In Kerala, online sessions for tribal students in class one will be in their native tongue

Sreeja MS taking a class in the dialect of the Kattunaykar community   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement


Speaking fluently in Paniya language, Manju K narrates a story of two cats for the camera, part of the content for online classes for children from the Paniya community in Wayanad in Kerala. She is one of the six teachers from Wayanad taking online classes for children belonging to six tribes in the district — Paniya, Kurichya, Oorali, Kattunaykkar, Adiya and Kuruma.

Class in Paniya language by Manju K

“Videos in 10 tribal languages will be made for class one students in Wayanad, Malappuram and Idukki districts,” says Sindhu SS, state programme officer (access and retention), Samagra Shikhsha Kerala (SSK) of General Education Department. Online classes commence in Wayanad on July 8. Malayalam content for the classes aired on KITE-VICTERS, the government-run educational channel, has been translated into tribal dialects for these videos. Since schools are closed because of the pandemic, the channel has been broadcasting classes since the beginning of this academic year.

Manju K in a screenshot of her online class in Paniya language

Manju K in a screenshot of her online class in Paniya language   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Of the four subjects for class one – Malayalam, Environmental Studies (EVS), English, and Mathematics, the first two come under one module. The sessions will reach the children through YouTube and WhatsApp groups. “Since it is for tribal kids alone, classes are not streamed on VICTERS channel, which covers a wider population. Nearly 5,000 children will benefit from this,” Sindhu adds.

Native speakers

The classes are handled by ‘gothrabandhu’ teachers or tribal mentors, educated tribal youth appointed by the government to impart primary education to children in their native languages. “Malayalam, which is the medium of instruction in lower classes, is an alien language for students from the tribal communities. When classes started on VICTERS channel, tribal mentors were concerned about first-graders from our communities. I translated some classes on my own and sent audio notes to other tribal mentors via WhatsApp. Now, our children can also enjoy and learn from these classes,” says Manju, a member of the Paniya tribe.

Sreeja MS, a mentor from Kattunaykar community, says that children are often scared to attend school because of the language barrier and most of them drop out after a few days. She adds that online sessions have been a new experience for the mentors as well. “Initially, I was nervous because I have never faced a camera or seen a shooting prior to this. Since I speak our dialect at a rapid pace, I was advised to slow down. That was not easy!” laughs Sreeja, who is among the 241 tribal mentors in Wayanad.

In Malappuram, shooting has begun for the online classes. The mentors are covering the dialects of Cholanaykkar, Aranadan and Muthuvan communities. “Unlike Wayanad, it was not easy to identify qualified people to lead classes in our district,” says an official from Malappuram. In Idukki, lessons are taken for children belonging to the Mannan community.

Krishnaja MK taking class in the language of Oorali community in Wayanad

Krishnaja MK taking class in the language of Oorali community in Wayanad   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Mentors point out they have made slight changes in the content so that the children can easily relate to it. “For example, they are not familiar with appliances such as mixie and grinder that are mentioned in a chapter on kitchen equipment. So, I talk to them about ‘maravi’, a wooden utensil used in our homes to grind ingredients,” Manju points out.

Be it food, habits, lifestyle, daily routine, experiences or vocation, the children from the tribal communities are often totally cut off from mainstream. “When I talk about breakfast, I can’t mention dosa, puttu or chappathi because they have never had them. They might be on an empty stomach or might have had pazhanchoru (fermented rice). So I bring that aspect into the class. Or else, I discuss the weather or how they spend their day,” she adds.

None of these tribal dialects has a script. Whatever they speak is written in Malayalam, which they gradually pick up as they move to higher classes. “It makes me happy that I am part of an initiative that is meant for the betterment of our community,” Manju says.

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 8:23:06 PM |

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