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Lessons through their language

Dr. Amitha Bachan K. H. of the Western Ghats Hornbill Foundation. Photo: K. K. Mustafah

Dr. Amitha Bachan K. H. of the Western Ghats Hornbill Foundation. Photo: K. K. Mustafah   | Photo Credit: K. K. Mustafah

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An educational package for pre-primary children of the Kadar tribe incorporating their own language will be distributed in 22 anganwadis this week. Dr. Amitha Bachan, the man behind the project says that it will help initiate the children into formal education easily

They are not like any other children. These kids of the primitive Kadar tribes grow up in a world of their own, a world of the jungle, animals, birds, rivers. They speak a dialect of their own, are brought up in a dissimilar culture. Their contact with the ‘official’ language of the region is limited perhaps to a few common words. And their exposure to the outside world very restricted.

Lost in education

When these children begin their tryst with education, at the pre-primary stage in the ‘anganwadis’ near their settlements, they find themselves lost. The language used for instruction and communication here is frighteningly strange. The process flows on to the primary level too. Unable to fully comprehend classroom teaching and the activities, unable to read the language taught or understand the text books properly, majority of these children drop out of school.

Sensing the need for an educational package that incorporates tribal language with the regular teaching methods, the Western Ghats Hornbill Foundation (WGHF), in association with Integrated Child Services Scheme of the Athirappilly panchayat, has come out with a set of two thematic books, a workbook, puzzles and educative cards that is based on the language and knowledge of the Kadar tribe.

The concept has been developed on the thought that use of tribal language in the initial years can go a long way to make them comfortable with the process of education. “The first language taught should be what they are familiar with, their own language. Through this they must first acquire knowledge of their own culture, ethnicity. The official lingo can be introduced gradually as this is essential for their integration into mainstream schools and the society at large,” informs Dr. Amitha Bachan K. H., Director (Research) WGHF and Assistant Professor (Botany), MES Asmabi College, Kodungallur.

The Kadar tribes are endemic to the Annamalais in the Western Ghats. They inhabit 24 settlements of which 20 are in Kerala and four in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. The majority of them occupy around eight settlements in Vazhachal. Till the last century they were unfamiliar to the outside world. This non-agricultural, seasonally nomadic, tribe live by collecting non-timber forest produce like honey, wild nutmeg etc. Construction of dams, emergence of plantations has hugely displaced their habitat pushing them to the verge of extinction.

Educational package

“Documentation of the Kadar tribes has not been done earlier. And this is perhaps the first time in the state that an educational package that supports the ethnic and cultural history of tribes is being published. We are sure that it will go a long way in the uplift of the tribal children. Of course, there is also the need to open schools closer to their habitats. Now, there is a primary tribal school in Vazhachal only for boys, the girls often travel to Idukki. The high schools are almost 15-50 kms away. This combined with not being able to comprehend the language taught are reasons for dropout among the children.”

The illustrations in the book are all based on photographs taken from the tribal settlements and surroundings. So, in the two books you have commonplace objects, characters, animals, birds and things hand-drawn, in bright colours, child-friendly images. The illustrations are by three children Ali Akbar, Vishnu P. V. and Anish C. S. The concept of this educational package has been developed by Amitha Bachan, Shajan M. P., Fasila P. K., and Anitha K. T. Given in these books are the words in tribal language with Malayalam and English translation.

“We have been able to incorporate 170 words used by the Kadar tribes in the three books. Interestingly we will be introducing 59 new words into the Malayalam language. Malayalam owes a lot to these primitive lingos. A look at the Kadar language we find they have specific words for which we still depend on English. For example they have a word for giraffe. They call it ‘gopura kazhutha.’”

These educational kits will be distributed among the 22 anganwadis in Athirappilly panchayat at a formal function to be held on July 21 at the Vazhachal Primary School in the presence of P. K. Jayalekshmi, Minister for Welfare of Scheduled Tribes.

“The panchayat gave us Rs. 1 Lakh. We have printed 1,000 copies and will distribute 300 copies of this kit. We have already received requests from neighbouring panchayats for a similar project. We feel that this can be used effectively even in the pre-primary schools along the coastline and also in areas where the people use a special dialect.”

The Western Ghats Hornbill Foundation has been supported in this endeavour by the Forest Department, Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (A Tree) and Centre for Environment and Development, Thiruvananthapuram.

“We are now working on field guides on books, trees, flowers for tribes and nature lovers that will have a pictorial index. We have also started work on a nature education series books for senior children based on indigenous knowledge,” says Amitha Bachan.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 2:05:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/lessons-through-their-language/article3657900.ece

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