An important goal of education is to impart the universally recognized moral values to the individual and integrate these with the ethnic-specific eco-centric values, cultural norms, and worldview. When this is not done, a gap between the education system and the society results. This gap is often a result of using a language other than the language of the society as the medium of instruction. The curriculum, syllabus, teaching methodology and content of the lessons not suited to the genius of the society contribute to this gap that leads to an increase in the school dropout rate among the minority linguistic and less-privileged communities in India. A nation that is inherently multilingual, multiethnic and culturally pluralistic must meet this challenge if the rulers wish to deliver justice to all.2. RECONCILIATION BETWEEN ETHNIC-SPECIFIC LANGUAGES AND LANGUAGE OF WIDER COMMUNICATION
The Gudalur valley, in the Nilgiri district of South India, is situated in the trijunction hill tracts bordering the three Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamilnadu. This place is the home for five tribal communities, namely, the PaNiyaas, the MuLLukuRumbaas, the BeTTakuRumbaas, the KaaTTunaayakkaas, and the IruLaas. These ethnic communities speak their respective languages in their homes, namely, PaNiya, MuLLukuRumba, BeTTakuRumba, KaaTTunaayakka, and IruLa. In addition, a sizable number of non-tribal populations living in and around Gudalur speak Tamil, Malayalam, and Kannada.
In their contacts with the outside world, they recognize the implicit low status they and their parents are accorded, probably because of their low economic status. This sociolinguistic situation seems to contribute to a psychological setback for these children. They are not afforded any help to develop smooth switch over from their home language to the language of wider communication, that is, Tamil.
Despite such a handicap, the children do acquire some spoken Tamil because of their parental contacts outside their home domain. Lesser the parental contact with the outside world (there are many families who never have an opportunity to venture out) weaker is their skill in comprehending and using the language of wider communication. However, even in this bleak situation, tribal children could develop some competence in Tamil because of the close cognate relationship between the preliterate tongues and Tamil. Their competence, if any, is restricted to a smattering of spoken Tamil.
When they are enrolled in the local school, they are required to learn a different type of Tamil: written Tamil that is rather distinct from spoken Tamil. The rules of conversion between the two are easier for children whose mother tongue or language of childhood experience is Tamil. Tribal children have great difficulty in recognizing, mastering and using these rules of conversion.
The initial knowledge of spoken Tamil these tribal children have is totally inadequate to learn the formal variety of Tamil in school. So, a child coming from a preliterate society (tribal community) is learning Tamil only as a second language in his school. In this context, tribal children experience a total psychological setback in the social environment as well as in the school environment.
This setback has certain consequences for their personality development. Tribal children withdraw themselves more heavily from outside world contact than Tamil speaking children. They become least interested in going to school. They develop non-cooperative behavior and attitude and become less communicative. Because there is no proper parental and social guidance to overcome such consequences, tribal children often enrolled in the school system much after the normal age for school admission. Parents seem to wait until their children are capable of handling the school on their own in some sense. Dropout rate is much higher because of total incompatibility between the students and the use of language in the textbooks, language used by the teachers in the school, and the contents of the text that are often not eco-friendly. In other words, the contents of the textbooks do not have any relationship to the tribal children. In Gudalur Taluk, there are around 20,000 tribal persons living in fairly remote areas, spread over an area of approximately 740 square kilometers. The literacy rate in these areas is as low as 5%.
3. BUILD A STRONG NATION BY LOVING NEIGHBORSI've been personally disturbed by this alarming situation for nearly twenty-five years. My doctoral dissertation was on Urali people living in the areas adjacent to the tri-junction tribal belt. I've spelt out some of my concerns in my earlier article (See Language in India, 1:1, March 2001, http://www.languageinindia.com). While I enjoy describing the structures of various languages, I also have a desire to use such information in a practical way to help people. We must love our neighbors as ourselves. My desire has been to help these tribal people not only to acquire literacy but also to retain it and use it effectively for the betterment of their lives through effective communication. So, we at the Central Institute of Indian Languages joined hands with the Linguistics Departments of Annamalai, Bharathiar, and Tamil Universities to develop a format for a pre-school textbook in collaboration with two non-governmental voluntary organizations, ACCORD and Gudalur Adivaasi MunneRRa Sangam.
4. A FORMAT FOR A PRE-SCHOOL TRIBAL LANGUAGE TEXTBOOK
The format had the following objectives:
Though the PaNiya pre-primary textbook is to be framed in such a way that it can reduce the psychological mismatch between the tribal community and the education system. It should take advantage of the cognate or genetic relationship between PaNiya language and the language of wider communication, Tamil.5. FOUR STAGES OF IMPLEMENTATION
Keeping in mind the objectives listed above, the pre-primer on PaNiya was prepared and launched in four stages.
Stage-I Materials production and curriculum formulation:
Four important steps were followed in this stage:
Language analysis and script formation
Linguists, educationists and tribal resource persons reviewed the already available grammars on PaNiya. A suitable script for the language was devised using the Tamil script. This PaNiya script is very close to the script used in the language of wider communication, namely, Tami. Only a few modifications were found necessary. For instance, modifications were found necessary to represent certain voiced consonants that are not distinctly represented in the Tamil script. For example, PaNiya language have voiced consonant phonemes such as /b, d, D, and g/ that cannot be represented with the available letters of Tamil. In such instances, the appropriate letters that represent similar sounds in Tamil are taken as a base, and the shape of the Tamil letters is modified to assume a new sound value. Hence in PaNiya, for the sounds /b, d, D, and g/ the modified letters are /b, d, D, and g/ respectively. The voiceless sounds /p, t, T, and k/ are represented in PaNiya by the equivalent Tamil letters p, t, T, and k, but their corresponding voiced sounds are represented through a modification of the voiceless base letters of Tamil. The sound /j/ is represented by the Grantha character /j/.
This step for the preparation of a tribal language primer is very important because of the following reasons. If meaningful sound units are not represented orthographically, it will be very difficult for the teachers as well as for the students to teach and pronounce the letters properly. Adoption of the basic dominant language script is encouraged because the tribal children have automatic accessibility to the dominant language script through the signboards and other public writings available in their environment. Hence, it is very helpful if we adopt the dominant language script with relevant modifications if necessary so that the transfer of the tribal language script to the dominant language script in future will be smooth and will involve less strain for the children.
Selection of the ecofriendly themes
The ecosystem in which the tribal children are born and brought up was studied in detail to provide the relevant content and context to the lessons. We aimed at linking the proposed curriculum with the environment of the child. The major eco-friendly themes selected for treatment in the textbook are rain, animals, sounds, forest and garden, works and handicrafts, etc. Aspects of science, arts, numeracy, literacy, etc, are taught using the eco-friendly themes.
This kind of learning creates opportunities to understand their own environment, and to increase the learners' spirit of enquiry. It increases the ability to interact with others, and to raise questions and provide answers on through self-effort. It helps the learners to be more creative and productive in their learning process.
Broadly speaking, each selected theme comprises of the following components: A language component, a science component, craft activities, pre-numeracy and numeracy components, and art activities.
Functioning of each unit
The content took the form of a song, folk tale, a riddle or a proverb drawn from the environment and the culture of PaNiya community. For example, while introducing the theme of rain, it is first introduced through a song, story, proverb or discussion. The teacher then finds out from the children all that they already know about the topic and then teaches the children all the other aspects that they would like to know and learn about. The teacher is expected to use different ways and methods to expose the children to the various aspects of the topic. Some of the methods recommended for adoption include collecting materials from the environment, observing different situations, interacting with others in the community, working as a group in the class, experimenting and working out solutions silently and so on.
In this process, the teacher introduces the words at the spoken level. The very same words will be used with specific reference to script learning as the activities move forward. With a lot of emphasis on associating words with relevant meaningful activities, children become familiar with these words that will be used for script learning. Hence, reading or writing letters and words become much easier, and through activities these are repeated adequately help internalize the words. Additional activities to help reading and writing have been included in such a way that the children see them not as a separate activity but as something within the idea of the topic. Hence, the method of teaching is essentially to start with what the child knows, what he/she is already familiar with. The learning begins from there.
Involving the community during the preparation of the textbook
PaNiya tribal persons were identified and selected from different age groups living in and around Gudalur. These individuals were actively involved in community work and in the community co-operative society. They were told that they would be engaged in the preparation of a suitable textbook in their language for the benefit of PaNiya children. They are the authors of the textbook and we are there only to help them achieve this task for their children's sake.
A second category of individuals helped the authors of the textbook to capture the old language forms, concepts, folktales, beliefs etc. They were asked to identify the new language forms and concepts that have entered their speech as a result of their expanding contacts with the Tamil speaking communities they have come into contact. They were encouraged to evolve an approximate standard PaNiya speech form that can be used in the textbook so that the textbook would be comprehensible to people from all the PaNiya villages.
Although it was not easy to explain these ideas, the PaNiya participants quickly understood the purpose of the workshop. Through a process of trial and error, we were able to arrive at the sound sequences, words, grammaticality of the sentences, concepts, folk tales, songs etc. that can fit in the themes selected. The lessons were written with appropriate eco-friendly visuals.
Presentation of the text
Each theme was allotted eight pages. Bottom portion of every page presents clear instructions to the teacher as to how he or she should handle the theme. For instance, when the theme related to garden is being handled, the teacher should start with giving the song/story from the culture and cover all the five learning components, namely, language learning component, science component, craft activities, pre-numeracy and numeracy components, and art activities. While covering the above said components, as per the instructions presented in the text, the teachers are expected to do the following.
STAGE-II Printing the textbook.
Care was taken that the size of the book was considerably bigger. The letters are reasonably bigger. All the themes-related pictures are as far as possible presented in multiple natural colors.
STAGE-III Training the teachers.
Once the textbooks were available in print, the teachers were given an orientation about the book and how they use the textbook in their classes. This was a very important step because the attitude of the teacher and how he presents the textbook to PaNiya children will greatly impact the outcome of learning. Non-tribal teachers were motivated to know the tribal culture and their language. Also, they were informed about the type of preparation they should make before going to the class because activities in the class involve collection of many materials that are necessary to present and teach the themes. Also, sufficient thought must be given to class organization, anticipating problem situations, unexpected questions, etc. Only then will it be possible for the teacher to reach out to every single child in an effective way. During the training period all the ethnic-specific stories and songs that have to be used to introduce a theme were given separately with tips for proper pronunciation and intonation. In addition to this training, the teachers were taught to acquaint themselves with and analyze and evaluate the teaching methods adopted here and to solve problems that they may come across in the classroom. Provision also was made so that this teacher training would be an on going process, as the teachers were new to this kind of teaching. They might encounter many problems and need constant reinforcement. Moreover, as feed back from teachers, students and the community begin to come in, many aspects of this enterprise may change and teachers may need to be constantly put through refresher courses.
STAGE-IV Introduction of the textbook in the schools.
The textbook was introduced in several schools of Gudalur through Gudalur Adivaasi MunneRRa Sangam. As a result there was total involvement of the community in the project.
6. EVALUATION AND INFERENCE
During the process of preparation of the pre-primary reader, we had involved many PaNiya community people and had incorporated all their names as the authors of the book. This involvement of PaNiya individuals in the preparation of the textbook made a tremendous impact on the community as a whole. The community recommended a title for the textbook after discussion among themselves. The name suggested by the community is PaTTola, which means guardian spirit. As per the folk tradition, the name paTTola is a sanctified name because it means the guardian spirit of the ethnic community as whole, individual members of the community and the guardian spirit of their dwelling place. This readiness to adopt this textbook as their own and to give it a name that fits in well with their own ethos shows the extent of community involvement. Subsequently at every stage starting from releasing the book to teaching it in the schools, the society's involvement was total. For instance, there was a mass movement initiated from within the community for bringing the children to school for studying their own language. Even the adult illiterates were impressed and convinced to get themselves educated in the written form of their own language that would subsequently make them literates in the dominant language of the area.