Multi-Lingual Dictionary Is Simplifying Education for Tribal Children


A group of community members and teachers in Mudumalai and Bandipur Forest Reserves have developed a multi-lingual dictionary to help tribal children understand lessons easily. Chandra Kiran Katta takes a closer look at how this simple innovation is simplifying education by leaps and bounds for the children.

Gouri, a 45-year-old school management committee member of Karaigudi Primary School in Mudumalai, and other members are proud to show-off the multi-lingual dictionary developed by them. This small dictionary is helping the children and teachers tide over the difficulty of communicating in official state languages.

The Bandipur and Mudumalai Tiger Reserves in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are home to many ethnic groups which include Bettakuruba, Jenukur, Uba, Soliga, Kattunayakas, Kurubas, Irulas, and Paniyas tribes, all speaking in their local languages. While the government schools in both the states adopt Tamil and Kannada as the medium of instruction, it is difficult for the tribal children to understand these languages, which seem to be alien for them.

“The children from these tribes face difficulty in understanding the pedagogy in schools which is taught in Tamil and Kannada, resulting in poor grades and school drop-outs,” said Muthulaxmi, a teacher in Mudumalai. The teachers also face difficulty in reciprocating as they do not understand the local languages. So learning – which should be joyful – turns out to become a very painful task for the child whose cognitive learning skills are stretched beyond limits.

The issue of drop-outs and language came up at the School Management Committee meetings. In response, the community members and teachers came up with a solution to address the issue.

They would create a multi-lingual dictionary with simple words in English, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam, and 15 local languages.


The community members initially identified the words which are often used by them in their day-to-day communication. After compiling these, the teachers and community members sat together to identify equivalent meanings in English, Kannada, Tamil, and Malayalam. To make it easy for the children to understand, they decided to include pictures with the words. The process took around five months, to compile over 100 common words.

Once they completed the dictionary, the teachers found it easy to converse with the children in classrooms. The children have also begun to show interest in learning. The drop-out rate has also visibly decreased over the last six months. The multi-lingual dictionary has been adopted by 56 schools in both the forest zones, helping the students and teachers alike.

The community members are clearly very happy to see their children taking interest in studying. “I was very sad to see that our children were unable to communicate properly in the class. But now they come home and spend a lot of time studying. This is making us happy,” said Gouri. “By developing the dictionary, we feel that we are also documenting our language,” said Bommi, of Karigudi village in Mudumalai.

The multi-lingual dictionary is among the many successful initiatives of Aide et Action International South Asia in the region. Watch the story below.

The story was originally published in The Better India Blog. Click here to read.