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Research of Educational Anthropology in The Indian Context

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Table of contents

  1. History of Educational Anthropology in India
  2. Implications of Educational Anthropology in India
  3. Conclusions and Implications

Anthropology is the study of humans, their cultures and societies. It is the study of the others or the unfamiliar which is made familiar and brought to the forefront by anthropologist. Anthropology is subdivided into four main categories: a) archaeological, b) biological, c) linguistics and d) cultural anthropology. Anthropology in India was recognized by academic and nonacademic institutions and organizations for many decades. The focus of this paper is to explore educational anthropology in the Indian context. To begin with, the history of educational anthropology will be briefly touched upon. The educational research of the tribal and rural areas in India as well as the significance and implications of educational anthropology in urban settings will be explored. Educational anthropology in India is a two-part inquiry: 1) what is out there? 2) what needs to be found out? Implications will be discussed, and suggestions will be provided.

History of Educational Anthropology in India

Tribal ethnography has been the most researched area in Indian anthropology. After the British administrators and the missionaries’ conducted anthropological research in India, which was termed as “colonized anthropology”. Indian anthropologist traditionally studies the tribes, who were considered marginalized people and their problems were considered marginal. Along with research focus on the tribes, Indian anthropologist also emphasised on researching Indian society prior to Indian Independence in 1947, since independence many anthropologists conducted research throughout the country. The first Indian national to research and document on the tribes was Sri Sarat Chandra Roy who was described by Hutton as ‘Father of Indian Ethnology’. Sri Roy worked along with other British anthropologists and produced monographs on some major tribals of Chotanagarpur. Roy conducted field expeditions, writing books and articles and training researchers for anthropological research on tribal and rural cultures. The most sought-after study for anthropologist to study about India were “scheduled tribes”, the cast systems, Adivasi”, and “backward Hindus”. The role of caste in politics, voting behaviors, rural leadership, and research on kinship, marriage and family were also researched in the past.

It was not, in fact, until the 1950s that the discipline adapted its field techniques and theories to the study of a “civilization” such as India. The “culture area” concept allowed for the reduction of the subcontinent into smaller territorial and often homogeneous social units, but it was the Indian village that, in the end, became the center of anthropological analysis for at least a generation. ‘Anthropology in India started its carrier in 1774 when Sir William Jones, the founder-president of the Asiatic Society of Bengal defined the scope of its inquiries as comprising the entire field of studies concerned with ‘man and nature’. British administrators, Christian missionaries and other anthropologists who are posted in different parts of the country studied and collected data on the lives of the rural people and tribes and documented it in the Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal, Indian Antiquity, and Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society (1915), and Man in India. The growth of Indian anthropology has been divided into different periods. Sarat Chandra Roy classified the growth of anthropology in India in terms of the sources of publications such as magazines, handbooks and monograms. And, in terms of the nationality of the authors. According to S.C. Dube, this growth was classified in three phases: i. Compilation and publication of volumes on tribes and castes, ii. Detailed monographic studies of individual tribes mostly based upon personal observation and iii. Quantitative advancement and qualitative achievement. Nirmal Kumar Bose divided the growth of anthropology in India into three phases: i. Encyclopedia of tribes and castes, ii. Descriptive monographs and iii. Analytical studies of village, marriage and family, caste and civilization. Dhirendra Nath Majumdar divided the growth of anthropological research in India into three historical periods:

  1. Formulation phase (1774-1911),
  2. Constructive phase (1912-1937),
  3. Critical phase (1938-to present day).

Implications of Educational Anthropology in India

Despite much anthropological research on education in India, the importance of educational anthropology is not properly acknowledged. Sociologists have paid little attention on studying schools as an agenda for their research and this shows as to how there exists a lack of interest among the Indian sociologists in the field of sociology of education.

Constructive period of the Indian anthropology started with the inclusion of Anthropology which was built into school and university curriculum by two important Universities. University of Bombay (as a part of Sociology in 1919) and University of Calcutta (in 1920) attracted academicians and trained scholars to undertake significant research. Several Indian anthropologists like P.N. Mishra, Lakshminarayanapuram Ananthakrishna Krishna Iyer, Kshitis Prasad Chattopadhya, Tarak Chandra Das, Dhirendra Nath Majumdar in the Eastern and Northern India, and G.S. Ghurye, Irawati Karve, Anantha Krishna Iyer and A. Aiyappan provided the initial simulation to anthropological research by publishing several books, conducting field expeditions on tribal and rural cultures in India.

Conducting educational anthropological research can help the Indian education system to support sustainable, people-centric educational policies, curriculum construction, and above all better-focused teacher training. A responsible approach would include local forms of knowledge, experience and values. With the influx of globalization and privatization, education researchers are motivated to consider various socio-cultural dimensions to research through which action-based programs and tribal upliftment are constituted. Early education-related anthropology, with fieldwork as an integral part, mainly aimed to further theoretical understandings, rather than improving teaching/learning processes or shaping educational policy. Literature that addresses and brings awareness to the basic constitutional rights suffered by female population in India, at the same time there are obstacles which prevented the Indian tribal population to basic or better education. Standard and fixed curriculum policies on textbooks at the school level continues, allowing little or no scope for teachers’ autonomy in modifying the curriculum. Teachers are mere instruments of teaching mainstream knowledge and preaching dominant values. Emphasizing on culture-sensitive and allowing teacher the flexibility to make changes to the curriculum and daily lesson plans would give teachers rights to choose materials for teaching and daily curriculum construction. Better teacher training is required to strengthen teachers’ skills in cultural contextualization of the curriculum, with two components, identifying local ‘funds of knowledge’ and integrating them meaningfully into formal instruction processes. Connections to formal and informal learning would make teaching and learning process would bring meaning to the children’s learning process.

Conclusions and Implications

Indian Anthropology has come a long way and still needs to move forward to make administrators and policymakers feel the need of the relevance of anthropological research. There are tribal communities in different states and tribal school that still needs focus and research expeditions from anthropologist. The tribal schools are “culture-sensitive, educating young learners about themselves and their relationship to the nation, can become a useful tool of nation building in India. This emphasis on connectedness, without erasing local and tribal differences and identities in favor of some majoritarian nationalist ideal, remains an important core element of India’s unity in diversity.” Indian Anthropology should focus on newer issues and problems being faced by this developing country and provide solutions. In addition to tribal school research focuses, Indian society today also needs research emphasis on problems like poverty, hunger, illiteracy, lack of health care, crime against women, etc., which are usually handled mainly by activist and NGO organizations, journalists and the police. It is such a shame on our part as a nation to leave our own issues and problems into the hands of the western intellectuals when there are highly qualified researcher and anthropologist at reputed universities in India who can throw some light on these issues in order to bring awareness which may lead to possible solutions to the problem. “…the whole issue of the Bhopal gas leak tragedy (1984) escaped the academic notice of Indian anthropologists while their western counterparts produced theses, books and articles on this issue. ….in the late 1970s when historian Bipan Chandra went to Assam for a month in 1979 to study the ongoing movement on foreigners’ issue and upon return to town gave a lecture on his ethnohistorical findings. Has any sociologist done this sort of work after the Bhopal incident?”.

Further research and focus on educational anthropology as a tool for promoting transformative education will further strengthen a diversity-sensitive and culture-conscious educational system which is the strength and ambition of the Indian nation. The key is to restructure and practice effective teacher education. Teachers and preservice teachers need to practice and include responsible forms of interaction between all students and community members on the basis of broadly shared value system as humans and as Indian citizens. To fulfill this responsibility, research anthropologist and better trained teachers are core requirements.

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