In 1997, the Adivasi Academy initiated its work in Tejgadh by establishing a community library. The library brought together young tribal graduates who became involved with the setting up of the institute. As the Academy engaged itself in dialogue with tribal artists, migrant wage workers, local teachers and youth, it came to recognize the huge challenges at the primary level that impacted the education status among tribals in India. Some of these included:
• Migration of parents for seasonal labor work prevents children from attending classes regularly and throughout the year.
• Parents are not educated and lack awareness of the advantages of education and are not sending their children to the non-formal schools.
• Children have to engage in labor work to support the income of their families and thus are unable to attend classes regularly.
• Children of different age groups and knowledge levels are being taught in one class.
• The government schools in many of the villages are ineffective due to paucity of competent teachers who are sensitive to the needs of adivasi children.
• Several government schools are inappropriately located and cannot be reached by children living in distant areas.
• The dropout ratio in schools is exceptionally high since adivasi children find it difficult to understand the content of formal education that is imparted in Gujarati language. Further, they are unable to relate to the content that generally has no component of adivasi culture.
Realising that qualitative change in higher education for tribals would not be possible without addressing the challenges at the primary level, the Adivasi Academy stepped into the area of primary education. The Vidya Programme was initiated with the following objectives:
• To provide education to non literate and school dropouts and bridge their learning gaps
• To combine knowledge of local culture, environment, rights with functional literacy to equip children to the formal education system while building a sense of cultural identity.
• To combine components of formal education with community knowledge systems and traditions.
• To re- introduce children to formal schooling.
• To encourage education among girl children.