Language Divide 2.0

Bringing you ‘Language divide 2.0’ – the contemporary version of linguistic barriers.

11-year-old Mango Science Radio subscriber from Ahmedabad: “Hi Bhaiya, I have some update, here is the science story that I created.”

Me: “Wow, sounds good. Can you share?”

11yo: “Sure”

One of our young listeners of Mango Science Radio heard a story by Obuli on “Science vs Technology” and narrated it with her own interpretation. While I enjoyed the child’s world-view listening to her narration, it created discomfort. It wasn’t the influence of her mother tongue or the grammatical mistakes that were a concern; it was her comprehension. So I immediately sent her a voice message in her language, explaining what Obuli’s story meant and also gave her an example that she could relate to.

Later, I asked her to narrate a new story from the example I had given and what she shared blew my mind. She had created a plot with some characters and brought out the explanation based on her own world-view. It was a day to cherish. It reminded me of my volunteering days when I used to teach computer science to kids in Vadavalli, Coimbatore who did their entire schooling in their regional language. I have always found kids to be excited about using computers, but one girl was reluctant and afraid. After some questioning and asking around, I found out that she was unable to read the words “Save” and”File”. This initially made me question her comprehension skills but on the following day when she started sharing the poems she had written in her regional language, I realised that the depth and delivery they possessed would not be possible without good observation and comprehension.

This and several other incidents in my education experience made me discover the “Language-divide”. The massive rise of English-medium schools across the country may have solved the Language-divide of the 80s but Language-divide 2.0 has come from the solution itself and is a concern that needs to be addressed.

Comprehension skills vs Communication skills

Imagine this scenario – a Tamil speaking 8yo, staying in an Urdu speaking community, going to an English medium school, learning mathematics from a teacher who speaks average English. The teacher and the children are forced to speak in English for better communication skills. How much of a struggle do both parties undergo, and for what reasons? Many schools charge a fine if any language other than English is spoken. It is understandable that as part of improving communication skills for any language, it is important to listen, speak, read, and write. But imagine the amount of comprehension chaos that the child has to go through, which eventually makes rote-learning the only viable option. Are we compromising comprehension skills for communication skills?


Nothing wrong in Learning multiple languages

The challenge is not with learning multiple languages or English itself. In fact, learning multiple languages builds perspectives and thinking skills. And English is now a global language, with worldly wisdom getting documented every second. So it is not about learning multiple languages, it is about the objective of learning a language.

The objective of language education is communication. In mathematics, science, and other non-language subjects, the objective is comprehension and reasoning. Why turn all these classes into forced language coaching classes?

The change needs to be made at the curriculum objective itself. With increasing standardization towards the global curriculum, the context and relevance are diluting. The child’s world-view which is rich with observations and experiences should not be negated.

The Future Is Already Here, It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed

In the quest for Curriculum development at Mango Education and this growing discomfort of standardization, fortunately, we came across the Teacher Induction program by Prema ma’am from Vidya Vanam.

Vidya Vanam is located at Annaikati with the majority of the children from the local Tribal community. They’ve been working on a contextual curriculum for years. Their vision of being glocal, that is, stay local yet think global has always been a source of wisdom.

Vidya Vanam focuses on fundamentals like Mathematics, Science, and other languages with a tri-lingual curriculum at the primary level. They hire teachers from the local tribal community who teach them using all the 3 languages they speak – Irula, Tamil, and English, thereby striking a balance between comprehension and communication skills. They also design their pedagogy, assessment, and lesson plans in a way that’s contextual and relates to the children’s surroundings. In the same way, the inspiring engineer Sonam Wangchuk is building a mountain curriculum with the local language to keep it contextual.

With the travel restriction, the COVID-19 situation has made us think local and buy local. Can we work on contextual glocal curriculum development with comprehension as the primary objective? With the internet and other technology, the freedom for curriculum development has opened up. Can we use this for creating a contextual curriculum, with the language that the child can understand?

Let’s use this academic year 2020 to ponder on this and ensure that every child from Ahmedabad to Ooty has the freedom to learn from their world-view and nurture their curiosity.

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