Manglu Sreedhar has taken up a phenomenal task, of developing a curriculum that will not scare away tribal children. | EPS
For little Manglu Sreedhar, a tribal girl from Wayanad, school was a nightmare. Going to school meant walking for almost an hour through deserted paths and huge estates, that often had wild animals as visitors. But what frightened Manglu and her sister Leela, who went to school together, were not the wild animals, but the teachers at school. And, the language which was not native to them - Malayalam. Their school life lasted for precisely one week.
Now two decades later, Manglu has taken up a phenomenal task - of developing a curriculum that will not scare away tribal children. ‘’It starts off in our native 'Paniyabhasha', which is a mix of Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. But it is only a spoken language with no alphabets. Hence I have to switch over to Malayalam once they get used to the teaching methods,’’ said Manglu, who is now fine-tuning her project at Kanthari, Vellayani, where she did a course last year.
The biggest challenge is not the development of the child-friendly curriculum, but weaning the children out of drugs and alcohol and gaining their confidence, said Manglu, who finally gained her basic education from Kananvu, the tribal commune that was started by K J Baby at Nadavayal in Wayanad.
‘’Schooling is difficult for any tribal child. The apprehension of a tribal child having to go to a strange school, where everything is new, where their names are changed, where everything about them is made fun of, and is made to learn in an alien language, is massive. They drop out at the first chance and go back to the world of alcohol. We need to first make them comfortable and begin education in their own language. For this, I would set apart at least a quarter of the year,’’ said Manglu.
The innovative and flexible curriculum at Kanavu, where kids are taught through songs, paintings, drawings, dance and even plays, is what Manglu considers the best for any tribal child.
‘’I don’t even remember how I learnt to write the alphabets. It just came naturally. I am using this Kanavu model as a basis for the curriculum that I am developing, ‘’ she said.
From songs, pictures, dance and plays, the classes would easily flow on to history, English, maths and all other subjects, without imposing it on the students.
Manglu has been exploring other alternative methods of education after her coursework at Kanthari, where social visionaries are created out of people, generally considered disabled or marginalised. ‘’Coming to Kanthari was a life-changing experience for me. Sabriye Tenberken, who runs this institute, continues to inspire me, just as many others. Sabriye has been helping me with finalising this curriculum, which I hope will also help me preserve the traditional art and culture of our tribe, the language and also our traditional knowledge regarding medicine," said Manglu.
The short term objectives of her project are to start a training programme for the tribal dropouts in Palukunnu village, in Wayanad, where dropouts will also be given basic skills in agriculture, martial arts like kalaripayattu and livelihood training skills based on bamboo, paper, clay, wood, stone and coconut shell.
"My vision is to see tribal school dropouts leading a successful and independent life. I want them to come back and educate the next batch of students and so on. In this way, I hope to preserve what is ours,’’ said Manglu, who also plans to set up youth clubs for this purpose.
At Kanthari, Manglu learnt to communicate with her international counterparts, in a language she until then was uncomfortable with - English. In her curriculum, a prominent space has been given to providing linguistic skills, to teach tribals Malayalam, English and Hindi, along with the native language.
At Kanthari, Manglu was also exposed to the possible obstacles that lay ahead in implementing the project, how to get around them and even how to raise funds for her project. ‘’It would be reality in a year,’’ is her promise.