About the organization: As per the Census of India 2011, India is home to roughly 104,281,034 tribal individuals, i.e. 8.6 percent of our population (census, 2011). The tribal population in our country has historically been neglected and are oftentimes left out of development processes. A National Family Health Survey conducted between 2015-16 showed that 45.6 percent of scheduled tribe members were in the lowest wealth bracket (Yadavar, 2018). They live in a constant cycle of poverty due to their lack of access to resources and educational resources in particular. Odisha has a significant tribal population, which stands at 22. 8 per cent (census, 2011). Their dismal literacy rates can be attributed to the fact that they do not have access to a formal education. Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) aims to ‘break the vicious cycle of poverty and social isolation in order to restore hope for a better future’ (kiss, n.d.). Established in 1992 in Bhubaneshwar, the institute believes that no indigenous children should be deprived of a formal education because of poverty and aims to educate 2,00,000 tribal children by the next decade (kiss, n.d.). An institute that originally had 125 students now has a current strength of 27,125 students, spanning across ages; from grade 1 to a PhD level who are selected from 62 tribal communities across Odisha (kiss, n.d.). In an attempt to ensure students realise their true educational potential and reduce the dropout levels after the primary level, KISS reserves 5 percent of the seats for their students to pursue a variety of professional courses at KIIT deemed to be university (kiss, n.d.). Their well organised campus and innovative pedagogies has resulted in a number of their students becoming global role models and earning international recognition. KISS achieved a cent percent result in the class 10 board examinations in 2002, against the state average of 65 percent and has achieved it every year since (kiss, n.d.). Their students have also excelled in National examinations like the JEE and earned international scholarships like the Fulbright Scholarship in the United States (kiss, n.d.).
Institutes like KISS are especially important in the discourse around education in India because of their unique approach to improve the quality of education and heighten its impact by tackling issues faced by the education sector in the country at the grass root level itself. Along with providing a holistic education that teaches children critical skills as well as the importance of community and respect for their culture, KISS alleviates the problem of high dropout rates due to low quality education faced by government school systems by addressing the problems of diversity and inclusion (kiss, n.d.). Their high enrollment rate at the college level, with 7,886 students is testament to their success in minimizing dropout rates amongst their students (kiss, n.d.). The added focus on empowering the girl child has ensured equality among all genders and currently 60 percent of students in KISS (15,000 students) are girls that have equal opportunities to be future changemakers (kiss, n.d.). Additionally, The government of India has acknowledged the institute’s role in curbing terrorist-related activities around the region in recent years as deserving children belonging to insurgent families are given admission into the school, integrating their families in the process of change and peace.
KISS runs a number of innovative programmes like a programme for handicraft technical training in collaboration with the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India which aims at building vocational skills; the English Access Microscholarship Program which is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State that provides students with ‘significant English-language learning experiences’ to students aged between 13 to 20 years; and an Employability Training Program facilitated by TCS which provides their undergraduate students with 100 hours of free employability training among others (kiss, n.d.). This paper will analyse their Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE) strategy in detail.
Identify a specific innovation
Until recently, language was considered a minor variable and not much importance was given to it, with other educational issues taking precedence over it. However, researchers have over the years, focused on micro factors to understand the reasons for educational failures in order to come up with plausible solutions and language barriers were found to be an important deterrent. In the globalized world we live in today, it is extremely important to know the dominant language to ensure success at all levels, but it is equally important to be fluent in the local language. Odisha’s tribal community however, are not fluent in the global English language; oftentimes holding them back and hindering their growth. KISS stands apart from other organizations because of their innovative and non-conventional approach to bring educational equity. Their strategy of MTBMLE addresses the language gaps that students face at an early age itself so that holistic mainstream formal education is more accessible to the tribal children. In collaboration with the Bernard van Leer Foundation, KISS integrated the programme with formal education in 2013 in order to make the learning process more effective for their students (kiss, n.d.). Children pick up their mother tongue naturally in their early years itself and incorporating it in the education process reduces the gap between the house and school significantly, especially because parents of most of these children do not understand English. Along with promoting the sustenance and growth of the tribal language and culture, the programme has proved to aid the development of cognitive, social, physical and mental abilities of the young students (kiss, n.d.). Acting as the largest nodal centre for tribal mother tongue based education in the world, the programme also helps students act as ‘agents for change’ for their community and the world (kiss, n.d.).
The benefits of MTBMLE are increasingly being understood by Southeast Asian countries in particular due to the linguistic diversity of these regions and the Philippines was the first country to frame a national policy around it. Numerous studies have been undertaken in the country to fully understand it’s impact. A study conducted in 2012 by Lisa Ann Burton from the University of Minnesota showed that there was a significant increase in student understanding after the implementation of the policy. The study examined how the national language policy was appropriated at the ground level and yielded positive outcomes for the students (Burton, 2013). The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has repeatedly backed the use of MTBMLE, stating that education in the mother tongue should be prolonged for as late a stage as possible because students comprehend it best and it breaks barriers for them (UNESCO, n.d.).
From the information mentioned above, we have seen how KISS uses regional languages within their classrooms to teach and keep the students engaged. We have also seen how it is related to the National Education Policy of 2020 (NEP) and the changes suggested within it1.
1 Under the National Education Policy of 2020 published by the Indian Government, there are multiple aspects regarding teaching in regional languages. According to the document, the main aim is to have the medium of instruction to be in the regional languages till Grade 5. The long-term goal of the NEP is to have the medium of instruction be in regional languages till Grade 8. In order to achieve this, the document mentioned that there has to and will be a push from both the central and state governments “to invest in a large number of language teachers in all regional languages”. Other means of ‘popularizing’ regional languages will be the use of technology which the document fails to go into detail about (Government of India, 2020).
- What are the factors surrounding the effectiveness of the regional language system employed by KISS?
In order to answer this question, there are sub questions and follow-up questions that arise. These include:
- What are the main factors that cause students to drop out?
- What is KISS’ definition of effective education?
These sub questions shall be answered below shortly. Since the largest centre/main centre for KISS itself is located in Odisha, relevant information regarding the concepts mentioned below shall be related to the state.
In order to give some context to the state itself, we shall be first looking at the education levels within Odisha. According to the nationwide census conducted in 2011, Odisha has an overall literacy level of 73.5% which is lagging behind the nationwide average of 74.04%. The census also states that the male literacy rate is 75.59% whereas it is much lower for females who are sitting at 50.97%. Although looking at the literacy rate cannot be the sole basis of writing off a state as education, it does give a minor look into the education levels of the state. Another factor that is relatively low is the enrolment rate into secondary levels of education. With the Right to Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RCFCE Act) introduced in 2009, the number of children in the age category 6-14 attending school have increased, but once government laws and regulations stop, so do the enrolments into higher levels of education. To give some perspective, in the 2018-19 annual report of the National Sample Survey, from the research they made, they found out that the majority of the rural females above the age of 15 (38.7% of the population) were illiterate. Comparing this to the rural male population, fewer were illiterate (21.6%) and majority of them had a reading level of ‘secondary and above’ (28.7%) which is 8% more than the same population of females.
This disparity in terms of education levels can be better explained by the gender roles and the social stratification associated with the education system as a whole. As soon as females hit the age of 14 and are no longer legally mandated to enter school, they are either forced to drop out by their families or drop out themselves due to peer pressure. This sentiment is clearly highlighted within the dropout rates of Odisha. Odisha has one of the highest dropout rates compared to other states across the country. In fact, in the year 2018-19, it had the second highest dropout rate of any state.
Relevant Theories and Analysis
In order to answer the questions posed above, we shall be looking at appropriate concepts that surround the idea of pedagogy, social stratification which is directly related to enrolment and the politics that surround the education system as a whole.
The first theory that we shall be looking at shall be that of the stratification of the education system and the people allowed to use it. Stratification is the divisions made in society which results in a social hierarchy wherein one is better than another on the basis of a particular factor. When Max Weber discussed the theory of stratification, one of the three main components was class. In this particular case, the fact that fewer women enroll themselves into higher forms of education backs this case. The class in this case being gender. It is important to note that within Odisha, females are not given as many opportunities as compared to males. They are often made to sit at home and play the role of a home-maker while the males work or further their education. Schools in and of itself are agents of stratification. By separating members of the class from one another through the means of streaming, the educators are pitting the students against each other, often discouraging those who have not coped as well with the education that they have received. Across India, the same idea is reinforced through the ranking system. For national examinations, not only are the results declared by the bodies conducting them, repeatedly informal education centres such as ‘coaching’ classes use the results to advertise their own capabilities in order to widen their reach and revenue base. Similarly, within Indian societal pressure amongst the students and those around them when it comes to ranks all adds up. These all come together to
This particular theory will help us to answer why exactly the enrollment within Odisha is at the level that it is and why it affects the students.
The next theory that we shall be exploring is that of politics as a whole and the effects that it has on the student enrolment number within Odisha. As mentioned before, the NEP aims to have all students be taught in their regional languages at least till the 5th standard. Such policies, if enforced, may not have much of an effect on an institute such as KISS, but it certainly plays a role in shaping the political landscape surrounding the education system. The education board and the politicians within Odisha play an influential role over the enrolment of students into the education system.
Since Hinduism is the most followed form of religion within Odisha, politicians who vie for votes could resort to archaic beliefs and traditions in order to strengthen their voter base/gain more votes. This level in educational mobility could be attributed to the dropout figures. The politicians lack of mindfulness to these children who are getting deprived of an education results in high levels of female students especially dropping out and discontinuing their education.
The main theory that this paper shall be covering is the relation of Conflict theory with respect to education. The theory is one approach to the way people could be educated. The approach suggests that students should be “prepared for jobs corresponding to their social backgrounds” as opposed to their set of skills. Other major assumptions made by this theory include the idea that “Education promotes social inequality through the use of tracking and standardized testing and the impact of its “hidden curriculum.” Schools differ widely in their funding and learning conditions, and this type of inequality leads to learning disparities that reinforce social inequality” (University of Minnesota, 2021). Conflict theorists also propose that standardised testing “are culturally biased and thus also help perpetuate social inequality”. In the Indian context, those that stand to gain are those students whose families have historically been in power. An archetype of such a student could be construed as being a Hindu male that belongs to a family that is situated in the middle class or above. The reasoning behind this being that these individuals tend to face less restrictions and therefore are exposed to more opportunities and options for them to explore. The fact that they are given such opportunities puts them at a much higher advantage compared to the rest of their peers. Other aspects of the theory include the inequality of the education system available for the students. Nationally, Indian cities are divided into various ‘tiers’ and the higher the tier, the more funding the education system tends to get. Taking the example of Mumbai, a tier 1 city that has a much lower dropout rate than the state of Odisha has been allocated “₹2945.78 crore for education in the budget for 2021-22” by the BMC (Ghosh 2021). This is just for one city in the state. The whole of Odisha’s education sector gets allocated Rs 24,370 crore within the same time frame (Pradhan, H. 2021).
The image above comes from a study of high school dropouts and the various factors that are at play when a student makes the decision to drop out. The different ways that these factors intertwine and affect one another is the main aspect of this diagram. The reason for dropping out is not just one factor but a multitude of factors that bear their weight down on students and result in them dropping out. The image discusses all that has been already discussed above. How each and every factor contributes to the dropout rates (Lee, V. E., & Burkam, D. T., 2003). Other sources point out to the various stages wherein appropriate steps/interventions could take place in order to reduce the number of dropouts. Now, in order to determine how well KISS has been doing for itself, we shall be looking at the values present in the published annual reports. Written within their annual reports, KISS emblazons the message of having a ‘zero drop-out rate.’ From the annual reports available between the years of 2017 and 2019, the organisation proudly waves this fact. The organisation mentions the UN Sustainable Development Goals- specifically number 6 (Gender Equality) regarding the dropout rates. In the 2017-18 final report, it is mentioned that in order to achieve a zero-dropout rate, they focused on “quality education, which prevents early and forced marriages, and associated unwanted pregnancies” (KISS, 2018).
However, in the year following this, the institute managed to one-up themselves by stating that they have managed a “100% pass rate in all subjects” (KISS, 2019). These put together answers the question of what KISS defines as an effective education. Similarly, although many schools were setback by the pandemic, KISS even more so because the majority of their students come from underprivileged backgrounds with lack of access to computers. In order to combat this loss in education, KISS made sure to deliver study materials to the residences of all 30,000 of their students. As mentioned before, since contemporary technology is not available for all their students, the institute turned to televising and telecasting their classes. This ensured that the students managed to receive their work and this way, although the pandemic kept them from their students, they still managed to reach out to them. By broadcasting in Odia, they managed to keep the flow and rhythm that was there within their classrooms outside the physical rooms itself.
There is uneven distribution of educational resources in India, impacting the quality of education received by students across the country. Access to education depends on a number of factors like gender and income levels. Organizations like KISS understand the importance of education and the implications of unequal access and are accordingly working towards overcoming these learning barriers in order to strengthen the education sector in the country. By tackling these issues at the gross root level itself and implementing innovative programs like the MTBMLE, KISS aids the development of human capital and their students are better able to understand the subject matter and apply them in all facets of their life.
As we can see, the efforts mentioned above that KISS as an organisation has put in has not gone to waste. In fact, their zero-dropout rate and 100% passing rate is far better than that of the entire state itself. By keeping the UN Sustainable Development goals in mind, they have made sure that their students continue to pursue their education in a state wherein students are more than likely to drop out. Their students also come from underprivileged backgrounds and by innovating and consistently and constantly improving upon their own systems to adapt to the changing environment (such as the global pandemic) KISS has shown how capable it is and how it managed to seamlessly transition from physical to remote learning. Concepts such as conflict theory and how ‘rigged’ and ‘unfair’ the education system in and across India shows the laggard nature of the governing body and the system itself. The fact that KISS was able to tackle the problems thrown at them shows how ahead of the curve they are.
However, it must be noted that this paper heavily depends on data released by KISS and previously existing research, with no fieldwork being conducted, therefore there is no scope to cross-check the authenticity of the information. Additionally, there has been a huge shift in the learning process due to the ongoing pandemic which poses its own set of problems that have not been addressed.
Burton, L. A. (2013). Mother tongue-based multilingual education in the Philippines: Studying top-down policy implementation from the bottom up (Doctoral dissertation, University of Minnesota).
Census of India, Govt. of India – Ministry of Home Affairs, Official web-site | We also count people in India. (2011). Retrieved 14 May 2021, from http://www.censusindia.net/
Ghosh, N. (2021, February 3). BMC allocates ₹2945.78 crore for education in budget for 2021-22.
Government of India. (2020). National Education Policy 2020. https://www.education.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/NEP_Final_English_0.pdf.
Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences. (2018). KISS Final Annual Report 2017-18. https://cdn.kiss.ac.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/KISS-Annual-Report-2017-18-web.pdf.
Lee, V. E., & Burkam, D. T. (2003). Dropping Out of High School: The Role of School Organization and Structure. American Educational Research Journal, 40(2), 353–393. doi:10.3102/00028312040002353
Mother Tongue-based Literacy Programmes: Case Studies of Good Practice in Asia. Retrieved 14 May 2021, from
Pradhan, H. (2021, February 22). Rs 24,370 crore allocated for education sector in Odisha Budget: Bhubaneswar News – Times of India. The Times of India. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/81156817.cms
Retrieved 19 April 2021, from https://kiss.ac.in/about/
University of Minnesota. (2016, March 25). 11.2 Sociological Perspectives on Education. Social Problems.
Yadavar, S. (2018). Scheduled Tribes Are India’s Poorest People. Retrieved 14 May 2021, from https://www.indiaspend.com/scheduled-tribes-are-indias-poorest-people-18413/
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