It was Gudi Padwa. Everyone was celebrating the festival. That very day, a group of us from Maharashtra studying local Adivasi languages left for a tour of Odisha . The idea was to explore the syllabi followed in schools there, the educational experiments conducted, the progress of the students, the involvement of parents and guardians, the assessment and teaching methods adopted by teachers, and the effectiveness of the teaching and learning.
The Head of the Department of Marathi Language from Vidyaparishad had briefed us on what to expect, and observe. We understood the importance of this study: that it was going to affect millions of students in the state.We arrived in the state capital, Bhubaneswar. The schools we would be visiting were about 450 km from the city and had already been identified.
We were accompanied by the Education Officer. As we journeyed on, we crossed many rivers, big and small. Our driver, who also doubled up as our guide, pointed out many things of interest and told us about local histories. While the natural beauty all around us was spellbinding, it posed a sad contrast with the poor condition of the people living amid such rich resources.
The first school we visited was one in Kaliyapoda town. Here, the teachers have been experimenting with spoken language. We were welcomed by an attractive rangoli pattern at the entrance, drawn around decorative vessels that represented the local culture. Along with District Institute for Education and Continuous Professional Development (DIECPD) and Education officers, many guardians too had come to greet us. Nature being such an integral part of Odisha , it was no surprise to find classes being conducted amidst greenery. The school campus was full of trees, and we were invited to sit not in classrooms, but in their cool shade.
We were, however, very keen to see the classrooms. It was pleasant to find the walls beautifully adorned with folk symbols, stories, traditional Adivasi instruments, and objects made from bamboo. The warm, friendly and inviting atmosphere were enough to dispel any of the usual fright of going to school.
We discovered that the woman asking questions of a bunch of students in one of the classrooms was actually a parent. Parents and guardians often visit the schools, and converse with the students in their everyday language. This makes it easier to assess the students’ progress. It also encourages communication between the guardians and the teachers. Not only is this useful for the students, it also helps cement the relationship between the town and the school.
While there, we noticed in one classroom an old man, in striking headgear, carrying a walking stick. We were told he was the author of one of the lessons in the textbook, and that he visited the school regularly and told the students traditional folk tales. He also assessed them for comprehension. For us, this was a rather novel experience. The students were learning not only from their teachers, but from various other sources. And significantly, they were not burdened by having to learn, or to express themselves in, the more formal or bookish language. They appeared happy and comfortable.
The text books too were in the local, everyday language. The teachers here have been compiling folk tales and folk songs from the region to attract children to school. They ask older people from the area, who are more well-versed in these matters, for traditional Adivasi stories and songs, which are then compiled into books. This has led the teachers to develop two types of books — for teachers, and for students.
These books contain articles, stories and songs composed by the villagers in their own tongue, which has become the language in which all school subjects are taught. After all, it is well-known that students learn better when taught in their mother tongue.
The 1st and 2nd Std students are mainly taught in the language they speak at home. From the 3rd to the 5th Std, the state language Oriya is gradually introduced. By the time the student reaches the 6th Std, all subjects are taught in Oriya. Prof Chandra, Education Officer, informed us that DIECPD organises camps for 1st to 5th Std teachers, to train them in the local language and dialect, and in how to use this while teaching.
The teachers must first learn to recognise how teaching in the local language helps their students learn better. When we spoke to the teacher who had come to train the Kalyapoda school’s teachers, we were impressed by his pedagogical understanding. We could also see how the teachers were putting it into practice, in their classrooms, what they were learning from DIECPD.
Thus, learning becomes easy and the process is more enjoyable for the students, because the language is so familiar. And the youngest ones learn the letters of the alphabet through objects that are part of their environment.
The Odisha govt has identified local people who can teach in schools in the local languages. They get paid like any other teacher. Over the last decade, many persons have been doing this. When the time arrives for their jobs to be made permanent, they are given extra marks for services rendered, and guaranteed a govt job in the future.
Although the texts used in school that we came across were not sophisticated, they had the flavour of folk culture, and the students were learning their history well. The school may not have possessed modern educational materials, but that did not prevent them from using things available in their environment as teaching aids. Leaves, stones, sticks, flowers, and many more things that the surroundings offered, were used as aids. One teacher had set up a wooden peg in lieu of a mike, to help students feel more confident about public speaking.
It’s clear that the experiment – using everyday language for teaching – has won favour with the villagers. They, too, have realised that education is key to succeeding in life, and are making an effort to be part of this revolution.
That evening, we visited a community of Munda speakers, who welcomed us with singing and dancing to the beat of drums. The warm welcome made us forget our fatigue. Most of our team joined in the dancing. We didn’t understand their language, neither were we familiar with their music, but none of that mattered.
Over 500 men and women had gathered there. They carried placards that read, ‘Learning in our language is the right of our children’. It pleased us immensely that they understood the importance of learning in one’s mother tongue.
Many of them spoke about their own experiences, and how learning in their mother tongue had benefited them. Among the speakers was a Munda Adivasi man who had become an Ayurvedic doctor, and a young woman who was now a primary teacher. There was a good deal of applause. Although we couldn’t follow their speech, people’s faces conveyed their gladness.
When we talked to the guardians, they spoke of how happy their children were to go to school, and how well they understood their lessons. The adults felt certain that the students’ comfort with the medium of education had played a big role – because they were not intimidated by an unfamiliar language. We were happy that parents and guardians appreciated the relationship between mother tongue and learning.
The next day, we visited a few more schools. What was common to all the schools was the use they made of naturally available objects and materials. In one school, the villagers had built a hut using wood and dried grass, where food for the students could be cooked. Other schools had created facilities and spaces for sports and music. And it had all been done by the guardians and other villagers, without recourse to govt aid or funds.
Besides the official state language, local languages are prevalent in many regions, including Adivasi areas. Many of these languages exist independently; many have their own scripts. Yet most, not being officially recognised, enjoy no status, remaining neglected and ignored. Over time, some are lost. The need of the hour is to preserve these local languages. If they are not actively used, they will soon become extinct. And since the languages are repositories of their cultures, those folk cultures too will die.
If efforts of the kind being made in Odisha are not made more widely, we might well lose more than 450 spoken languages over the next 50 years.
Odisha has fought bravely, against all odds, to preserve and use local languages in school and at workplaces. The results are visible: the number of out-of-school children has fallen to a great extent, as students feel “at home” even in school.
The ‘Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra’ programme, for transformation in school education, is ongoing in the state. As per its parameters, information relating to basic student assessments at the beginning of the academic year and at the end of the first and second terms are uploaded on their website. The data thus obtained is analysed, and lists released of both, the 20 sub-divisions and 20 centres that are doing best, and those that are lagging behind.
It was noticed from studying this data that in most areas where schools had fallen behind, the language spoken by students at home was different from the language used in the schools. To overcome this, the state govt has been considering a new policy with respect to Adivasi languages.
This is going to be an important decision. It would help to preserve the languages, and also to bring children into school.
Some work has already begun. On behalf of the Marathi Dept of the MAA (Maharashtra Academic Authority), a 100 % basic reading development programme is being implemented.
The training conducted in this context aims to inculcate in teachers a temperament that would allow them to use the local language in class, and to encourage students to answer questions in their own language. This training also focuses on student-teacher interaction, and on how to use educational materials.
A lamp has been lit. It will take time, but one day all our backward areas will shine with the light of knowledge.
In Maharashtra for example, a language like Korku seems completely unrelated to Marathi. The Adivasi language Gond has its own script. Many Adivasis and nomadic tribes have their own languages. We in Maharashtra can pick up some useful pointers from Odisha’s successful experiment with using spoken, everyday language in schools.
It is a matter of some pride that people from Maharashtra, too, have made a contribution. Rajesh Patil from North Maharashtra, whom we met as part of our tour, is Commissioner, Skill Development Dept, Bhubaneswar. While serving as an Education Officer there, he had tried to tackle the issues that schools in Odisha were facing, and had sent some teachers to Kumthe Beat in Maharashtra’s Satara district to observe how the schools there functioned. After a three-day study tour, the teachers retuned to Odisha and began to used the same methods employed successfully in Kumthe.
Overall, the tour has given a new direction to our team. We have returned with the sense that much may be done through using colloquial languages in education.
Writing: Sandeep Wakchaure, Subject Assistant,
Sangamner district, Ahmednagar
Contact : 9405404500
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team