Folklore Foundation

Folklore Foundation

Education of the Tribal children and Multilingual Education in Odisha From Community to Classroom

The question of language must be addressed within the context of a terrain of struggle that is central to our efforts to transform traditional educational structure that historically have failed bi cultural students. (Antonia Darder in Culture, and Power in Classroom, page 105, 2012)


Imagine of the agricultural policy that motivated the farmers to use chemical fertilizers on their field to get bumper harvest, without considering the damaging effect to the fertility of the soil. After the soil is damaged severely, the planners formulated a policy to promote organic farming with natural manure. Farmers were surprised that why at all the agriculture scientists stopped practicing them traditional organic farming and introduced pesticides and now they are again propagating to follow organic farming. Were they not correct even of the support of such scientists was not with them? By then, farmers had to bear a substantial financial and environmental loss. They are in dilemma either to adopt the new or the old. Now, when they were accustomed to use pesticide and chemical fertilizer, they are again told to follow their traditional approach of farming. What the farming community can do?

The case of language shift and revitalization can also be understood from the fertilizer metaphor. By negating the mother tongue of the child in school education,children were deprived of their linguistic human rights, also experiential knowledge. In any development process, when a natural growth is violated, it damages the whole eco system. This is true in case of use of mother tongue in school education. Adoption of an imposed language is always goes against bhasha swaraj. – Language self rule. Imposition of a language other than the mother tongue of the child leads to language death; it means natural loss of a child.

Linguistic Genocide

Modern Indian Languages ( MIL) of India are the outcome of a nation state ideology which aimed at a restrictive language policies; emphasizing the assimilative language curriculum which represents the culture of the majority. This is validated by introducing the language of power as the medium of instruction in school education. Some of the reasons for language shift, language marginalization and language death are attributed to the replacement of local languages in office, schools, and also in media and communication.

Lack of appreciation of indigenous culture , values and languages creates a self hate and inferiority and a sense of self hate develops in the community and the first literate of the community ignore their own mother tongue being colonized their mind.( Hough : 2009 :147).The divide of literate and illiterate vis a vis the dismissal of one’s own knowledge system also take place. Thus school with linguistic homogeneity compels the community to language shift and language genocide. The parents and the tribal communities have been seen as causing the problem (Skutnabb Kangas:1999:45).

Due to the parents aspiration for their children to teach in the language of the school, supported by the political system, violation of linguistic human rights takes place. Devy writes, “one notices now in India and in other African countries an over powering desire among parents to educate their children through the medium of English” to enter in the international market and labour.( Devy: 2014: 9)

Teaching of nontribal teachers in tribal areas in a dominant language in school directly negates the Five Tribal Principles of Pundit Nehru (1952).The assurance to the tribal communities was to safeguard their culture and language was violated through a structured monolingual school system that undermined the diverse language of the children.

The faulty system of language census that clearly evident from the decadal language decline from 1652 in 1961 to 122 in 2001 is a violation of safeguarding the minority languages of India. Even the language community below 10000 were also unrecognized by the Census of India is a major reason of language shift and degeneration. (Devy: 2014: 6-7)

Zone of Cultural Forgetting

In post colonial India, many minority culture and the knowledge hidden in these languages are undermined, even forced to forget the heritage and cultural tradition that was shaped collectively by their ancestors. According to Darder, Schools, as zones of cultural forgetting, powerfully defy memories of belonging, erase cultural histories, erode cultural community ties, and gradually strip away our children’s intimate cultural bonds to ancestral knowledge, leaving them defenseless against Western epistemic ides (Paraskeva 2011; Santos 2007) Darder : 2016 )

Tribal knowledge system is constructed in their eco- cultural climate is discarded and the superiority of institutional knowledge has been promoted to serve the few and thus a deliberate social discrimination is created. A syndrome of self denial of one’s own knowledge, identity, language and culture in one hand and assimilation to a system dominated by the power increase the socio- economic disparity resulted with many socio – ecological hazards, finally violence and regional disintegration.

Linguistic Diversities in Odisha

The sporadic mushrooming of   mother tongue based teaching  and learning in school education initiated  by some states during last two decades were a token   attempt to fulfill the norms of the government. In some states,  the government are apathetic with a plea that the tribal communities  are interested to mainstream so they don’t introduce tribal languages in schools. The logic behind this argument  is that when the nontribal children will study in the mainstream language and become educated, get better opportunity,  why do the tribal children study in MT and become chaprasis? This argument is equally advocated by the nontribal teachers and administrators who   historically believe in an ethnic superiority and want to dominate the tribal. Some educated tribal people also support this agenda since they are also the product of colonial model of education. Both of these groups don’t have any understanding on the benefit of learning in mother tongue.

The tribal organization’s demand  for inclusion of their languages  in the school system took shape during 1990-  2010, since the District Primary Education Programme ( DPEP)and also in  Sarva Siksha Abhiyan( SSA, Government of India proposed for tribal education in   mother tongue of the child. During this period some states initiated the education of ethnic minorities though children’s mother tongue which created the future of multilingual education in India.

Taking Odisha in  context I would like to enumerate  how the language shift has taken place by the state education system through its  restrictive language education policy that resulted with linguistic genocide and deprived the children from their linguistic  rights, vis a vis, destroy the cultural bio- diversity and minority language. The result is out of 62 scheduled tribes , now  only 32 ethnic languages are alive , and rest 30 ethnic languages have assimilated to Odia language.( Odisha volume 22, PLSI, Orient Blackswan  2014)

Odisha efforts to promote multilingual education tribal area schools

The tribal literacy of Odisha clearly indicates the growth rate of tribal’s over three decades. The literacy rate of Orissa in 2001 is 63.08(75.36 males and 50.51 female) and the tribal literacy rate is below the state average. Over a period of ten years the growth of literacy among the tribal is 26 %.According to the Census of India, literacy rate among tribal people in Orissa is 37.37. Of the literates, males constitute 51% and females 23.47%.


Tribal community constitutes about 23 percent of the total population of Orissa. There are 62 scheduled tribes with their ethno-linguistics variations distributed in three parts of the state. Out of 314 Blocks 118 Blocks are with more than 50 percent tribal population and have been identified as Tribal Sub-plan Blocks. According to the 2001 Census total tribal children in the state of 6-14 age groups are about 17 lakhs out of which 13 lakhs are enrolled in the schools. Enrollment of ST children in primary is 11 lakhs and upper primary is 1.8 lakh.

Linguistic Minority children in the schools of Orissa as found from the Child Census-2005 is as followings.

  1. Literacy of tribal people in Orissa is 39
  2. Female (tribal) literacy is below 21%
  3. 16% children of total tribal children population of the state is out of school (2.59  million)
  4.  Out of school tribal children constitute 90% of total out of school tribal children in 11 districts of Orissa.
  5. Dropout of tribal children from school is about 51% in primary stage and 69% in upper primary stage.
  6. Dropout of tribal girls in some districts is about 85%
  7.  Over 40% of all out of school children are tribal although tribal constitute 22% of state population.
  8. 11,479 schools have 20+ students of linguistic minority group.
  9. Number of tribal children in these schools is 673,622.
  10. In pre-school education, language of the children is not introduced which an impediment in language is teaching in primary schools.


Schools with linguistic Minority students

There are 19479 schools in the state having 20 plus students with linguistic minority group. Total numbers of such students in these schools are 6.7 lakhs. Nearly 2/3 of them are belonging to Santali (58287) and other tribal language group (3.9 lakhs). Ten districts of Orissa account for over 90 percent of these tribal languages group of children. These ten districts have concentration of 90 percent tribal children with linguistic variation. Surprisingly along with Kalahandi these 10 districts also have 80 percent of the out-of-school ST children. The dropouts of tribal children is 80 percent in the areas where the percentage of children is 90 percent in these 10 districts.

Language Education in DPEP (1996-2003)

Experiencing MLE

In 1996- 2001, the state government of Odisha, under the aegis of DPEP adopted tribal education as a part of addressing the disadvantaged groups. The National Policy of   Education 1986 and the Programme of Action 1992 was the guiding principle for adopting such a programme. The POA 1992 writes, “Children from tribal communities will be taught through the mother tongue in the earlier stages of primary schools. Teaching learning materials in the tribal languages will be prepared   providing for a transition to the regional languages by class III.”(POA: 1992: 6). Based on the above mandate, six tribal languages were adopted and bilingual tribal- Odia primers were prepared and introduced in the schools. Additionally, programmes like attitudinal training of teachers on tribal language and culture, linguistic survey and mapping, community youth volunteers to teach in tribal languages were taken up. Some community mobilization programme was organized to sensitize the tribal   society to create an atmosphere in favour of mother tongue based education.

 The government of India department of Elementary Education and Literacy, under DPEP scheme, sported to promote education of tribal children in Odisha. To start with   Saora language was adopted in which the teachers from Saora community were trained on language pedagogy and multilingual Education, use of folklore in the primer, and learning  skill in mother tongue and second language. Erai Erai – the first multilingual Primer in Saora Odia language was prepared. About 40   Saora and non Saora primary teachers were trained on curriculum and text book preparation. The focus  was to represent the Saora culture in the curriculum and text books to learn Saora knowledge system  and learn language learning skill like reading and writing in a way through which the Saora students and  nontribal teachers can interact in both the languages to achieve the desired learning. The uniqueness of this programme  was that for the first time the primary teachers of Saora community got an opportunity to learn the importance of language pedagogy  and undergone a process where they prepared text book a and teacher training for their own language. They also used this text book in 400 schools. Introduction of Erai Erai – 

Class I primer in the schools with   Saora monolingual children created a space to learn Saora and Odia. Teachers knew that any knowledge can be learnt in any language and   one language is not opposed to the other. Saora was a language of deprivation became the opportunity after it was supported by the Center and the state. Led by Saora, other six languages were adopted by the state. These are Santali, Kui, Kuvi, Koya, Bonda and Juang. Bi-lingual primers were prepared in these languages and the materials were introduced in the targeted schools. But   the training of teachers, field monitoring and coordination was lacking for which the programme was though implemented it was almost half dead. Lack of political will and the whimsical decision of beurocrats did not whole heartedly promoted the tribal Education programme.(Jhingran:2005).Only the tribal teachers knowing tribal languages used these books and the students were  taught in MT and Odia as a part of dual language maintenance programme. Literally speaking, had the Saora experience not taken up in 1997-2000, the current Multilingual Education programme in Odisha could not have been made possible. It was the spade work during 1997- 2000 in DPEP, that tempted the state government to undertake Multilingual Education in 10 tribal languages during  2005-2016.

Multilingual Education (MLE) in SSA

Orissa Primary Education Programme Authority (OPEPA) in Orissa during 2005-06 again decided to regenerate the tribal languages. The intention to provide equitable quality education maintaining the linguistic diversities abiding by the national curriculum framework. The operational definition of Multilingual Education in the NCF- 2005 and the position paper on SC/ST education helped a lot to concretize the MLE programme based on the experience of bilingual education programme undertaken in 1996-2004. In 2006 the state Tribal Advisory Committee chaired by the Chief Minister approved 10 ten tribal languages for adoption in MLE. The languages with majority population are Santal, Saora, Munda, Koya, Kui, Kuvi, Koya, Kishan, Oram, and the primitive tribal groups ( PTG ) are. Juang and Bonda. Out of these Santali language has achieved its status as scheduled language and rest of the languages are nonscheduled languages.

Curriculum and instructional materials were prepared by the tribal teachers with the support of MLE experts and community resource support. Block Resource centre coordinators (BRCC) and Cluster Resource Center Coordinators (CRCC) were trained on MLE approach with resource group from DIET. In 2006-07, 154 schools in 10 languages were adopted in 26 Blocks of 8 districts. Total 4000 children were enrolled in these schools. Teachers were from the same language group and they were trained up in MLE approach. In 2008-2009 another 200 schools and 100 Santal schools are added into MLE programme.

Srujan a community mobilization programme and Rupantar – Attitudinal training programme for teachers are also planned to be conducted across the tribal areas in the State.(Mishra: 2012)

During  2016, the  number of MLE  schools in the state  is 2300 with 3400 language teachers  for 21 languages serving 1,43,000 students with  linguistic diversities.( Source OPEPA,MLE Unit)


The idea of using mother tongue in school education was prescribed by the state academic agency to translate the Odia text book in ten languages and teach the children in their mother tongue to Odia as target language by submerging the mother tongues of tribal communities. The idea was drawn from the colonial mindset to civilizing the savage, like that of the European was civilizing the indigenous people. The post colonial administration still was unable to accommodate the spirit of constitutional mandate. The academic domain of the country was unprepared to take over the responsibilities of adopting many languages in classrooms. This subtractive approach led to language shift. Indian multilingual village or city accommodates many language speakers without any social tension, but in school it becomes a zone of conflicting identities between teacher and students.

The state system was in favour of using MT not more than in class I and II, assuming that within two years the children would learn Odia and then there was no need for mother tongue in class III onwards. The existing state text books were also reviewed in the light of tribal children’s cultural and linguistic context and it was revealed that the values and morals of the texts were written to fit in to the social situation of nontribal children. Thus the tribal children were deprived of their community language and knowledge. The academicians pleaded that tribal language will not be used after they learn Odia. But the counter argument was that, shall we stop talking in Odia after learning English?

A resource pool from the tribal communities were identified, were trained on the basics of MLE theory and approaches, made them understand the importance of cultural bio diversity and language pedagogy. The tribal resource persons, prepared teaching – learning materials for children in their mother tongue using local knowledge , also prepared teachers for MLE schools ,created space for in-service teachers on language pedagogy. The state also took steps strengthening the DIETs, to provide academic support and research. Odisha government provided its support to tribal languages in school education that aimed at learning of children from their cultural context.

This MLE groups response was clear to understand that language maintenance is necessary than language transition / shift and one must not aspire to learn a language at the cost of other. Most of the arguments were drawn from the discussion made with the tribal teachers. Once they knew the why and how of MLE they understood that how their maintenance of language in socio- linguistic situation is inevitable for their cognitive development and identity formation. They also realized that they have the constitutional rights /human rights to provide learning to their children. Thus the language maintenance for curricular knowledge in schools was helpful to revitalize the minority languages in school. But unless the language is a living and spoken one it is difficult to revitalize and sustain in the community. Since most of the tribal languages in Odisha are in a living condition in the community, it is possible to revitalize. In spite of it , the younger generation tribal youths adopted to modern college education, though speak their communicative language , they are unaware of the rich oral tradition and knowledge inherent in their mother tongue. Thus there are some moribund languages found among the tribal of Odisha, e.g. Juang, Oroam, Kishan and Koya.

MLE was well imagined programme encompassing the local knowledge,   oral tradition, social customs and social organization, material culture, fairs and festivals, ecology and the knowledge system as a whole that is in   the cultural practice of the tribal communities. The cultural and social curriculum were collected and discussed to understand the cultural methods of  learning of the communities across time and space, and then these knowledge’s were used in shaping the tribal specific curriculum for class I to class V.The curriculum and teaching   learning materials were prepared based on the guiding principles of National Curriculum Framework 2005. Thus ten independent culturally responsive curriculum and text materials were prepared by the teachers adopting the methods of   learning and teaching that is connected to the experience of the children. The uniqueness of these text materials represented the cultural world views of respective tribes. Children deprived of their language and knowledge got back their voices. They could also found the classroom meaningful while interacting with their teachers speaking in their own languages.

Methods and Teaching and Learning Approach

The National and International resource persons on MLE supported to Odisha programme in the field of curriculum and text book development, also in teacher training. The theory of MLE was to introduce the mother tongue as a subject from class I to class V and also as a medium for the subjects like mathematics and environment science up to class III in mother tongue. From Class IV – V both mother tongue and state language is applied to practice two way communications between the teachers and students. Tribal knowledge system and social curriculum was the foundation for introduction of MLE curriculum and approaches of preparation of text books drawn from the ideas of NCF 2005. The methods of language teaching and learning was thus based on two track approach, the first one was meaning and communication and second track was on accuracy and correctness. This corresponds to the BICS as track I and CALPS for track II adopted from the theory of Jim Cummins.( Though this terminology was adopted during the preparation of materials, there was a serious debate about the relevance of these two track approach. The thematic approach in representing the cultural calendar of the tribes based on their space and time in annual school calendar was adopting the form and content from the community oral tradition after editing them. The methods of teaching were a blend of both cultural knowledge and learning language and mathematics skills. Tribal teachers regained their cultural treasure to make them a part of curricular and classroom pedagogy. They also became the first generation tribal teachers from their community to prepare curriculum and text books for their own community that gave them a sense of glory and recognition. The tribal social organizations actively took part with these teachers to promote their languages in school curriculum. The major shift in this programme was to accommodate the historically disadvantaged languages and knowledge of the tribal in the school system backed up by the state government with a strong political will, that helped to regain their language and culture in a government system. The advantages of the introduction of the culture and language in MLE gave an identity to the tribal organizations and also the nontribal teachers and administrators found this programme as a part of new educational initiatives and became a part of the programme.


Number of tribal children

The class wise number of tribal children in 61373 schools of Odisha during 2005 was as followings. Out of this 817711 student from class I to class III were facing serious learning difficulties due to gap of home language and school languages. Placement of teachers and posting of teachers from tribal areas was taken up in the MLE schools. First of all the tribal teachers from tribal communities eager to serve their own areas were invited and they were transferred to MLE schools. In case of Bonda and Juang the tribal youths having Matriculation certificate were engaged by the District Collector recommended by the Village Education Committee.

Teachers from tribal communities were trained on theory of mother tongue and multilingual education, importance of indigenous knowledge and ecology , the need for understanding of language pedagogy and language acquisition in first and second language, learning skill of language and mathematics and classroom transaction processes. Besides, language attitude, tribal nontribal values and culture, strength and weaknesses of tribal culture were also discussed in the training of teachers. The idea of critical pedagogy in order for the self assertion of tribal in the context of present day politics and power relation and the objective of maintaining tribal language and culture in community and school were some of the topics for the teacher training

Odisha MLE programme was primarily minority language dominant programme where from Class I to class IIII about 80- 90 percent mother tongue was used and in Class III and IV a balanced language programme was adopted by using both MT and L2 equally.

The Odisha MLE programme was a late exist progranme that ensured 8 years of MT based education from the age group of 3- 11 from the Early Childhood Care Center to primary stage in 10 languages.

MLE in Odisha was a well planned programme with a lot of intersecting areas like equity, quality , ecology, language, identity, local knowledge, indigenous education and language pedagogy, and community representation. A complete culturally sensitive curriculum is framed in each language taking the cultural context and a transformation from cultural theme to curricular theme was prepared adopting the learning skills of language and mathematics to facilitate the children to regain their experiential knowledge in schools

Started in 2006-07 academic year with 154 schools for ten tribal languages, this programme is now adopted in 2300 government schools with 3400 teachers from the respective languages, providing text books and training to the teacher in respective languages. Now the state has adopted 21 tribal languages and about 1, 43,000 students are taught in their mother tongue and other languages.

Role of Tribal Organization in Revitalizing the Language and Culture

Realizing the   threat to their land, language  and identity tribal society and organization( like the  Santal Samaj, Bharat Munda Samaj, Gond Mahasabha, Saora Mandali, Kui  Samaj,Koya Samaj and many more tribal ) emerged and started their   movement for socio- economic justice. They used their language and culture as the symbols of their group solidarity and identity. They demanded for inclusion of their language in the VIIIth schedule, and also introduce their language in the school education as the medium of instruction. These   tribal organizations started social movements to revitalize their culture and languages. The modern educated tribal led the movement for their political and cultural identity in which they used language as their symbol of solidarity movement. They also conducted regular meetings, submitted their demand to the state and district governments, called agitations   and padyatras, published their awareness literature in their own language and in their own scripts, prepared cheap books, DVD and films in their languages. The most important step the tribal organizations took for their language survival is opening of community language schools in Santali, Saora, Ho and Munda and Kondh (Kui) language to unify tribal through their language and literacy. Though these organizations were not supported by the   government, the community bears the responsibilities of managing the organizations with a hope to get their languages in school education and get identity in social communication.

Besides, the tribal languages got space in the All India Radio and Television, staging drama in local languages. Sahitya Academy also promoted the nonscheduled languages in promotion of literature and literary wards. Publication of books and journals in local languages, preparation of documentary films has also been made by the state governments and private film   makers. At present the digital media has helped the tribal languages to prepare font and also developing web sites to disseminate tribal languages across the globe.


Study of MLE by the NCERT

Looking at  the state initiative of  MLE in Odisha, the NCERT, New Delhi   commissioned a study on MLE in Odisha during  2009- 2011 adopting 100 MLE schools to compare with  100 non MLE schools in ten tribal languages. Though the MLE in Odisha was in its infancy, just had completed Class I and II in 2009, the study was too early to initiate. However the study presented with   a well researched programme evaluation from which it was revealed that enrollment and retention of tribal children has increased. Children were engaged meaningfully with the teachers in the classrooms. Cultural materials of the communities were   used in the text books and teacher training. The result of the study was encouraging. The report reads as follows; children in MLE School received significantly higher achievement score than children in non MLE schools. (NCERT: 2011: 41) 

In July 2014 a policy   was notified by the state   government to continue MLE programme with strong teacher training, monitoring and coordination with assessment and research. After the policy was introduced   more schools were identified and more teachers from language communities were appointed, but the pedagogical and monitoring side of MLE is still unresolved.

Aftermath in Odisha

Government of Odisha fulfilled the requirements in MLE programme. The policy clearly  But the academic side of MLE in the classrooms and teacher professionalism remained weak after  2012.Teh frequent change of officer without any choice of expertise and interest, teachers lack of support from the state   academic domain, responding the recurrent issues and challenges arisen in the field, lack of monitoring and coordination, make the programme weak. If proper steps are not taken in time, it is likely to slow down the learning of tribal children in the classroom, since  learning depends on constant interest and eternal vigilance. 

As regards to the policy with the implementation of MLE in the state of  Odisha and Chhattishgarh it may be said that, Odisha government did not have a  policy till 2014, and believed in the plan and implementation realizing the educational needs of the  tribal children and after 8 years of implementation the state was convinced that it has to be supported by the state for  its sustainability. It was clear that in many states of India MLE is used without proper planning, lacking understanding of its  importance in the long run, lack proper vision to make this language education inclusive to foster a cultural democracy and maintain cultural diversities  in schools.

The above discussion contains the impact of language adoption in school education to revitalize the minority languages. Recognition of minority   languages in schools is a marker of ethnic identity. Historically, when these languages were marginalized. The community is still in its initial stage to understand the importance of their language inclusion in schools. The nontribal teachers and administrators, even the political leaders are also   at the cross road either to adopt MT in school education or introduce English in later stage. When English is introduced in class I without providing trained English language teachers, the threat of ignoring one’s own language in one h and , and inability to master a foreign language that is not   used in a social domain is big moral and theoretical dilemma in which there is a need of clear practice based policy and not just introduce the policy per se.

 (I am thankful to Prof.Anvita  Abbi, Ex- Professor of Linguistics Department ,  JNU, New Delhi and Prof.Ramakant Agnihotri, Linguist Ex -Head of  Linguistic Department University of Delhi for his kind suggestion   to organize my thought and write this paper)

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