A Project to Promote Reading in Tribal Languages

Saurabh Kumar writes an excellent article about our recently launched books in tribal languages, the need for books in tribal languages,

Via livemint

The first words a child learns are usually in the mother tongue. In the case of tribal communities, children would learn the language through the oral tradition, by interacting with the family and the community, since they had no script to work with. At school, however, they would be taught in the language of the mainstream—a difficult transition. Bangalore-headquartered Pratham Books hopes to change this. On 27 June, in an initiative aimed at encouraging mother-tongue education, it launched a series of bilingual books called Adikahani. To start with, this 10-book series has been published in Odia and the languages used by four tribal communities in Odisha (Kui, Saura, Munda and Juanga), in the Odia script. “They are the first-ever books for the reading pleasure of children in these languages,” says Manisha Chaudhry, editor, Pratham Books.
Since the books are being published under an open licence, anyone can translate them into another language.
“Well-intentioned policies often come to a halt due to a lack of meaningful learning material,” says Ganesh Devy, a linguist and founder trustee of the BRPC. There have been attempts by the Union government to devise an early childhood care and education (ECCE) curriculum, but these have focused mainly on translating mainstream manuals into tribal languages. “This is not always suitable because tribal cultures have a different conception of nurturing a child,” says Chaudhry. The Adikahani series, for children aged 8-12, is by first-time authors. The initiative began taking shape when a writing workshop was organized in Bhubaneswar in July last year by Pratham Books and IgnusERG, a group of professionals who work to develop education modules and curriculum for students of preschool and upper-primary levels, along with the Bernard van Leer Foundation, a funding body with an interest in mother-tongue education. 
“Tribal languages are full of imaginative stories and poems,” says Devy, who believes that educating a child in the mother tongue has emotive and cognitive value—it enables a child to process what is taught much better.
“It all began when we were trying to develop curricula and reading material for early childhood education using tribal cultural resources,” says Subir Shukla, principal coordinator, IgnusERG. Not enough material was available. Many of the people from the communities seemed to have forgotten most of the old fables. 
Shukla says they looked for people who were 50 years old or above, had worked in the non-profit sector, or were teachers. They were trained for six-eight months in writing stories. Finally, 18 of them, all tribals who were associated with the ECCE, were selected to execute the project, using the Odia script to write stories for children in their language, rooted in their culture or in memorable incidents and animals. 
The next hurdle was illustrations. Not many artists from the tribal communities are trained or commercial artists. 
New Delhi-based Gopika Chowfla and her design studio stepped in here. “We did not want to impose our own perceptions,” says Chowfla, “so we held a workshop with the tribal artists to train them for book-ready illustrations and collect raw material to develop afterwards in our studio.” Eventually, they used Saura mural art for the illustrations. The art form is common to the four tribes covered, though they speak different languages. The main challenge, says Chowfla, was to put the illustrations in a story-board format with a visual language, since this was an unfamiliar format for most of the artists.

You can also buy the English-Hindi version of the books on our website.


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