What Is Multi-Lingual Education?

by | Nov 17, 2017

This time last year, I was working in one of the finest Educational institutes in India, ISB (Indian School of Business). I interacted with students from different parts of India and outside India, observed several professors, their diverse teaching styles, and their careers. Something I kept pondering about – ‘Will a professor from France, teaching French in India be effective?’

These thoughts came back to me last week, while I was taking a class on Phonetics with Class 7th students in my school in Sukma. If some of you raised your eyebrows on Phonetics for Grade 7, you will be amazed at what you read ahead. There were two kids sitting in the first bench gazing oddly at me during class. I was confused by their stares and I asked them whether they could understand me; to which they replied “ji” (a standard response to most questions). I wasn’t sure if they were following and I asked all of the students whether they knew the English alphabet. They replied in the affirmative and only when I probed further by declaring that I will take an exam the next day, did five of them raise their hands, indicating that they do not know the alphabet!

First thing that struck my mind was what they are taught for the last 6 years and how they could have performed every year. So, to test where there is a problem I asked them to write the alphabets they know and everyone came up with their own innovative sequence of English alphabets. So I sat with them after class and thought of teaching with examples will be helpful, like how we are taught in our childhood. As a standard example I started with A for apple/airplane, but the kids still looked confused. After some time, one of the kids asked me what an airplane was. The rest of the class followed suit, raising their hands at the same question. It was then, that I realized that I forgotten the main essence of my teaching. It was not just teaching but also to relate it to their real life experiences. Unless a kid is taught with the things they see and the things they relate to, they can’t learn.

During the early stage of schooling, a young person has to be taught in their local language to make them comfortable, and also creating a friendly environment to learn. In Chhattisgarh, the predominant tribal languages are Gondi, Halbi and Durva. Gondi is a south-central language, spoken by about two million people from the Gondi tribes. Not only do people in Chhattisgarh speak Gondi, but also people in the adjoining states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh speak Gondi.  There is a lot of difference between Gondi and Hindi like every language. In addition, Gondi does not have a written script. Most of the teaching staff are not locals from those villages. They teach without being fluent in the local dialect. To look at some examples In Gondi

What is your name – Neyad baata padded

How are you – Nim bale mindane

Will do it now – Inje kitan

When will you come – Nim besut vatti

I’ll go – Nan daatan

Tree – Mada

Stone – Kal gundum

Like this, there are many sounds that overlap in local language, and national language (Hindi) that has different meanings. When a child from a village enrolls himself in school for the first time, the child only knows his local language, which is spoken at home, but after coming to school, the teachers start teaching in Hindi, which is a major problem for every child. That is why the kid should be taught in his/her local language first to make the child comfortable in early classes and slowly introduce the official language. The concept of MLE (Multi Lingual Education) plays a major role in life of kids. MLE (Multilingual education) typically refers to “first-language-first” that is, schooling which begins in mother tongue and transitions to additional language. Researchers says that children whose early stage of education is in the language of their home tend to do better in their later stage. UNESCO has suggested how MLE has to take place in different stages in children life that shows as follows:-

Grade I: Learning takes place entirely in the child’s home language

Grade II: Building fluency in mother tongue and introducing of second language

Grade III: Building oral fluency in second language and introduction of literacy in second language

Grade IV: Using both home language and second language for life long

In India, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha have adopted a thematic approach to multilingual education, using a seasonal calendar within a relevant cultural context that has provided a space for tribal children of that region to rediscover their culture through their language. In Odisha, almost 2250 schools with majority of tribal children have adopted MLE concept. The concept of local language is very important for children not to forget their roots and which will help a child to explore deeper and deeper, whenever a kid is taught through the background they came from they relate things so easily. This will affect the learning levels of a child and will help a kid too pro-actively participate in learning process.

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1 Comment

  1. Anupama Pain

    With the massive number of people from the ‘mainstream’ now working in ‘development’, especially in education, isn’t it sad how such fundamental structure and design flaws still exist. Sometimes there just seems no other way, but working the policy way for the reforms. The patience that needs and what will happen to these kids who are now in the schools already in existing framework – is anyone’s guess.


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