It is a complex issue. Something we have been grappling with over the years. Ideally linguistic diversity must be protected at all costs. But pragmatically, in our increasing globalised world restricting people to their own language when only a few speak the language can be very limiting. This is especially true for tribals.
For them the choice is not so much between English and their mother tongue but more a choice between the language of the dominant society around them and their tribal language. In our case Tamil which is the medium of the government schools. It has been identified as an issue that Tamil is becoming more dominant. So for the tribal child whether it is English or the state language both are equally threatening to their own language. Tamil is as alien as English. Which was why we chose English in VIDYODAYA.
Children in India grow up bilingual often tri-lingual as a matter of course. (I grew up learning 6 languages as a kid and learnt 3 more as an adult) so teaching English per se is not a problem. The problem is when it dominates all else. And becomes the only language of learning.
Our challenge therefore is not ensuring that they do not learn other languages but ensuring that this is not at the cost of their own language.
This can be done only if a) the oral tradition is preserved – song, story telling etc. b) scripts are developed as we have done for languages that don’t have them and we bring out books in that language and the biggest challenge c) to have mass media communications in their own languages. Because finally it is the media especially TV that will threaten a language. In spite of huge resistance to Hindi from Southern states especially Tamilnadu, thanks to TV and cinema Hindi has become common in the South as well.
No easy answers but ensuring tribal languages thrive will be one of the cornerstones of our culture work.
Stan Thekaekara is Co-founder of Accord & Viswa Bharati Vidyodaya Trust, Gudalur (Nilgiri, Tamil Nadu)
Several empirical studies support what the New Education Policy is proposing about education in the mother tongue early on, adding English later. | Some excerpts:
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation has argued since 1953 that “every effort should be made to provide education in the mother tongue”. “Mother tongue-based bilingual schooling is seldom disputed on the basis of its pedagogical reasoning,” explained Carole Benson, a researcher at the Centre for Research on Bilingualism Stockholm University, in a paper half a century later.
In 2016, UNESCO reiterated the message as part of its Global Education Monitoring Report: “To be taught in a language other than one’s own has a negative effect on learning.”
UNESCO’s recommendation: “At least six years of mother tongue education should be provided in ethnically diverse communities to ensure those speaking a different language from the medium of instruction do not fall behind.”
Krishna Kumar, former Director of the National Council of Educational Research and Training, points out a bit wearily just how water-tight the academic consensus is on the matter. “This is a heavily researched area for decades now,” he said. “It’s so obvious a point that it really can’t be debated. Mother tongue is the best place to start a child’s education.” […]
It is not difficult to see why students taught in their mother tongue would outperform students taught in a second language. For one, teaching a child in a language she doesn’t know leads to “lecture and rote response”, explains Carole Benson. On the other hands, starting a child’s education in the mother tongue “allows teachers and students to interact naturally and negotiate meanings together, creating participatory learning environments that are conducive to cognitive as well as linguistic development”.
Apart from the sheer barriers to learning a new concept in a new language, the existence of the latter also produces negative psychological effects. “English is aspirational but is also feared by children,” explained Shivali Tukdeo, Associate Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies who has researched the sociology of education policy in India since the nineteenth century. “In my research with Adivasi students in Maharashtra, English and mathematics are the most feared subjects.” […]
The fact that India is unable to work out even the answers to basic questions such as medium of education even seven decades after Independence means that Indian children have some of the worst learning outcomes in the world. As per World Bank metric used to measure schooling quality, for 2018 India chalked up a figure of 355 – the same as war-torn Afghanistan. Some of the countries which have better schooling quality than India include Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Iraq.
Source: “Why is India obsessed with English-medium education – when it goes against scientific consensus?” by Shoaib Daniyal (Scroll.in 6 August 2020)
Date visited: 9 August 2020
[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]
“Adivasi [adibasi] – which is derived from Sanskrit – is applied to the dark-skinned or Austro-Asiatic indigenous groups of India (usually those from Eastern India). It is a commonly-used term in Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha. It is also used by the local Mongoloid tribes of North Eastern India for the migrant workers who were brought in as indentured labourers to work in tea plantations during the colonial period. ‘Tribal’ is a very broad term in the English language, as we all know, and includes all the different indigenous groups of India.” – Dr. Ivy Hansdak (email dated 27 March 2020) | “Who are Scheduled Tribes?” (National Commission for Scheduled Tribes) | Classifications in different states >>
- Accord | Articles by Mari Marcel Thekaekara
- Ashwini community health programme
- Childhood and children
- Community facilities
- Education and literacy
- Gudalur | Communities: Paniya | Kattunayaka | Mullukurumba | Bettakurumba
- Health and nutrition | Recommendations by the Expert Committee
- Shola Trust
- Success stories
- Tribal elders
- Viswa Bharati Vidyodaya Trust
- Western Ghats – tribal heritage & ecology
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