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Asifa Sultana

Professor, Brac University (Bangladesh)
Funded Research Project Title: Education in One’s Own Language Through Community Participation

Project Title: Education in One’s Own Language Through Community Participation

Asifa’s project focuses on addressing the issues emerging from the language barriers experienced by young children from linguistic minority communities in classrooms where teaching-learning happens in a language that is unfamiliar to them. Previous research into mother tongue-based education informs that early childhood education in languages that are not used at home tends to exclude the caregivers from participating in the education process of the children which often lead to alienation, lower academic outcomes and drop-outs. Due to the access to mother tongue based teaching-learning materials, Asifa’s project hopes caregivers will be in a position to help children with their formal education.

As a team of linguist-researchers (Dr. Asifa Sultana - Associate Professor in Applied Linguistics, Brac University; Dr. Dripta Piplai, Assistant Professor in Linguistics, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur; Dr. Soma Paul, Senior Research Scientist, International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad; Indrani Roy, Language Research Consultant), has experience working on mother tongue based education and creating paper-based and technology-oriented teaching materials in local languages. Given their research background, they hope to bring a unique and theoretically-driven perspective towards mother tongue based education.

The central objective of the project is to understand the local language(s) from a sociolinguistic point of view which will be used for developing teaching aids in these languages by working with two linguistic minority communities in Bangladesh and India. The specific research questions that will be addressed are: What are the challenges faced in the classroom due to the conflict between the local and the dominant languages? How can these issues be addressed in a way that is acceptable to the community members? What can be the pedagogic aids to address these issues? Given the resource constraints, how can technology be used to ensure access to L1 based teaching aids?

The proposal envisions to maintain a long-term partnership with the community and utilize technological tools as much as the context permits to support children’s education in local languages. The research plan is broken down into three stages. Stage 1 (Month 1- Month 3) will consist of field work to identify the language(s) using sociolinguistic methods, conducting surveys of caregivers and workshops with teachers to understand the difficulties that children face while studying, classroom observations by field researchers to see how the teachers interact with children in multilingual situations, and talking to community members to find out what their preferred solutions would be to tackle learning challenges. Stage 2 (Month 4- Month 9) will consists of collecting language samples, and classroom data through observations and workshops from the communities, teachers, and caregivers, using expertise on how children use language, analyzing the collected data to devise strategies and making prototypes of learning materials, formulating guidelines for utilizing the local language(s) in teaching, and aiding teachers to use supplementary materials in these languages in the classroom, involving educators to design prototypes of materials in the local language(s) in the form of books, flashcards, word lists to supplement the Bangla school textbooks, and using the data collected from the fieldwork, designing a database of words in the local language(s) which can be used both for research and for teaching with the materials. Finally, in stage 3 (Month 10- Month 12) they will collect feedback from the stakeholders on the sample teaching materials and guidelines.