Seven Problems with Indian Education

Historically, three kinds of schools have served the educational needs of Indians: Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, parochial or mission schools and public schools. Recently, through the Office of Economic Opportunity, the tribes established a fourth school system, primarily in the Headstart Program.

These systems—still involved in trying to better the Indian lot—have had some experience in formulating and implementing programs to meet Indians’ needs and have been in the business of education on and off  for many years. In spite of what they have managed and of what contributions they have made, sharp problems exist in the Indian education field. And Indian education will not progress, develop or evolve into a dynamic field unless the problems inherent in it are identified and solved.

In an analysis of the situation, these problems have been categorized into seven broad areas. They are not what you will read in a textbook, but are more practical and real in nature.

- LACK OF FUNDS: By far one of the most pressing problems is the inadequacy of money or lack of funding of Indian education programs. The demand well exceeds the supply, and the money which is available is only for the most basic educational needs of the students . Very small amounts, if any, are available for advanced programs and innovative ideas.

Without adequate funding, the concept of Indian education faces an uncertain future characterized by stagnation, indifference, inadequate facilities and personnel. Is this what the educators wish to be content with?

- THE IRRELEVANT CURRICULUM The schools are not doing their job in taking care of the needs of their students—especially Indian students. This area encompasses four necessary corrections.

Currently, an Indian student is being provided with an educational system geared to the needs of the non-Indian student without any concern to unique problems and background of an Indian student. Yes, the Indian must live in the white man’s world, but if he is to become a productive member of the human race, the schools must develop programs to meet his needs.

Another aspect is the force on the English language in the system. If educators would realize that the English language is not the mother tongue of most Indian students, educational programming could become more relevant, meaningful and rewarding to the Indian student especially in rural areas with limited facilities and no modernization.

Another correction would be made if the educators would realize the positive aspects of Indians’ contributions to the greater society, and inculcate it in the curriculum. Imbibing the students with a sense of pride in what they are being taught, will help the cause positively. Education has directly contributed to the destruction of the institution of the family among Indians: To illustrate this engulfment rather than bridgment of parent and child, consider the following example.

Fifth class students are studying the atom or atom bomb and its effect on society as a whole. If the Indian child seeks to understand the concept of the atom more fully in an inquiry at home, he will discover that his parents are unable to help him gain that understanding because there is no concept paralleling the atom in the Indian language. Instead of help or clarification, the child may receive some type of scolding. In the case of the non-Indian child, the parents may not know the answer, but they have other resources to which to turn—a neighbour, a set of reference books, a nearby library. Thus, the Indian child begins to question the intelligence of his parents, and when this happens, the parental role is threatened and weakened. This weakening continues as the child progresses through school because the parent falls further behind, as he is not keeping up with his child. Destruction of the family institution is therefore hastened.

- LACK OF MOTIVATED TEACHERS IN INDIAN EDUCATION: By far the most obvious problem is the shortage of qualified Indian instructors in Indian education. Materialistic greed, incentives and opportunities entice the qualified educators away from this challenging field. There are many challenges in Indian education: isolation, poor or inadequate facilities, eager but academically deprived students, to name a few. If Indian education is to meet the needs of the students, if it is to cultivate the sensitivity required, if it is to be dynamic and viable, it must have more qualified and eager educators—it must reach the stage wherein it will challenge the educator to take up arms to join its ranks and to improve its lot.

- INSENSITIVE SCHOOL PERSONNEL: It is tragic that this exists in the 20th Century. Whether it can be attributed to apathy, indifference or design does not ameliorate the problem. If school personnel are truly educators, it is their duty them to learn about the people they are teaching: To fail in this task is to fail to educate. The burden of this responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the educator, and the exercise of that responsibility is long overdue.

- LACK OF INVOLVEMENT IN AND CONTROL OF EDUCATION MATTERS: Indian students have not been able to express their ideas on school programming or educational decision-making. When they have been expressed, their participation has been limited and restricted. If problems in Indian education are to be solved, the Indian citizen must involve himself in the process. He needs to be given more control in the programs to which his children are exposed, to have a say in what types of courses are in the curriculum, to help hire teachers, to establish employment policies and practices, and all of the other responsibilities vested in school administration—that of being on a Board of Education. There are working examples of Indian-controlled school boards. These dynamic systems point up to the fact that Indians can handle school matters. It is time that more Indians became involved in such control.

- DIFFICULTIES OF STUDENTS IN HIGHER EDUCATION: Colleges and universities need to establish programs which can deal effectively with the problems and needs of the Indian student—if he is to remain in school. In general, the Indian student has an inadequate educational background as he may have been looked upon as less than college material in high school. He has unusual adjustment problems and usually inadequate financial help. It is time that more colleges and universities attempt to solve these development factors and provide a more successful educational experience for the Indian student.

- TOO MANY "INSTANT INDIAN EDUCATION EXPERTS": To the disadvantage of Indian education and its growth, each day sprouts more "instant Indian education experts," who do more harm than good. Usually, these experts have all the answers: they have completely identified the problems and have formulated solutions, but they leave it to the students to implement. Again, the pupil is given something to implement which he has had no part in formulating. These experts usually depend on superficial, shallow studies done in one visit to a reservation or school, or they depend on one or two conferences with Indians who have little or no knowledge of the critical problems confronting the Indian generally. Indian education can well do without these experts who cannot be reasoned with or who feel they know what is best for the Indian.