Bol: Libraries With Books in Tribal Languages Help Children Learn

Efforts are also being made to help children learn the school’s language and then connect it with their own culture.

7 min read
Tribal children in India face several challenges in completing primary education.

Arkat, a 12-year-old with an impish smile, was excited to go to school because it was library day. His school, Kadla government primary school in Balaghat district of Madhya Pradesh, was host to that week’s library session. It was not the case just a few years ago. Arkat, who studies in Class 5 and loves stories, didn’t have many books in his small school library.

The school mostly stocked textbooks and most storybooks were either not of his interest or reading level.

Bol: Libraries With Books in Tribal Languages Help  Children Learn
“There are so many stories which have children like me and my friends in them.”

Tribal children in India face several challenges in completing primary education. According to government data, 58 percent rate of the dropout among tribal children at primary school is much more than that of non-tribal children at 37 percent. While they are equally affected by poorly provisioned and ill-functioning schools, one key aspect that has been less explored is the language and cultural difference.

Bol: Libraries With Books in Tribal Languages Help  Children Learn

Devy is the founder of the Vadodara-based Bhasha Research and Publication Trust.

Over the past few years, some states like Odisha and Andhra Pradesh have tried to integrate tribal languages in government schools, but most other states, where indigenous people live in large numbers, have been reluctant to take this step.

Accepting the Challenge

An initiative in Madhya Pradesh in central India is trying to overcome this reluctance through successful interventions on the ground. The state has a tribal population of 21.1 percent, with 46 recognised scheduled tribes and three tribal groups identified as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). The Baigas in Balaghat district is one such group. They live alongside other tribal communities like Gonds, to which Arkat belongs.

Kadla, Arkat’s village, is broadly representative of most villages in the block. Home to 110 families and 635 people, Kadla is dominated by the Gond tribes, but also has a small population of Baigas and people from the Yadav (OBC) community. Located in the non-buffer zone of Kanha National Park, most villagers depend on the forest for livelihood, or migrate to neighboring districts for work in the fields. A few practice rice cultivation, but their livelihood is affected due to the close proximity of the park.


The village has less than 10 percent people who cleared class 10, and even they are unable to read and write effectively. As such, parents continue to be apathetic towards schools, and expectations from schooling are low. Schools in the district face the issues of rural schools all over the countryside like poor facilities, difficulties for teachers to travel and lack of appropriate training, the lack of appropriate books or written material for children. It is clear that there is a need of a supportive environment for these children to help them learn well.

Love for Books

Seeing the children’s love for small books, a few library coordinators of the Grassroots Intervention took an initiative and translated a couple of books into the children’s own languages — Raighari, a local dialect that combines elements of Hindi with the tribal language of Gondi, and in Baiga.

Bol: Libraries With Books in Tribal Languages Help  Children Learn

Shiv Yadav has translated and illustrated a handmade children’s book in Raigarhi.

The delighted children responded to this effort by taking up the initiative in their own schools. Arkat’s love for books has led him to translate Hindi storybooks like Pakka aam, Naav chali, Humari patang into Raighari, which are read by other children with a lot of interest. This activity is being taken up by many students under the guidance of librarians and schoolteachers.

Bol: Libraries With Books in Tribal Languages Help  Children Learn
“I too thought of gathering my thoughts and writing them down as stories, so I could create some of my own stories.”

She has created and illustrated her books, Nitu ki Chai (Nitu’s tea) and Maine Khela (I played).

House of Joy

Aide et Action, a non-profit working in the area of education, is working with tribal children in Balaghat to create a model for quality education in some of the most underdeveloped areas of the district, namely Garhi, Parsamu and Jaitpuri, in partnership with Tata Trusts. Their key intervention has been the Anandghar, or supplementary learning centers, which are presently operational in 77 primary schools. True to its name, Anandghar emphasises on creating a joyful environment in the classroom through facilitating teaching learning based on activity based learning (ABL), games, poems, songs and teaching-learning materials.

While the project staff anticipated some hurdles due to the challenging remoteness and difference in language, they also noted the complete lack of suitable, contextual reading material for children as a major gap in the efforts to increase children’s learning outcomes.


Mobile Libraries

The library component of the intervention, which was initially planned to play a smaller role, was adapted to respond to this. The organisation got support from the Tata Trusts and their resource partner Muskaan to train their library coordinators and select contextually appropriate books.

Bol: Libraries With Books in Tribal Languages Help  Children Learn

They carry a carefully selected box of 20 children’s books. Most of them are graded as per reading levels, meant for early readers, and a large number of them have children in villages and rural contexts.

The library coordinators conduct a variety of activities in schools besides issuing books from the zip-lock bags. These include read aloud sessions of big-sized books meant especially for young readers, shared reading, paired reading among students and storytelling.

Bol: Libraries With Books in Tribal Languages Help  Children Learn

A key reason behind the enthusiasm of library coordinators for trying innovative ideas is the learning brought home by four of the organisation’s team members from the Library Educator Course by Parag, an initiative of the Tata Trusts. By encouraging activities like role-playing with stories, they have made children confident in expressing and talking in their own language in the classroom.

Creating Books in Tribal Languages

Research shows that learning in their mother tongue helps children with engagement in schools and motivates them to improve their learning scores. Also, multilingual children develop better cognitive skills compared to their monolingual peers. The project team engages in a variety of such activities to allow children to speak and learn in their own language while also learning the school language.

Bol: Libraries With Books in Tribal Languages Help  Children Learn

Organising open library sessions for the community is another activity to gain their interest. Once a week, all library coordinators converge in one village where story telling by the coordinator, singing folk songs, folk stories and puzzles are encouraged.

Parents and grandparents are invited to discuss the need for education in the school, the importance of supporting children at home, and to ensure that every child attends school to learn how to write and read these songs and much more.

This activity thus becomes a complement to community mobilisation for improving children’s attendance that is undertaken by Anandghar volunteers. Many women who see the beautifully illustrated children’s books then encourage children to read books.

“I read books and encourage my children also to read because books give us lot of new knowledge which we have not seen, and broaden our imagination,” Anita Dhurwey, living in Armi, told

Learning Gets a Boost

Over the last couple of years, the annual learning assessment tests at baseline and midline surveys have shown a consistent increase in learning levels of tribal children who are part of the program. School teachers in the area have responded positively to the intervention and noted the role of books in engaging children.

Bol: Libraries With Books in Tribal Languages Help  Children Learn

While many education programs are helping children through supportive learning centers, what makes this intervention program different is the micro-innovations in bridging learning in school and the community. The present effort is providing opportunities to tribal children to not only learn the school language and become proficient in it, but also connect them with their own language and culture.

Alaknanda Sanap is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development Research in Pune. Prior to this, she was program officer for education at the Tata Trusts, Mumbai, and researcher at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi. This story was originally published on The Village Square. It has been republished with permission.

(Would you like to contribute to our Independence Day campaign to celebrate the mother tongue? Here's your chance! This Independence Day, khul ke bol with BOL – Love your Bhasha. Sing, write, perform, spew poetry – whatever you like – in your mother tongue. Send us your BOL at or WhatsApp it to 9910181818.)

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