Through a project named 'Mazhavil Poovu', virtual classes for class 1 students from tribal communities in Kerala will be held in various tribal dialects.

Girl noting down lessons in book while attending virtual classes at her home through television. The girl is clad in a black top and is sitting near another woman in a pink salwar. There is a television in the room and VICTERS Channel is playing.Image for representation
news Education Wednesday, July 15, 2020 - 19:17

As the Kerala government’s ambitious ‘First Bell’ project to facilitate virtual classes for government and government-aided school students progressed over the past month, a considerable number of class 1 students from the tribal hamlets were to be left out due to language barrier as they are not familiar with Malayalam. To address the issue, Samagra Shiksha Kerala (SSK), under the General Education Department of the state, has started a separate project where virtual classes will be translated into 10 different tribal dialects as well. 

The project named ‘Mazhavil Poovu’, which translates into ‘rainbow flower’ has started exclusively for around 25,000 class 1 students belonging to tribal communities, who are not familiar with Malayalam.

Under this programme, class 1 lessons from the First Bell are translated into ten different tribal languages including Paniya, Kuruma, Kattunaikka, Adiya, Uraali, Kurichya and Mannan. However, given that many of the children living in tribal communities do not have access to good internet connections, televisions and other resources to actually attend the virtual classes, it remains to be seen just how successful the program will actually be for the students it caters to.  

Reducing dropouts

Speaking to TNM, officials of SSK say one of the objectives of the program is to ensure least school dropouts.  

“For the children coming from tribal communities, Malayalam is often a foreign language, especially for the class 1 students. At their home, they usually communicate in their specific tribal languages. In most of the cases, these students are introduced to Malayalam for the first time when they come to school. So, teachers usually speak to them in both the languages until they are well versed to follow Malayalam. But this time, as the academic year started with virtual classes, this could not happen. Most of the children from tribal communities in class 1 were not able to follow the lessons of First Bell,” says Dhanya P Vasu, Idukki District Program Officer of SSK. 

According to SSK officials, one of the main reasons for dropping out of school among primary students from tribal communities is the language barrier. 

“When compared to the other states, Kerala has a much lower rate of school dropouts. For children, language barrier can lead to alienation. To avoid that we have started this project,” Dr Kuttikrishnan AP, State Project Director of SSK, told TNM. 

The lessons are prepared in the tribal languages with the help of mentors from the specific communities. Different schools in districts like Wayanad, Malappuram, Idukki and Palakkad, will be preparing classes in various languages. The virtual classes will then be uploaded on the YouTube Channel - White Board SSK.

Digital divide prevents access

When virtual classes started on June 1, one of the major criticisms faced by the Kerala government was that a considerable number of students remained without resources to access them, due to the digital divide.

Devika, a class 10 student from a Dalit colony, took her life last month, reportedly because she was unable to attend the online classes due to lack of resources. Following this, the Kerala government, other political parties and the civil societies had actively engaged in donating television and other resources like computers and tablets to students.

While anti-caste activists have argued that there is a lot more to be done to bridge the digital divide, SSK officials told TNM that they had made arrangements to allow class 1 students from tribal communities to access the virtual lessons.

“There are already resource centres amid many tribal communities. But during last month, as part of providing accessibility to First Bell classes among marginalised communities, more local learning centres were started. So, children will be brought to these centres and given lessons under Mazhavil Poovu,” said Dr Kuttikrishnan.

SSK District Project Officer (DPO) in Idukki, Bindumol, and Abdul Azees, DPO in Wayanad district also told TNM that similar facilities have been set up.

Read: Digital divide worsens social exclusion: Anti-caste activists on Devika’s death

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