MTB MLE Program for the Adivasis of Assam

Promotion and development of Adivasi languages through publication of literature, Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education (MTB MLE) program and through strengthening of Literary Bodies of the Language groups called Sahitya Sabhas who are also the custodians of their respective languages, is an important foci of PAJHRA.With the guidance and support of SIL International from 2008 onwards PAJHRA has held language development and literature creation workshops for 6 existing Adivasis languages in Assam, viz. Munda, Kurux (Oraon), Santali, Kharia, Sawra and Sadri (Adivasia). A series of workshops have taken place whereby different types of written materials have been prepared. These workshops were facilitated by resource persons from SIL International and Linguistics Department, Guahati University. The participants in the workshops included representatives from different Adivasi languages who were trained to incorporate the cultural and traditional practices of the Adivasi community into the written materials. The type of workshops that have commenced hitherto and their outcomes are mentioned in Table 1.


Workshops Conducted


1 Orthography Workshop Spelling Guide in 6 Adivasi languages – Mundari, Kharia, Kurux, Saora, Santali and Adivasia (Sadri)
2 Writers Workshop 8 titles in Mundari,
90 titles in Adivasia,
9 titles in Saora and
7 titles in Kurux
3 Primer production workshop Alphabet book in 2 languages – Adivasia and Mundari, 1 Pre Primer and 1 Primer in Adivasia
4 Teachers Training 10 Trained Teachers for Adivasia School and 3 Trained Teachers for Mundari School under MTB MLE program Teacher’s Guide in 2 languages – Adivasia and Mundari Cultural calendar in 2 languages – Adivasia and Mundari


In the year 2010 a language development cell was formally formed within PAJHRA to oversee the process of promotion and development of Adivasi languages in Assam. Followed by this a sociolinguistic survey was carried in 6 districts of Assam namely, Sonitpur, Golaghat, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Udalguri and Kokrajhar to investigate the bilingual ability of the Adivasi children in Assamese (the state language). Tests were conducted with the Adivasi children between the age groups of 5 to 12 years who are already going to the Assamese medium schools. In the tests the proficiency level and the comprehension ability of the Adivasi children in Assamese was tested and was compared with test results of the native Assamese children of the same age and standard. From this a stunning result was found that clearly showed the backwardness of the Adivasi children in Assamese. The average scores of the Adivasi children speaking different Adivasi vernaculars and the average score of the native Assamese children are as follows:

Figure 2

Children of Language Groups Average Score
Sadri (Lakhimpur)


Sadri (Sonitpur)












Figure 3

Children of Language Group Average Score



This was in fact stunning, but further investigation with the parents and in the neighborhood of the children provided evidences that Adivasi children had minimum to zero exposure to Assamese at home and in their surroundings and this was found to be the main reason behind their inefficiency in performing in the bilingualism tests. However, the question still prevailed that if those children could not perform in that test in which their counterpart Assamese speaking children had performed highly how then could one expect that the Adivasi child can succeed in understanding academic contents in their schools which is imparted to them in only Assamese. Thus the test result proves that taking children of same age and educational standard when tested on the same ground, the Adivasi children could not equalize to the native Assamese speaking children in comprehending and speaking Assamese. It was realized that the Adivasi children are having difficulties in their schooling system where the medium of instruction is completely unknown to them, due to which they are not able to progress in their academics and are thus dropping out from the schools in large numbers. Education is supposed to be the biggest strength of an individual as well as of the community.
It is through education that one enhances his or her worldview. But this advantage is hardly reflected in the Adivasi community. The government provisioning is however praiseworthy, in which elementary education is made free and compulsory. But even in such a situation the Adivasi child sees education as something alien. The reasons for this may be argued to be varied, but the one we are concerned with is Language. Language, we believe is one factor for the Adivasi child that makes education alien for him or her. By language what is meant here is the language of instruction. So far the Adivasi Children have been attending schools where the instructor/facilitator uses a language that is entirely a new experience to them. They are left wondering and amazed at the speech of their instructor which they never hear back in their homes. This hinders the learning process of the child and becomes a barrier in his or her academic development. During the survey, it was also reported by the teachers that they could feel the difficulties of the children, so in the schools where there was an Adivasi teacher he or she also reported that they use the child’s language in class room to make them understand the content of their text books. Under these circumstances in-order to create a better generation of the Adivasis, PAJHRA planned to adopt a methodology in literacy that is promoted worldwide for the children of ethnic minority languages.
The system is called MTB MLE – Mother Tongue Based Multi Lingual Education which refers to “first-language-first” education, that is, schooling which begins in the mother tongue of Children of Language Group Average Assamese comprehension Assamese 84% MTB MLE for Adivasis of Assam Page 3 of 5 the child and his mother tongue itself helps him to make a transition to other languages. Typically MTB MLE programs are situated in developing countries where speakers of minority languages tend to be disadvantaged in the mainstream education system. Research shows that children whose early education is in the language of their home tend to do better in the later years of their education. MTB MLE proponents stress that the second language acquisition component is seen as a “two-way” bridge, such that learners gain the ability to move back and forth between their mother tongue and the other tongue(s), rather than simply a transitional literacy program where reading through the mother tongue is abandoned at some stage in the education. MTB-MLE promotes literacy in the mother-tongue first, then teaching of content lessons (Math, Environmental Science etc.) and second languages by using the Mother Tongue for explanation. The Multilingual Education in this approach emphasizes first language first in the child, taking his or her socio cultural curriculum into the classroom culture and then bridging to the second language.
The unique thing in this approach is to involve the community in creating their own curriculum and minimising the theoretical hegemony, by creating a new set of people who believe in the ethics of creating and sharing knowledge for the society rather than limiting it to the theoreticians. This approach empowers the community, and involves the tribal teachers as the maker of own knowledge system. A widespread understanding of MLE programs (UNESCO, 2003,
2005) suggests that instruction take place in the following stages:
1. Stage I – learning takes place entirely in the child’s home language
2. Stage II – building fluency in the mother tongue. Introduction of oral L2.
3. Stage III – building oral fluency in L2. Introduction of literacy in L2.
4. Stage IV – using both L1 and L2 for lifelong learning.


To bring this concept of literacy for the Adivasi children in Assam PAJHRA and Adivasi Sahitya Sabha (Adivasi Literary Society) in collaboration with SIL International in the year 2011 started 3 Adivasi Schools in Assam on a pilot basis. The first Adivasi School was inaugurated on 5th March 2011 in Janubasti in Lakhimpur District. Immediately a week later the second Adivasi School was inaugurated in Anando Tea Estate also in Lakhimpur District on 14th March 2011. It took another month for the next Adivasi School to get started as on 14th April 2011 the third Adivasi School was inaugurated in Sapoi Bhutia Ali in Sonitpur District. There are different methods of teaching MTB MLE, but the approach used in these schools is the Multi-strategy method. This method is carried out using two separate tracks (see Table 4 for details). The first track (word-building track) teaches traditional literacy skills (recognizing sounds and letters, and combining them to make words). The second track (story track) uses stories and games to give children a more meaningful approach to literacy, so they are exposed to meaningful stories and are motivated to use their imaginations and see the potential of literacy for themselves. In the word building track emphasis is on developing accurate writing and reading skills. Children work through a pre-primer during their first year (where they begin listening for sounds, recognizing letters, and learn the skills of holding a pencil and forming their own letters).
During the second year they work through a primer, working from sounds to syllables to whole words to sentences. After this they move on to a transition primer, which teaches them literacy skills in a second language using the Mother Tongue as the medium of instruction. In the story track the children have graded story books read to them by the teacher, and then they are encouraged to read along with the teacher. As their reading skills develop from the input of the word-building track, they are able to read these story books more and more fluently, and they enjoy the process of reading. They MTB MLE for Adivasis of Assam Page 4 of 5 are also encouraged to write creatively – with less emphasis on accuracy but more emphasis on writing meaningful, imaginative texts. Adivasi MTB-MLE program organizes the school year around a cultural calendar. This was prepared with the help of the community, so that each week of the school year is based on a different theme according to the culture of the community. This means that the children’s stories and work books are about floods during the time that the community is facing floods. Because of this the children are able to engage in classroom discussions, and are interested in the materials because they are able to relate to them. Usually each track will last for one hour, so each day has a 2 hour program (see details in Table 4).


Figure: 4

LKG (4) ½ hour Oral Assamese

  • 15 mins songs
  • 15 mins TPR (1 year programme)
45 mins Story Track

  • Level 1 readers
45 mins Pre-Primer
and Sadri Songs
UKG (5) ½ hour Oral Assamese

  • 15 mins TPR Picture
  • 15 mins TPR drawing
45 mins Story Track

  • Level 2 readers
45 mins Primer
G1 (6) ½ hour Oral Assamese

  • 15 mins Story sequencing (UKG and LKG stories)
  • 15 mins Activity sequencing (theme based)
45 mins
Maths Story Track
45 mins Primer

Emphasis is on learning literacy skills in the mother tongue, transitioning into Assamese with good reading, writing and speaking skills, and learning Math concepts well in the mother tongue. The schools are all progressing well, with the commitment, confidence and proficiency of the teachers constantly improving. But there are many challenges. The intake of new children each year means that there need to be new teachers trained and more teaching space available, and this is challenging for the community to support. Because of the shortage of teachers and space different classes have to be held at different times of the day, so the teachers have to teach several classes in one day. Also the financial support for the teachers is an ongoing challenge. Our aim so far has been to sustain the schools by community participation, by holding them responsible for making sure that the classes were running regularly and the teachers were being looked after for their financial and social requirements. Each school has its own School Management Committee, made of people from within the community.
They help to oversee the building of new schools, the election of teachers, and the general running of the schools, but generally the members are very busy with their own work, and can’t always give the necessary commitment to the schools. However, in some schools we have seen definite progress in the communities. They are working together more to overcome problems, are growing in commitment to seeing their language developed and are making plans together for the future. But there is still a long way to go! We are trying to encourage communities not to rely too heavily on outside funding for success of the schools, as this is not always reliable. The schools where the SMC are most active and supportive are definitely the most successful schools – the teachers are more committed and feel like a valuable part of the community and the whole community feels a responsibility and pride in the schools and in their mother tongue.The total strength of the 3 Adivasi Schools at present is shown in Table 5


Table 5



SMC members




Janubasti Mr. George Tirkey (President)
Mr. Juwakim Tete (Secretary)
+ 7 members
1. Anamika Dhan
2. Mirinda Tiru



Anando Mr. Sanjay Kerketta (President)
Mr. Lalsang Lohar (Secretary) +10 members
1. John Soreng
2. Dayal Tete



Sapoi Bhutia Ali SMC disbanded 1. Ilasi Barla
2.  Motilal Gor
3. Kundru Kisan
4. Rajen Kisan
5. Monika Singh







These schools have had teacher training twice each year, and each year new school materials have been developed. The schools run as 2-hour supplementary classes to the government schools, but for some students they provide the only source of education. The key to the approach is community participation, which has helped the program to sustain for the last three years. Further assistance could inspire the implementers and the community as well to make long-term plan for the schools. To develop materials for LKG, UKG, and grades 1-4, so far materials have been developed for the first 3 years. Once these materials have been reviewed and altered, the hope is that this pilot programs can be expanded to more areas with more teachers trained so that more Sadri speaking children can have access to education in their mother tongue