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Front Page No Books In Mother Tongue Ethnic kids drop out of schools

Published On: 2008-02-22
Front Page
No Books In Mother Tongue
Ethnic kids drop out of schools
Suranjith Deabnath
Gaganath Tripura dropped out of school six months ago and has no intention to go back. The ten-year old kid speaks only indigenous language of Bandarban and failed to cope with the lectures and textbooks in Bangla.

“I was a student of class IV at Kalapara Govt Primary School in Thanchi upazila. I lost interest to go to the school because there was no opportunity for me to learn my mother tongue,” he told The Daily Star.

“It’s very difficult for me to remember school education. I couldn’t practise my language at school, while Bangla taught by schoolteachers couldn’t be studied at home.”

Like Gaganath, many other indigenous children drop out of primary school every year due mainly to a lack of textbooks in indigenous languages.

Academicians say although Bangla-speaking people fought and sacrificed lives for their mother tongue no governments gave proper honour to the indigenous languages.

After half a century since the Mother Language Movement, indigenous students have yet to get textbooks in their own languages. This is the main reason behind the high dropout rates at primary level in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), academicians believe.

The dropout rate at primary level is very alarming as indigenous language-based education system has yet to be introduced.

According to findings by Indigenous Children’s Education Forum (ICEF), the dropout rate at early primary level is more than 33 percent as the schoolchildren fail to understand, read or write Bangla and don’t attend classes in fear.

Educationists stress on introduction of indigenous languages to impart education at primary level and meet the target to ensure basic education for all by 2015.

Over 5 lakh indigenous children belong to 45 ethnic communities across the country who have largely been deprived of the opportunity to participate in regular national education system.

The academicians observe educational issues of access, quality, and inclusion for minorities often manifest themselves in the lack of cultural relevancy of the national curriculum, the need to respect language diversity, and unavailability of trained and qualified teachers from ethnic communities as well as rigidity in stipend providing criteria and geographical location.

“Indigenous children should teach in first phase of primary education in their own language and gradually should be turned into Bangla medium. This will help to reduce dropout rate among the indigenous children,” said renowned educationist Prof Serajul Islam Choudhury.

The ICEF report styled “Many Languages, Once Voice” based on research shows 95 percent parents from indigenous communities prefer their children’s education in Bangla medium so that they can cope with outside situation and lead a better life.

Besides, 65 percent parents opined education for their children in their own languages side by side with Bangla.

The government has taken several measures under Primary Education Development Programme (PEDP-II) to check dropout at primary level across the country.

However, CHT areas have yet to come under the PEDP-II activities.

National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) Chairman Prof Dr M Masir Uddin said they have no plan to publish indigenous textbooks now.

“We’ll make curriculum and publish primary textbooks according to the direction of the Directorate of Primary Education (DPE),” he told The Daily Star.

Some non-government organisations in CHT are now working to write textbooks in indigenous language but at a very limited scale.

“We have made three types indigenous textbooks — Marma, Chakma and Tripura — for primary level. But we are working only in limited areas in three CHT districts. The government should take initiatives to publish indigenous textbooks which will help reduce the dropout rate at primary level,” said James Gomes, Chittagong regional director of Caritas, one of the NGOs, which published indigenous textbooks.

Angshahla Marma, headmaster of Daksepara Village Education Centre in Balipara, Thanchi, said students don’t leave school anymore after introducing indigenous textbooks.

He suggested educated indigenous people be recruited as teachers as Bangla-speaking teachers cannot clearly understand the feelings of indigenous children.

Bangladesh Adibashi [indigenous people] Forum has long been demanding introduction of education in indigenous languages, especially at primary level. But no governments have ever paid any heed.

“Primary education for indigenous children should be in our mother language. We have been demanding it for long. Without it you can’t expect to reduce dropout rate in CHT,” said Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of the Forum.

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