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Govt misses deadline

Mohiuddin Alamgir

A government plan taken up in 2012 to publish textbooks for children of national minorities or small anthropological groups in six such languages towards the beginning of 2014 has failed.
The government earlier decided to publish textbooks in Chakma, Marma, Santali, Tripura, Garo and Sadri for national minority children so that they could begin their education in their first language and such children, who find it difficult to follow classroom teaching in Bangla, would stop dropping out.
But the project missed the January 2014 deadline as the committee appointed for the job had been slow and also because of a controversy regarding which of the Roman and the Bangla alphabet could be employed to write Santali.
The government now has planned to publish the textbooks in five languages but Santali in 2015.
Many are, however, sceptical about the government’s being able to publish the textbooks in the next year and teaching with Santali textbooks for the shortage of teachers for the languages.
The primary and mass education ministry in October 2012 decided to publish publish textbooks in the six languages. A committee, headed by
the ministry’s additional secretary SM Ashraful Islam, is working on it.
According to Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Chakma has 1,50,000 speakers in Bangladesh (as surveyed in 2007), Garo has 1,20,000 speakers (surveyed in 2005), Marma has 150,000 speakers (surveyed in 2007), Sadri has 166,000 speakers (surveyed in 2000), Santali has 225,000 speakers (surveyed in 2011) and Tripura has 85,000 speakers.
Committee members said that they had plans to publish textbooks in languages of all national minorities. They said that there were about 30 such languages in Bangladesh and at least 20 of them deserved to have textbooks in the languages.
They said that they would publish textbooks from pre-primary students and would gradually move on to Class III.
Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of the Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, who is also a member on the committee, told New Age, ‘We had plans to publish the textbooks in January 2014 but we have failed as the progress is slow.’
Ashraful Islam said that they were going ahead with the job. ‘We will hold a workshop for writers on content development very soon. The final state of writing the textbooks will follow the workshop.’
He, however, said ‘We have dropped the publication of textbooks in Santali from the first phase of the plan.’
People close to the committee said that the plan for Santali textbooks had been dropped because of a controversy regarding which of the Bangla or the Roman letters would be employed in writing the language.
Shourav Sikder, a teacher of linguistics in Dhaka University who is also a committee member, said they would do sort of a cultural translation of the text of the national curriculum so that it became easy for children using the languages.
A study report Manusher Janya Foundation published in September 2012 quoted about 70 per cent of teachers in the Chittagong Hill Tracts saying  that national textbooks did not reflect the way of life of national minorities.
Sanjeeb and Shourav both said that language barrier in classroom was the prime reason for high drop-out rate among primary schoolchildren of national minorities — about 59 per cent in the three hill districts and higher elsewhere, according to the report Manusher Janya Foundation published.
According to the household census of 2011, 17,84,000 people belong to 27 national minority groups while leaders of such groups, who call themselves ‘indigenous,’ however, claim that they, accounting for 50 lakh people, belonged to more than 48 communities.
Ethnologue records the existence of 37 languages other than Bangla and English in the country.

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