It is 8:30 a.m. in the village of Matiranga, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. School is about to begin and, unlike in years past, the children arriving for their preschool and primary school classes know they will have no trouble understanding what is said in their lessons.
The Hill Tracts, one of the most diverse regions in Bangladesh, is home to roughly 1.5 million people and many different indigenous communities that speak a variety of languages.
- An education programme in Bangladesh has opened 150 multilingual primary schools, enabling more children to access education.
- Bangladesh is on track to achieve 100 percent primary school enrollment by 2015, one component of Millennium Development Goal 2.
- The Chittagong Hill Tracts region of Bangladesh is home to numerous ethnic communities with their own customs and languages.
Since 2003, UNDP has been working to help the people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts meet their immediate development needs and create long-term opportunities. This effort includes the creation of an education programme aimed at strengthening primary and secondary education in the community.
In December 2009, with funding from the European Union, the programme began a new phase that is focusing on making education relevant and accessible to young people. This initiative has resulted in the introduction of multilingual education in 150 schools in the region.
“Children belonging to these ethnic communities are faced with a language barrier, so to overcome that, [UNDP] has introduced mother tongue-based multilingual education, whereby children in preschool get schooling in their own languages,” said Prashanta Tripura, Chief of Service Delivery for UNDP in Bangladesh.
Multilingual education allows teachers to gradually introduce the official language of Bengali, so that towards the end of primary school students can switch completely to the national curriculum, which is taught in Bengali.
This approach is delivering tangible results in a region where low school enrollment and high dropout rates have been a problem for years. The change is being felt by all.
“Now children are improving their learning in their mother languages and this has made them enthusiastic to come to the school regularly,” said Sujita Tripura, a multilingual teacher in Matiranga. “The community here has accepted the new system of education and the children really love the way we teach.”
Multilingual education is providing these young children with the incentive to come to school and to stay there at a time when they are just starting down their educational paths.
Keeping languages alive
Around the world, indigenous peoples contribute greatly to humanity's cultural diversity. They contribute more than two thirds of the world's languages and provide an extraordinary amount of traditional knowledge. Programmes such as the education initiative in the Chittagong Hill Tract community in Bangladesh help keep such languages and traditions alive.
Of the roughly 7,000 languages that exist today, it is estimated that more than 4,000 are spoken by indigenous peoples. Language specialists predict that up to 90 percent of the world’s languages are likely to become extinct, or threatened with extinction, by the end of the century.
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