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(August 2017) In June, a team of evaluators again visited the Kol multilingual education (MLE) school in Chapai-nawabgani, Bangladesh, for a mid-year monitoring visit. At the beginning of the year, many children did not participate in class activities and felt too shy to speak with visitors. But this time, the students were full of smiles and willingly participated in every class activity. Some students talked with the visitors, asking questions and answering questions about themselves. Some shared about their interests and sang a song in their mother tongue during class time.
The Kol language community and SIL Bangladesh run three MLE schools totaling nearly 65 students and seven teachers. Teachers help their students to discover themselves as confident individuals and lead them forward in their education. In the two-year preschool program, Kol children develop their speaking, reading and writing skills in their mother tongue. They also learn Bangla as a second language, to help them integrate with speakers of the national language and transition to the government primary school.
Education is a strong foundation for the development of any nation. It is important to make sure that everyone has the chance to be educated. But people whose mother tongue is different from the national language often struggle to overcome the language barrier and access their rights. Multilingual education can provide a bridge between the mother tongue and the national language, enabling speakers from different ethnolinguistic groups to make a more confident start in their education.
In the two-year preschool program, Kol children develop their speaking, reading and writing skills in their mother tongue. They also learn Bangla as a second language.
When SIL Bangladesh started working with the Kol community, one of the first tasks was to develop language resources. SIL Bangladesh provided support to help Kol people produce materials for the schools and to train teachers in how to use the materials. They developed story books for pre-primary classes, where large illustrations are accompanied by simple sentences. Children discuss the pictures as well as reading the book together with the teacher. Teachers also tell longer ‘listening stories’ to the children and teach them songs and rhymes in their mother tongue. The aim is to develop the children’s language skills and encourage creativity. When children first arrive at the MLE school, they all share a common language. The Kol teaching materials and different activities help them to grow in confidence and explore their cultural identity.
Material development includes story books with large illustrations and simple sentences for pre-primary students.
Multilingual education also makes a link between two different languages, opening a door to a new world as children move from the familiar to the unfamiliar, learning Bangla alongside their mother tongue. At first when children start coming to the MLE school, they are often shy and introverted. But after a while, they welcome visitors warmly and join in conversations about what they have learned from their teachers. They participate in classroom activities, working in the ‘learning corners’ in pairs or groups. Sometimes teachers mention former students who are making good progress at Bangla-taught primary school, keeping up with speakers of the national language. The MLE school is providing a bridge, helping the children to overcome their difficulties and find new opportunities to develop themselves and their community.