a certain place and be able to attend classes regularly in the same place. This is impossible for some sections of the Indian population whose livelihood makes it necessary for them to keep moving. These groups include people who move from village to village repairing agricultural implements; tribal groups who move seasonally in search of paid work in cities; and nomadic pastoralists from different communities who are found all over India.

Unless a radical review of current Basic Education initiatives takes place, nomadic and other migrant groups are likely to remain excluded from India's promise of EFA.

For centuries nomads have occupied a specific economic niche because of their ability to exploit marginal natural resources. Today they are being pushed out of their traditional pastures by a modernising development strategy that usually has highly negative consequences for traditional land users. One of the key problems in putting nomads onto India's developmental map is that nobody really knows how many nomads there are, for they are not usually in the villages at the time of counting. 'Uncounted' should not mean that they 'do not count' in the context of EFA.

Rabaris keep sheep and goats, and have to migrate every year in search of pasture and water to sustain their animals. Experiences of migration have taught Rabari parents that not being able to read and write can create a variety of problems. They see reading and writing as vital skills for life. But, as they themselves have been unable to attend schools or village literacy classes, they cannot teach their children these skills.

Schools are important to Rabaris for other reasons too. Nomadic animal husbandry is rapidly falling. This is leading to an increasingly pressing need to find alternative occupations. Already some families have given up animal husbandry and settled back in their home villages. For these non-literate adults, who have no formal employment credentials, gaining new employment is very challenging. Parents do not want their children to experience the same problems. They recognise that school education will allow their children to compete successfully with other groups for jobs in the wider economy. Parents see formal educational qualifications as an 'insurance policy' for the next generation. They also want their children to learn how to speak what they describe as the 'language of power' - the language of confidence and familiarity with the ways of the modern world, which is learned via the curriculum of the formal school.

Rabari parents want the benefits of inclusion through schooling for their children. However they are very aware of the negative impact that schooling can have on the cultural fabric of their ethnic group. They seek an education that respects their religious and moral values as well as their traditional occupation and nomadic way of life. Formal schools in the villages hardly fulfil their vision of education. The values of minority groups are diminished by the mainstreaming messages of textbooks. In addition there are very few Rabari teachers to act as role models for children and young people in the community.

The urbanised curriculum does not reflect the realities of rural life,
let alone a nomadic one.

For Rabaris there is a solution to the educational dilemma: residential schools. While parents and some children pursue the nomadic lifestyle, at least one child in the family (usually a son) can attend residential school, returning to the family during vacations. In this way he can continue his apprenticeship in the traditional occupation while gaining a formal education.

There is one residential school to serve the whole ethnic group. It was established by a Rabari. It has only 200 places, two thirds of them financed privately by fees and one third by government. Without additional support other schools are not likely to be opened as Rabaris are not recognised by the state as a 'Scheduled Tribe' - a classification that would entitle them to support for development activities, including residential schools.

Groups such as the Rabaris want to be included, as Indian citizens, by a state that honours their constitutional right to an education of quality. 'Education' should not cost them their means of earning a living or destroy their way of life. Their right to education has not been respected by the existing models of primary education which are currently being expanded under the EFA pledge.

EFA is a notion which must be constantly re-evaluated and critiqued. Expansion in pursuit of target dates is in danger of neglecting the crucial values of inclusion, quality, equity and equality, which make EFA a notion worth striving towards.

This research project was funded by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council and was carried out by Archana Choksi and Caroline Dyer. Archana and Caroline can be contacted at the School of Education, University of Manchester. or .

They have written the following article: "Education is like wearing glasses: nomads views of literacy and empowerment." This can be found in the International Journal of Educational Development Vol 18 (5), 1998. Or contact EENET.


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