Multilingual Education
A special session at the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Conference

Abstract for "Multilingual Education among the Tribal Communities in India"

Pamela MacKenzie, Ph.D.
International Network for Development, UK/India

India’s richly multilingual and multicultural society creates a complex challenge to the Government as it attempts to address the educational needs of its tribal communities. Access to quality education remains limited, drop out rates are alarmingly high, and literacy rates are low. One of the reasons tribal children lag significantly behind their non-tribal counterparts is that education is conducted in a language other than their own and in a culture they are not familiar with.

The Constitution of India and the National Curriculum Framework (2005) both state that elementary education should be made available in the mother tongue of the child, particularly in the initial stages of schooling. Research has demonstrated that an education which begins in the mother tongue and builds competence in the second language before using it as the medium of instruction is a key component in increasing the educational attainment of speakers of minority languages. Multilingual education reduces the linguistic and cultural barriers faced by students when entering school.

In order to address these challenges the government of Andhra Pradesh has chosen to implement multilingual education in eight of its 32 tribal languages. Other states are similarly following suit. This paper outlines the processes by which these multilingual education programme are being developed and how the curriculum is rooted in the tribal cultural context. It will also discuss the potential challenges and the steps which need to be taken in order to ensure that the program is successful and sustainable.