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EDUCATION FOR THE MINORITY CHILDREN
The minority is almost everywhere taken for granted. They are expected, if not required, to prove their loyalty to the Nation, State and other socio-political edifices built by the majority by constantly renewing their pledge to the majority socio-cultural symbols. Even then the majority treats them as less than equal, if not less than human. In the context of rapid socio-economic changes taking place in the multi-ethnic multi-cultural developing countries in the world, adherence to language as a means of cultural rootedness and group identity had become a growing phenomenon.
The minority is constantly under the threat of assimilation. When under the compulsions of economy the family structure is loosened, the social organization faces disintegration, the handicrafts and other finer cultural traits of distinctiveness face extinction, langue remains a major identity marker if not the only one and acts as the only window to the cultural past of a people. The demand for the recognition of minority languages and their use in education, administration and mass communication draws strength from this situation.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948 embodies the concepts of 'non-discrimination' and 'the right to education'. Pierre Ju Vigny, in his book 'Toward Equality in Education' (UNESCO 1962) reports the recommendations of the convention against discrimination, where discrimination is defined to include " any distinction, exclusion, limitation or preference which based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic condition or birth, has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing equality of treatment in education and in particular
(a) of depriving any person or group of persons of access to education of any type or at any level;
(b) of limiting any person or group of persons to education of an inferior standard;
(c) subject to the provision of Article 2 of this Convention, of establishing or maintaining separate educational system or institution for persons or groups of persons; or
(d) of inflicting on any person or groups of persons conditions which are incompatible with the dignity of man".
Since language use in education limits access to education for some, results in inferior education for others and thus creates discrimination and prejudice, not to speak of inequal opportunities in life, it is important to examine the question of education for the minorities children with care, if we have to build an egalitarian society in this country.
Education has two aspects-stability and change. As the stabilising agent education ensures the transmission of traditional culture. As a change agent education can play a role only if the structure and content of education is flexible, encourage innovation, experimentation and exploration.
India is a multilingual, multi-ethnic and multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country. Even if we ignore the 1652 mother tongues listed by the 1961 Census, one has to admit the existence of a little over 400 languages with innumerable dialects, sociolects, registers and styles. These are divided in four language families. There are the major script systems and a host of minor ones. All these have helped to maintain small group identity over a long period of time.
India has a hierarchical society. Knowledge and education has always been accepted as the preserve and prerogative of a small class of people in India. Even after the contact with the west the formal education system we established in this country follows the age old pattern. A microscopic minority, who were supposed to be the interpreters between the ruling and the ruled, became the beneficiaries of formal education and enjoyed the rank, status and wealth consequent to it. Thus the ancient Brahminical values were replaced by the modern educated middle class values and the formal school system acted as the transmitting agent for these values.
The formal education has left the large majority of people illiterate. 70 per cent of population being illiterate, one of the most effective means of transmission of knowledge and culture is naturally the oral transmission through local language. In fact the period between the 11th and the 16th centuries which mark the development of various regional Indian languages show the scar of conflict between Sanskrit, the language of the great tradition and high culture and the popular languages. When a Marathi saint poet said, "Sanskrut deva bhaÀa jhali tari prakrut kay cora pasun, ali", 'If Sanskrit is the language of gods, is Prakrit the language of thieves?', he was only pleading for a more rational medium of transmission of knowledge and culture to the large majority of people for whom Sanskrit was out of bounds.
Over the last thousands of years Sanskrit and the Sanskrit based languages of India irrespective of their family affiliation had created a cultural base which is recognisable as Indian culture. In spite of language differences and prejudices it was possible for a Shankaracharya to establish centres of learning in all parts of the country. But with advent of English the cultural base shrinked. English which is accessible to hardly four per cent of the population engendered an attitude of indifference to the local languages and culture and thus created a communication gap between the elite and the masses and between innumerable islands of cultural and linguistic minorities. English education thus represented the culture of the new middle class which became the norm for the teacher to uphold in the class room.
The middle class elite who considers himself the repository of all values and expects others to emulate his values has failed to recognise difference as having different perspective and ethos. They consider the rest like themselves, only less proficient in the dominant language, a little less inferior in the style of speech, a little more culturally impoverished and probably a little less intelligent, capable and educated. In other words for them what is different is a little deficient. An education system built on this deficit model is bound to be a source of large number of problems. By rejecting the language and culture of the 'different' student as inferior it builds a low self image in the minority child. Its unwillingness and incapacity to change and renew itself in the name of stability of the system accentuates inequality. It is in this context that educational innovation and education for the minority children has to be viewed.
While talking about the education of the minority children it is necessary to understand the composition and characteristic of the minority. With each of the major languages spoken by between then and eighty millions in a total population of 600 millions, in one sense the whole country could be termed as a country of minorities. That all the states share the feature of linguistic multiplicity will probably support such a statement. But from the point of education planning such sweeping generalizations are seldom helpful. It is, therefore, necessary to take a closer look at the macro and micro levels with respect to language use in education.
The languages recognized in the VIII schedule of the Indian Constitution provide the majority streams in education. Barring Sanskrit, Urdu and Sindhi for which special provisions are made the other languages are dominant in one or more states. Although linguistic states are formed on the basis of those dominant languages no state contains all the dominant language speakers within the state boundary. For instance, one seventh of Kannada speakers are outside the state of Karnataka. Similar statements can be made for other states. This results in a situation where majority language speakers in one state become the minority in another. Tamils and Gujaratis in Maharashtra or Telugus and Maharastrians in Karnataka can be taken as illustrative examples.
Each major language area is divided into a number of dialect zones. These dialects may differ only in minor features or they may be mutually unintelligible. The southern dialect of Oriya, Desia, for example, is mutually unintelligible with the Sambulpuri, the western dialect. If these dialects develop independent personality through building up their own literary tradition as in the case of Hindi dialects, the situation becomes more complex from the point of education. Thus, Maithili, Rajasthani, Bhojpuri claiming special language status is a case in point.
A third kind of minority is the culture language minority. There are some languages which are restricted mostly to home use and one of the dominant languages takes the role of the medial of all cultural communication. Konkani and Tulu may be taken as illustrating this situation. Both Konkani and Tulu people have a glorious past history; Konkani is even recognized as a literary language by the National Academy of Letters. But in spite of efforts of the zealots the fact remains that Kannada remains the culture language for Tulu speakers and Marathi, Kannada and Malayalam for Konkani speakers who are spread in the three states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala. The same could be said about the dominant languages which assume the role of culture language vis-a-vis the tribal and minor non-tribal languages.
Language is sometimes identified with ethnicity. In India there is the example of one ethnic group Gadaba speaking languages belonging to two language families. One group speaks Gutob, which is a Munda language; the other group speaks Ollari, which is a Dravidian language. There are also counter examples of one language being spoken by different ethnic groups. Oriya spoken by Knond, Santhal and such other groups could be taken as examples. However, when both ethnicity and language are used for group identity, then this creates separatist demands for education. Demand for education through Bhili, Gondi, Mundari can be taken as illustrations. There are ethnic groups who had all but lost their languages. Because of reassertion of ethnicity they look for a symbol in either a revived language or a new writing system. The discovery of the South-Munda groups in the Koraput District of Orissa generated renewed interest in their langauges. The myth surrounding the newly discovered So:ra writing system is also another example of an ethnic minority trying to assert itself. The Anglo-Indians community which claims English as its mother tongue, may be taken as yet another case in point. Although the Anglo-Indian in India come from different European language background, they have taken a single identity and a single language as symbol of group solidarity. Education of this minority both in their assumed mother tongue as well as in the regional languages pose problems which have been neglected so far, but required serious attention. Last but not the least in importance is the minority constituting the lower socio-economic class and lower caste. This is the group which is below the poverty line and suffers severe destitution on account of poverty. By and large children from these families have no education in their family background for generations. Usually they are speakers of varieties of langauges which are stigmatized. Being users of restricted codes, their vision of and capacity to respond to the challenges of the modern world are limited. Being in the lowest rung in a hierarchical society, they have a low self image and consequently their achievement orientation is blunted. With neither family nor peer group support for a smooth transition form the home language to the school language and for sustaining the interest in education, it is only natural that wastage and stagnation is the general rule in the schools with predominance of these children.
Education in the mother tongue medium assumes greater importance in the context of early education of a child in general and the minority child in particular. There is a great deal of misconception about mother tongue education. Many people think that the child has a larger vocabulary in the mother tongue and therefore it is easier to teach in the mother tongue. Like all half truths this notion is fraught with many inaccuracies and distortions. First of all, although vocabulary is an important element of a language it is not all. By knowing a large number of words one cannot speak, read and write a language. Secondly, even most statements about vocabulary are usually made on the basis of observation of performance of the speakers of a language. The expressed vocabulary is a small part of one's total stock of vocabulary and the passive vocabulary is as important as active vocabulary.
Language is a tool of communication. But communication is neither naming class room objects and objects in the immediate environment of the child not is it the vehicle of one way transmission of information from the teacher to the student. Language is a statement of relationships among thoughts and expressions of a human being. These relationships are not erratic, but rule governed. Communication entails much more than mere passing of information. It involves conceptualization of objects and experiences, their identification and classification, argumentation and disputation about the nature, process and relationship among objects, thoughts and expressions, and comprehension of the realities and the rules governing them. In short, the process of acquisition of a language both synchronizes with and expresses the growing up of human child.
Human child is the most helpless and most dependent at its infancy and requires the longest period of nursing among all the living beings. It is only natural that the language he or she picks up form and with the mother shapes and influences the mind of the child. This explains the name of mother tongue and the emotional identification of the child with that tongue. However, with the breaking of space and time barrier by the human beings, a lot more inter and intra group communication takes place today than any time in the past. Languages in contact within the family, among the peer group and in the immediate environment of the child has led to widespread bi and multi-lingualism. A child often grows up with two or more proficient in a language other than the actual language of the mother. In terms of emotional affiliation he may either develop an ambivalence towards such languages or choose any one for both emotional and intellectual preference.
In education, therefore, the language of early childhood experience of the child is the most important factor. With the imprecision attendant on the concept mother tongue, there is no need to make a fettish of the term and argue against mother tongue instruction on the ground of their multiplicity. Once the underlying principle is understood, the language of the early childhood experience can be used for effective education. For example, if a minority child is already proficient in a variety of the school language, then that can be used as the medium of instruction. What is much more important is the awareness among the education planners and the teachers that a conscious academic strategy is needed to transfer the minority child from the home language to the school language.
In a country where multiplicity of language is mapped by language distance, problems arising out of these distances have to be taken into consideration while teaching various languages. For instance, in India there are languages belonging to four language families. To teach a language belonging to a different language family poses a set of problems different form those of teaching a language belonging to the same family of the learner's language. Even teaching the standard literary and spoken varieties to the speakers of dialects has its own problem. It is in this context that cognate language teaching has to be kept in view. Genetically related languages known as cognate languages share many features through common inheritance. This provides a common base of learning another language which can be exploited to the maximum advantage of the teaching-learning process.
The sense underlying the concept 'cognate' can be expanded following Leach to mean shared features irrespective of genetic relationship among languages. In that case the shared features among languages irrespective of their distance could be used for teaching. For example, Kurukh, a Dravidian language, shares more features with spoken colloquial Hindi used as culture language in that area than with modern spoken Tamil. Research has shown that Marathi speakers belonging to the Indo-Aryan family and Kannada speakers belonging to Dravidian family in the border districts of Maharashtra and Karnataka operate in two languages with a single grammar. Hundreds of years of cultural contact has resulted in so many shared features between the two language families that it led Russian scholar Andronov to conclude that if the process continues much longer, then comparative reconstruction of modern languages belonging to these two families will lead to a third source language. In teaching minority children speaking diverse languages and dialects this rich heritage of universals could be used to great advantage.
The difference between the home language and the school language is one of the distinguishing features of minority children. If the language the child brings to classroom is derided as stigmatised and no academic strategy is adopted to give the children due competence in the school language children, then they are bound to develop inferiority complex, which in turn will affect their personality structure. It is in this context that schooling of a transfer model is suggested to meet the situation bilingual.
Like all language related issues, there is a great deal of confusion about bilingual schooling. If two languages are taught as subjects, then some consider it as bilingual schooling. If two languages are used as mediums people consider it as bilingual schooling. If in teaching one language, the help of another language is taken, some consider that also as bilingual schooling. There are many variations in these patterns. In the central schools in India the sciences are taught through the English medium and humanities and social science are taught through the Hindi medium. In most states the primary, particularly for the minority children, is through the mother tongue and the student ids confronted with a second language at the post primary stage. Some swear in the name of Dodson's Bilingual programme; others talk of teaching Hindi through Tamil, Bengali, etc. Thus as bilingualism becomes part of the academic fashion, more and more confused talk about it is continued.
The bilingual schooling of the transfer model is an academic strategy designed for the minority children whose home language is different form that of the school language or whose language for learning is different from their language in use. It aims at a smooth transfer to the school language by the end of the primary stage. Its basic assumptions and steps are very simple. Firstly, it assumes that the linguistic wealth the child brings to the classroom must be fully exploited in the interest of good education. Secondly it envisages an orderly step by step transfer to the school language. For example, it is good to teach reading and writing of the language of early childhood experience using the script of the school language while introducing the child to the spoken school language. The second step is to transfer the skills of reading and writing to that of the school language. The final step in this is to reverse the time allocation in such a manner that the child will spend almost the same time or even a little more for the school language. It will be seen that there the aim is to adopt a sound academic strategy to help the minority child to seek fulfilment in his own identity as well as in discovering that his small identity forms part of a larger identity. The aim is not to fight a battle of rights, to protect or destroy a speech community, but to assist the weak, the handicapped, the oppressed to participate in the education system with self respect. Thus, the proposed scheme is neutral as to language maintenance and loss and is a remedy against indifference, failure, stagnation and wastage in the area of education of the minority child.
In India lot of misinformed discussion takes place because of not making a distinction between language as medium and language as a subject. Even the teachers are not aware of the difference among teaching a language, teaching about a language and teaching through a language. As a result when educationists speak of language as a burden, they do not quite know its full implication. Excepting a handful of linguists who study language as an end in itself most people learn langauges for purpose. They either wish to increase their employment potentiality, do commerce, enjoy literature or have access either to wider knowledge or to diverse culture through the study of language. One's degree of competence and skill need not be the same for all languages. What languages is to be studied as subject and which one(s) as medium will depend on the needs of learners.
Today, only literature is taught in classes devoted to languages as subject. Here literature is narrowly defined and does seldom include study of dialects, socialects, styles and registers. In the absence of the study of conceptual prose at the lower stages in language subject classes, the learner finds himself handicapped when confronted with language as a medium at the higher stage. Research all over the world the demonstrated that language deficiency has cumulative effect. The weakness in manipulating languages built into the system form the initial stages create havoc at late stages of education, whether it is the English medium of the mother tongue medium.
The negative stereotype attitude of teachers to the cultural and linguistic patterns of lower class and caste is well known. What is not appreciated is the fact that their language is often used as excuse for their condemnation. It is true that if the language differences were ironed out, the attitude towards them is not ipso facto changed. But there is no doubt that if the language barrier is broken, then one more excuse for discrimination would have been demolished and those branded as lower class and lower caste would have taken one step further towards participatory democracy.
The minorities, by and large, are socially oppressed and economically impoverished. Although put together they form the majority, they have seldom any voice in planning for their own education. Planning for education of the socially oppressed is bound to hurt the privileged elite as resources which are used to maintain the system have to be diverted towards this end. But unless the elite read the writings on the wall and co-operate with this silent majority in improving their lot, then the social tensions might explode and affect the very foundations of their privileged existence.
Some educationists in the name of championing the cause of the minorities and the educationally handicapped have given a call for compensatory education. The slogan though attractive is fraught with dangerous consequences. It assumes that there is some flaw in the learning child which needs to be compensated. In actuality the flaw lies in the school, the system and the society. Instead of changing the school system to suit the needs of the child, to try to change the child to suit the system is bound to result in great psychological, social and educational problems.
This raises an important question as to the goal of planning for the minorities. Many well-meaning people have pleaded for cultural assimilation of the minority groups. Such persons are blind to the pluricultural base of the country. The mosaic of cultures in India is spite of stresses and strains has remained a source of strength. This has been possible because of structural incorporation of minority groups in the great Indian tradition. If this distinction is lost sight of and cultural assimilation at different levels is attempted, it is bound to impoverish not only small groups, but the national culture as a whole.