Instead of “aa se aam”, children in the tribal regions of Chhattisgarh will soon be learning “aa se aak patta (peepal or sacred fig leaf)”. In around 19,000 anganwadis across the state, the Chhattisgarh government is going to start teaching pre-school children in 10 different tribal languages.
The brainchild of Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, the programme was announced by him at the Republic day parade in Jagdalpur. In a state where 32% of the total population belongs to Scheduled Tribes, the decision is expected to not only provide comfort but also to save these tribal languages.
“We first made a linguistic map of each district and the languages spoken in the region; then we mad a linguistic map of the state. The ten languages we have included in this program are Gondi, Halbi, Madiya, Bhatri, Dhurva, Dorli, Singrauliya, Sargujiya, Sadri and Kudukh,” said Siddharth Komal Pardeshi, Secretary, Women and Child Development Department.
Among other responsibilities, the anganwadis work as the pre-primary schools for children. However, the medium of education was Hindi. “For the first time, we don’t have to train our frontline workers. All the anganwadi teachers are well versed in their regional language. They connect to the people in those languages. In fact, we have been taking their help to design the books and teaching material,” Pardeshi said.
“There is no script in most Adivasi languages, they are phonetically driven. In 2018, a dictionary in Gondi was released by Kannada University in Hampi. There is a need to preserve these languages and to ensure that children who have grown up speaking such languages don’t feel left out at schools,” Dada Jokal, an author of several books in Gondi and who now teaches school teachers the language, said.
The linguistic divide in the state has been brought forth time and again by officials. In 2015, the previous government had planned to train the officials in Gondi, a plan that stopped before it began. In 2019, police started training their men in the Gondi language to fight the Left Wing Extremists better. “In schools, teachers often have a hard time connecting with students because of the language divide. I had an interesting case, when a primary school teacher approached me that the children just kept repeating what he said, without understanding a word. They would keep repeating his questions at him, thinking that was their lesson. This is because of language barriers, which other linguistically prosperous states have understood and exploited,” Dada Jokal said.
According to education expert Ujjwala Shankar, the idea of ensuring pre-primary and primary education in one’s mother tongue is necessary for many reasons. “When the course imparted is in a language that the child is already familiar, the interest to learn more increases,” she said.
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