Of 50 seats, only four students opt for PG in Santali, Language experts explain why-

Even as Santali is one of the most spoken 21 tribal languages in the state, the lack of opportunities is keeping students outside the purview of higher education and research in it, stated a report in The New Indian Express.

This year, only four students have taken admission to study Santali at the postgraduation (PG) level at Maharaja Sriram Chandra Bhanja Deo (MSCB) University, the only university in the state that offers the course at PG and MPhil. The university has a strength of 50 seats for PG in the Santali course but 46 of them remained vacant after the third phase of admissions for the 2023-24 academic session.

Who’s to blame?
Tribal language activists blame it on the lack of an education policy in the language in Odisha. Unlike the neighbouring West Bengal and Jharkhand where Santali is also a major tribal language and included in education policy, students here are introduced to it at primary level and then again at higher education level, they added.

Nearly 8.9 lakh Santals live in Odisha, the majority of them in Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts. According to the state’s language profile, Santali is the most spoken tribal language. The census-2011 states that 2.05 per cent of Odisha’s population speaks in Santali.

Santali is a part of the multi-lingual education (MLE) programme that the state government had adopted in 2006 under which, the mother tongue of tribal children is used as the medium of instruction for five years of primary education. It is a medium of education in over 500 primary schools in Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj currently.

Of the 24 tribal languages included in MLE, primers (primary learning materials) have been developed for 21 languages so far. Odia script is followed for tribal dialects in these primers. However, after Class V, the tribal students’ mode of education is Odia.

“After primary level, Santali students get to read the language only at UG and PG level. In between, they study Odia. So, how would they be comfortable in taking up Santali at a higher education level,” said language activist R Ashwani Banjan Murmu. He added that although more than eight lakh people speak the language, there are very limited options within Odisha to take up Santali in higher education and the opportunities are even scarce when it comes to research.

Earlier, Santali was offered as an elective but this year, it has been introduced as an Honours subject in four colleges of Northern Odisha with each college having a minimum of 20 seats. Only MSCB University offers an MPhil in Santali.

“Students are usually opting for BEd after doing UG in Santali to get teaching jobs in schools. That is the only employment scenario available now for Santali students. Had there been Santali teaching posts in higher secondary schools, they could have done PG to become Post Graduate Teachers (PGTs) in them. Therefore, not many students prefer to do PG or MPhil in the subject,” reasoned Vice-Chancellor of MSCB University Santosh Tripathy.

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