At the beginning of this year, the government introduced pre-primary textbooks in five indigenous languages to facilitate the education of indigenous children in their mother tongue.
Seven months on, that initiative seems to be failing as, in most schools particularly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region, teachers are still using Bangla as the medium of instruction.
“My teacher teaches everything in Bangla,” said a six-year-old Chakma student at Katachhari Government Primary School in Rangmati.
When asked if she could read and write in her native Chakma language, she said no. “I cannot write any letter of the Chakma alphabet.”
A lack of proper training is the core reason behind this problem, said several teachers.
“We are fluent in speaking our native tongue, but most of us cannot properly read and write in our language,” said Bashundhara Tripura, teacher of Mohalchhari Government Primary School, 8km from the Khagrachhari township. “We are not trained to teach in our language even though Tripura is one of the indigenous languages in which pre-primary textbooks have been introduced this year.”
In her school, children from Chakma, Marma and Tripura communities were all seen in the same classroom being taught in Bangla.
Most indigenous teachers in Rangamati and Khagrachhari districts said they did not receive any training on teaching in their mother tongue from the government.
“We may have textbooks in our native tongue, but without training it is not possible for us to teach our students because we struggle with its written form,” said Shanti Kumar Tripura, pre-primary teacher at Taillapahar Government Primary School in Rangamati.
He further said he had developed his own method of teaching which involves hefty use of Bangla.
If this situation persists, the government will hardly be able to succeed in providing education in indigenous languages, commented the teachers.
A severe lack of coordination
“Indigenous teachers have not received the training required to teach in their own languages because of the lack of coordination between the National Curriculum and Textbook Board [NCTB] and the Directorate of Primary Education,” commented Mathura Bikash Tripura, member of an ethnic minority language writers’ panel.
Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, blamed the government for not making proper arrangements before introducing pre-primary education in indigenous languages.
“It seems the government took this initiative only to improve its image,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “The authorities concerned did not arrange for the training for all the teachers. Many of the teachers do not know how to read or write in their languages, they are only fluent in speaking.”
Sanjeeb, who is also a member of the NCTB national committee that oversaw the publication of textbooks in indigenous languages, further added that schools with indigenous students did not have enough indigenous teachers.
The lack of coordination does not end here.
In Bandarban’s Lama upazila, there are 86 government primary schools that teach students from Marma, Mro, Tripura and Chakma communities, yet the schools have received textbooks in Marma language only.
The 15 non-government primary schools in the upazila have not received textbooks in any of the indigenous languages at all.
Md Zahed Sarwar, headmaster of Nunarbil Government Model Primary School in Lama, said the lone indigenous teacher in his school had no training to teach in his language. “We have recommended his name for the training,” he added.
In Rangamati, Primary Education Officer Rowshan Ali said a total of 382 teachers had been given a two-week training in teaching so far. “More teachers will receive the training in their native tongue soon.”
Aim of the initiative
The government started distributing textbooks in five indigenous languages – Chakma, Tripura, Marma, Garo, and Sandri – not only to facilitate learning of indigenous children in their own languages, but also to curb the dropout rate of the indigenous primary school students.
According to a 2012 study on indigenous students, conducted by NGO Manusher Jonno Foundation, the average dropout rate in primary level was 59% in the CHT region.
Primary education in indigenous languages is one of the conditions in the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord which was signed in 1997.
It took the government two decades to meet the condition and provide textbooks to pre-primary students in their mother tongue.
Our Bandarban Correspondent S Bashu Das, Khagrachhari Correspondent Nuruchsafa Manik and Rangamati Correspondent Bijoy Dhar contributed to this story