Oct 03, 2013

Chittagong Hill Tracts: The Promise of Multi-Lingual Education Still Not Fulfilled

Language barrier causes higher dropout rate among indigenous children at primary level in Chittagong Hill Tracts

Below is an article by the Dhaka Tribune:

The dream of indigenous children completing their primary education in their native languages has not come to fruition in line with the Awami League’s promise made in its 2008 election manifesto.    

The concept of Multi-Lingual Education (MLE) made little headway and the government’s promises remained unfulfilled.

In its election manifesto titled “A charter for change”, the Awami League pledged that, if they came to power, they would end discrimination and human rights violations against the ethnic, religious and indigenous minorities.

According to Article 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC), “In those states where ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority … shall not be denied the right… to use his or her own language.”

Bangladesh is a signatory to the legally binding CRC.

Experts say, along with several other privileges these minority children are also entitled to education in their mother tongue.

In its study of the hindrances to the acquisition of primary education, the Manusher Jonno Foundation found that a “significant number” of children belonging to the indigenous minority in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) drop out of school because of the absence of a MLE system.

Tandra Chakma from the foundation said 70% of the teachers in the study said they faced difficulty in explaining the texts to students in the CHT due to the language barrier. Most of the children did not understand or speak Bangla.

According to another survey by Oxfam GB, only 60% of indigenous people living on the plains could afford to send their offspring to primary school and 80% of the children dropped out after four to six months because of the language barrier.

Mangal Kumar Chakma of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samity said these children would continue to drop out of schools before finishing their elementary level studies if education through a MLE was not introduced.

Pointing out Article 33(b) of the CHT accord- widely known as Peace Accord- he said: “The accord was signed in 1997 and Awami League, also in the government then, signed the agreement.”

The indigenous leaders, however, allege that none of these pledges have been fulfilled so far.

 Mangal said: “It means that the government agreed to provide indigenous children with primary education in their mother language, but no initiative has been taken thus far.

“Apart from discussions, the government did not take any initiatives,

and such negligence is enough to expedite the process of extinction of the indigenous communities’ cultural heritage.”

Indigenous leaders also observed that the provisions included in the Draft Education Act 2013 were incomprehensible to them. 

Leaders pointed out section 5(2) of the draft act, which said the ministry would take steps through which ethnic minority children at primary level would learn their mother languages.

Sachib Chakma, central member of the United Peoples Democratic Front, a political platform formed in 1997 opposing the CHT accord, observed that there were clear differences between “learning a mother language” and “learning in a mother language”.

“We learn mother language from our society or families but this is not the issue here. The issue is whether the children would enjoy the right to learn subjects like history, geography or science in their mother language or not,” Sachib said.

Social activist Mrinal Kanti Tripura alleged the draft act also ignored the indigenous cultures, history, games, customary laws and distinct agriculture methods.

Director General of the Directorate of Primary Education Shyamal Kanti Ghosh, however, told the Dhaka Tribune that the government was trying hard to address the problems of indigenous children.

“It is always tough to introduce a new system of primary education through native languages, and we are concerned about such people’s linguistic problems. We also accommodated such issues in several policies, including the national education policy, but it will take time to implement a MLE system,” he said.

There were two issues of concern– teaching the curriculum through MLE and protecting the language and letters facing the threat of extinction, he said.

“We are trying to address both,” Ghosh said.

The National Curriculum and Textbook Board is working to publish books containing indigenous letters which would be introduced first in Class I and Class II in the upcoming academic year, said the director general.