The Torwali in Education: The mother tongue based multilingual education

Introduction: The Torwali Language

According to the online database of the languages spoken in the world, The Ethnologue (Simons, & Fennig, 2018), there are currently around 7,097 languages spoken in the world. Linguists predict that by the end of this century, more than half of these languages will be extinct, resulting in the loss of valuable scientific and cultural information.

UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger (Moseley, 2010) categorizes 2,473 languages at five different levels of endangerment:

  • Vulnerable: The language is not spoken by children outside the home.
  • Definitely Endangered: Children no longer learn the language as a mother tongue in the home.
  • Severely Endangered: The language is spoken by grandparents and older individuals. While parents may understand it, they do not speak it to their children or among themselves.
  • Critically Endangered: The youngest speakers are grandparents and older individuals, and they speak the language partially and infrequently.
  • Extinct: The language is not spoken by anyone.

The Ethnologue lists 27 languages of the 74 languages spoken in Pakistan as endangered. One of the 27 endangered languages is Torwali, which is rated ‘Definitely Endangered’, because it does not have a written tradition and faces a rapid language shift toward the predominant language, Pashto, in the areas where it is the first language of children.

Torwali is a Dardic language of the Indo-Aryan family, mainly spoken in the Bahrain and Chail areas of District Swat in the northwest frontier province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in Pakistan.

The level of endangerment of the Torwali language can also be assessed by its small community of speakers, which is approximately 80,000 (Lunsford, 2001). A recent survey by Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT, 2015; Respondents, 2014), however, found that a majority (60 percent) of the respondents count themselves to be more than 120,000. Close to 30—35 percent (Torwali, 2019) of the Torwali speakers have migrated permanently to the larger cities of Pakistan, where their language is being replaced by the national language, Urdu, or by other languages of wider communication, such as Pashto or Punjabi.

Research on the Torwali Language

Numerous surveys have been done by individuals and international organizations on Pakistan’s endangered languages, including the five volumes Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan (Calvin, Sandra, & Daniel, 1992) and Linguistic Survey of India (Grierson, 1928). Grierson’s book, Torwali: An Account of a Dardic Language in Swat-Kohistan, is perhaps the first published book that focuses specifically on the Torwali language. It is based on field data collected by Sir Aurel Stein, who visited Swat-Kohistan in the Swat Valley in 1926 and includes Torwali texts written in phonetics with English translations and a couple of folktales of the Torwali community narrated by a single person. Before that, in 1885, Col. John Biddulph dedicated a short chapter of his book, Tribes of Hindoo Koosh, to the Torwali lexicon (Biddulph, 1885). Fredrik Barth wrote a chapter on the language, people, economy, political organization, lineage, and habitat of the Torwali community in 1956 (Barth, 1956).

The pre-colonial history of the people in upper Swat, Chitral, Indus Kohistan, Gilgit, Hunza, Nuristan, and Kashmir is clouded in thick mist (Cacopardo, 2016). And therefore, we find scarce literature on the history of the Dardic communities including Torwali. Mention of Torwali is, however, found in chronicles written primarily by British and Pushtun writers during the colonial period in order to map the areas and their inhabitants or to wage war on them so they would convert to Islam. For example, the first ruler of Swat, Syed Abdul Jabbar Shah, narrates how the Pushtun warrior and preacher, Syed Abdul Rahim, son of Akhund Darweza (who died in 1638), waged Jihad against the Kafirs of Braniyal (Sathanvi, 2011), the former name of Bahrain, the main town of the Torwali community. H.C Willy (Willy, 1912) mentions Torwali in his travel to Swat in 1897. A book probably compiled by Mirza Muhammad Ismail Qandahari for H.W Roverty mentions Torwal, the heartland of the Torwali people ( (Shah, 1979). Similarly, Dr. G. W. Leitner mentions Torwal in his writings (Chaghatai, 2002).

The Torwali language

A short description of the language, Torwali might be of help here for the linguists and educationists. This description includes some linguistic features of the language in short notes. Torwali has two distinct dialects. The one with the larger number of speakers is spoken in the main valley to the north beyond the town of Madyan and is usually referred to as the Sinkaen or Bahrain dialect. The other is known as the Chail dialect and is spoken in the Ulaal Dara (Bishigram valley) to the east of the town of Madyan.

Torwali has 35 consonant phonemes and 13 vowel phonemes (Bashir, 2003; Lunsford, 2001). The syllable structure of Torwali is limited to four types only, and there are no consonant clusters (Lunsford, forthcoming). Both Bashir and Lunsford have noted four types of tonal contrasts in Torwali.

Torwali has subject-object-verb (SOV) sentence structure, with the verb occurring at the end of the clause, a pattern that is not uncommon with other Indo-Aryan languages. Torwali is postpositional. Instead of prepositions, adpositions are used in Torwali (Lunsford, 2001) and operate with noun phrases. Examples are [bop si] ‘father of’, [sum mi] ‘soil in’, [tha:m zed] ‘tree on’.

Torwali has a base-20 system for numeration, which means that the numbers 1-20 are all unique forms, although it is apparent that a few of the lower 10 are similar to a few of the upper 10. Just as the English decimal cycles on every 10, Torwali’s system cycles on every 20 (e.g., ‘bɪ:ʃ’ [20]; ‘dʊbɪ:ʃ’ [two 20s, 40]; ‘ɕəbɪ:ʃ’ [three 20s, 60]; ‘ĉəubɪ:ʃ’ [four 20s, 80]; and so forth.

Grierson (1928) describes the Torwali case system as it applies to nouns and claims that there are eight cases: nominative, accusative, agentive (ergative), instrumental, dative, ablative, genitive, and locative. Lunsford (forthcoming) differs and claims that, grammatically speaking, there are only three definite grammatical cases applied to nouns—nominative (actually unmarked), ergative and oblique’. Examples: ɑ gɑm mɑ ɑp ‘I came from the village’ has no case, whereas ɑ gɑm-ɑ ma ɑp ‘I came from the villages’ has a plural oblique case.”

Torwali has three tenses: past, present, and future, and three aspects: perfective, imperfective, and inceptive. Inceptive refers to events about to begin.

Torwali has four syllable structures: verb, verb-consonant, consonant-verb, and consonant-verb-consonant (Lunsford, 2001)

Lunsford (2001; forthcoming) has identified four contrastive tone patterns in Torwali: high (H), low (L), rising LH) and falling (HL).

How the Torwali writing system was developed

Literacy is one of the most complicated issues in language revitalization efforts (Grenoble & Whaley, 2006) and is usually thought of as a first step in language revitalization. Since literate individuals and communities are deemed to hold high status in modern societies, literacy in a language can add prestige to it. Literacy in a local language makes it suitable to be used in many social domains. That is why many language revitalization efforts focus on putting in place school-based literacy programs.

The question one faces when thinking about literacy in a local language that is spoken only is how to develop it and where to start. A mechanism for writing the language is needed. In many cases, minority languages spoken in a community, usually the ones facing challenges of extinction, do not have a writing system at all. The first step, therefore, is to develop an orthography in the language, which involves a number of social, political, historical, economic, psychological, and linguistic considerations. Currently, four main writing systems are in use in the world — alphabetic, logographic, syllabic and consonantal (Grenoble & Whaley, 2006).

Grenoble and Whaley (2006) offer four recommendations for developing and adopting an orthography: It needs to be alphabetic, have learnability, be acceptable, and have transparency. Efforts of language revitalization generally adopt an alphabetic writing system, because it involves fewer symbols that are more likely to be compatible with computer keyboards and tend to be used in the language of wider communication. Learnability means that learners will have less difficulty reading and writing the language. Therefore, the connection between spoken phonemes and written forms of the sound needs to be transparent. When the writing system of a language is hard to learn, motivation to learn diminishes. Acceptability means that the writing system for the language is not only acceptable socially, politically, psychologically, and educationally to those who learn it but also to external stakeholders, such as local and national governments and media outlets. Acceptability of the writing system perhaps stands above the other three priorities. If the writing system is not acceptable to key users and stakeholders, it will not be used. Transparency refers to the correspondence between the spelling conventions of the target language and the language of wider communication, whenever possible. Many language revitalization efforts involve creating a distinct cultural identity by using different writing conventions from those of the national language or language of wider communication. But literacy concerns must precede these considerations, and learnability of a language should not be inhibited for culturally symbolic purposes (Grenoble & Whaley, 2006).

In line with the above principles the writing system developed for Torwali is alphabetic, based on the Arabic script, because many of the Torwali people were already familiar with and accepted this writing system in Urdu, Pashto, or Arabic through the Holy Quran. Both the national language, Urdu, and the “regional language,” Pashto (the language of wider communication in the northwest province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) are written using the Arabic script. Torwali has 47 letters/written symbols. All of them except four exist also in Urdu. However, some dialects of Pashto, for example the Qandahari dialect, use two of these consonant letters. Among the ‘special characters’ used in Torwali one is a vowel, the open-front vowel /æ/, which is used frequently in Torwali. The other three symbols are the commonly used retroflex fricative /ɕ/ and the retroflex affricates /ʑ/ and /ʂ/ (Torwali, 2015).

Efforts to Revitalize the Torwali Language through education and other means

Wayne A. Lunsford (2001) noted that in late 1990s, the Torwali people were incorporating words from other languages such as Pashto, Urdu, and English in their daily conversations. However, today the Torwali people are very proud of their language and identity and use it in their daily life. This is the result of a number of initiatives and research carried out on the language since the 1980s. In 1982, a Torwali businessman, Abdul Hamid Khan Karimi, wrote a booklet, Urdu-Kohistani Bol Chaal (Urdu-Kohistani Conversation; Kohistani because the language is also known as Kohistani among Torwali natives and Pushtuns), which was reprinted in 1995 (Baart & Bremer-Baart, 2001) and is mentioned in a recent book, Torwali-Urdu-English Daily Usage Conversation, by Mujahid Torwali (2015).

In 1990s, the National Institute of Pakistan Studies of the Qauid-e-Azam University and Summer Institute of Linguistics conducted a comprehensive survey of the languages of Northern Pakistan. The survey findings were published in five volumes. Volume 1 is on the languages of Kohistan, and the survey explored the various sociolinguistic landscapes of the Swat-Kohistan, including the Torwali language (Rensch, Decker, & Hallberg, 1992). Recently, linguists have focused on the Torwali language in an effort to describe it, draw attention to it, and encourage its learning and use. In the late 1990s, when Wayne A. Lunsford was working on his master thesis on the language, a group of Torwali men established the Kohistan Cultural Promotion Society (KCPS) for the preservation and promotion of the Torwali language and culture (Lunsford, 2001). In 2008, Zubair Torwali wrote a Torwali alphabet book under the supervision of Lunsford (Torwali, 2016). In 2007-8, a team of language activists associated with the local organization, Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT), designed a primer in Torwali and wrote booklets of short stories for children in Torwali, with the guidance of linguists at the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) International (Torwali, 2016). In 2010, a Torwali speaker, Inam Ullah, published a Torwali-Urdu dictionary (Ullah, 2010). In 2011, the Center of Language Engineering at University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore, announced the launch of the dictionary online, the Online Torwali Dictionary (CLE, n.d.). In 2011, Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT) published Inaan (Rainbow, a collection of more than 300 couplets of Torwali folk poetry with Urdu translation; Roy, 2011). In early 2015, a research paper on the Torwali culture, written by Zubair Torwali in 2006 (Torwali, Vestiges of Torwali Culture, n.d.) was published by Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT). Later in December 2015, a team of researchers associated with the IBT published three books (Khaliq, 2016): the first Torwali-Urdu-English dictionary by Aftab Ahmad (Australia, n.d.); a trilingual conversation book; and 15 Torwali folktales, with Urdu and English translation by Rahim Sabir.

Education Planning for the Torwali Language

It becomes a hard though seminal task to undertake planning for starting education in a language which has no writing system and hence no written materials available. Education planning for the education in Torwali started with a multidimensional approach where objectives were set, human resources identified, community involved, writers trained and research was started. The planning for Torwali applied an integrated approach which was carried out by linguists and local advocacy groups, and included tasks as developing the orthography, promoting the language and its use among the local community with materials in the language, setting up of schools, celebrating the culture, and promoting a sense of pride and identity among Torwali speakers.

Torwali had no writing tradition until 2005. In 2004, work began to develop an orthography, an alphabet book, and a primer, with the support of SIL International. In March 2007, Zubair Torwali and other youth founded a formal organization, Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT) i.e. institute for education and development to continue development and promotion of the Torwali language, with the wider mission of  “transforming the most neglected sections of Pakistani society, especially the marginalized ethnic groups living in northwest Pakistan, into developed communities by the active participation of people without any gender, racial, or religious discrimination” (IBT, 2015). After two years, a curriculum for the early childhood multilingual education program known as MLE was developed in Torwali. The course books, in Torwali, included graded reading stories, reading and writing primers, listening stories, big books, children’s rhymes, basic mathematical concepts, cultural and ethical studies, and counting books. A teacher’s guide in Torwali (translated from English which was developed by Susan Malone, UNESCO and SIL International consultant on literacy and education) was developed.

Language does not operate in isolation; it is embedded in the culture; and language and culture are connected with the world around the community. Indigenous people often seem to disregard their languages and cultures, due to factors including economic opportunity, power dynamics, and the treatment of these languages and cultures by the state and dominant communities. However, since culture is associated with a society’s aesthetics, it can bring change to a community regarding language and identity. The Hangzhou Declaration on Placing Culture at the Heart of Sustainable Development suggests that culture be integrated within all language development policies and programs (Smith & Wiseby, 2013). Realzing the significance of culture the IBT devised a plan to celebrate culture in order to strengthen a sense of identity and develop self-esteem within the Torwali community.

Ethno-linguistic communities that suffer a marred identity can benefit from cultural festivals that reaffirm their identity and give them opportunities to express it within and outside the community (Smith & Wiseby, 2013). The IBT, therefore, started holding cultural festivals in the Torwali community. A large indigenous culture festival was held in July 2011 in Bahrain, with the name Simam (meaning “celebration and dignity” in Torwali). Over 9,000 people participated in the three-day festival and took part in folk music, traditional games, and dances. The festival revived traditional games, which had been abandoned six decades ago, and poets sang songs of pride in their identity and culture.

Given the onslaught of the popular media, particularly television, the folk music of indigenous communities often does not survive, because younger generations become used to the “world of color and light,” where modern music is played. Realizing this, the IBT undertook the task of promoting Torwali melodies (The Friday Times, 2016) and holding local concerts with poets and singers. A local cable TV channel was sponsored, so that Torwali music could be broadcast to a larger audience. More recently, the IBT produced a DVD (named Manjoora, “gift” in Torwali) of Torwali melodies with state-of-the-art technology and modern musical instruments. The DVD became so popular that almost 90 percent of the Torwali population watched it.

When people have a clear sense of who they are and are able to express their identity within and outside their community, they can establish more confident relationships in those contexts and perform better within larger social environments, including educational institutions. The Torwali community didn’t have an idea who they really were or their role in the community. Most of the Pushtuns regarded them as “guest community,” and the Torwali community seemed to accept that. The researchers and activists associated with the IBT began to voice their identity aggressively within and outside the community because of the research they were doing. There was a time when we were afraid to show who we were during our college education. After the IBT’s assertion of Torwali identity, Torwali youth formed Torwali student unions at these colleges. Now hundreds of youth proudly write Torwali or Kohistani as their names on social media. I, the author of this chapter, for the first time in 2006, began to write Torwali with my name. That time the Torwali people would think strange of me. But we didn’t yield and kept reclaiming the identity. Any by now, 2019, we can see thousands of Torwali youth write ‘Torwali’ as second name on social media. The elderly, too, now refer themselves to as Torwali whenever they interact in social and traditional gatherings with outsiders. The Torwali people can now proudly voice their identity; whenever anyone mocks their language, they teach them that their language is an advantage to them. For example, when his fellow students mocked Nisar Akassh Torwali, a Torwali student at the Quad-e-Azam University in the federal capital of Pakistan, Islamabad, about the different language that he spoke, he confidently called a meeting with a group of students and asked them how many languages they could speak. The answer was three—their mother tongue (Pashto/Punjabi), Urdu, and English. Nisar Akaash told them that he could also speak these three languages, but he had an advantage; his mother tongue was Torwali, and he could speak four languages (Akaash Torwali, 2014, personal communication).

Teaching and Learning the Torwali Language—The MLE model: Theory and Approach

Before describing the education model in Torwali, a brief introduction to various trends and approaches to literacy in and for developing the local language is given here. Two of the most important reasons for literacy in a local language are the prestige it brings to the language and the potential empowerment of the community through being literate in their language (Grenoble & Whaley, 2006). Literacy in the local language can change the attitudes of its speakers, and a written form of a language can elevate perceptions of its prestige. Literacy has a political dimension, too. It empowers the people. The ability to read and write means more opportunities to participate in social activities that are denied to people who are not literate. Literacy in the local language alone, however, has no direct link to empowerment externally, with respect to institutions operating in the language of wider communication. Yet it can reduce the perception of outsiders that speakers of the local language are backward, ignorant, and socially inferior.

The concept of literacy as a basic human right has also emerged. The basic argument in this regard is that access to education is a basic human right, and effective education is possible only when students are fluent in the language of instruction (Grenoble & Whaley, 2006). Therefore, globally accessible education is possible only by having instruction in students’ mother tongues. Skutnabb-Kangas (1999) advocates that mother-tongue literacy be implemented on a global level.

A number of models have been adopted in different regions of the world for developing students’ literacy. Most common is submersion programs (Skutnabb-Kangas, 1999), and minority language children are taught through this type of program all over the world. In a submersion program, a child from a minority group learns through a language of high status used as the medium of instruction. Grenoble and Whaley (2006) also list total immersion programs, partial immersion programs, programs that adopt the local language as a second language, community-based programs in which the local language is the medium of instruction, master-apprentice programs, and language reclamation models. Many linguists and educators believe that total immersion programs, where only one language, the local language, is used in instruction, is the best approach to language revitalization. Total immersion programs are not always possible because of economic, social, and linguistic limitations, particularly in linguistically diverse contexts.

Partial immersion or bilingual programs seek to meet the needs of students in a multilingual world. Some classes are taught in the local languages, while others are taught in the language(s) of wider communication. Often these programs are transitional bilingual programs, in which children who speak a mother tongue that has low status in the country are instructed in their native language/mother tongue for a few years and then transition to the other language(s). The mother tongue is seen as useful for enhancing the learning of the dominant language (Skutnabb-Kangas, 1999). Skutnabb-Kangas regards such transitional-early exit programs as a “more sophisticated version of submersion programs, a more ‘humane’ way of assimilating” (p. 42).

Teaching the local language as a foreign language is usually applied in communities where the younger generations have ceased to speak the language, and the “local language or native language” is foreign to them.

The models described above are offered when a classroom setting is available. Community-based programs are often offered in more informal learning settings: community gatherings and cultural events, with informal learning opportunities.

Another model, best suited for critically endangered languages with few elder speakers, is the master-apprentice model, which is used to teach languages with only a few speakers left. This was first used in California, where a large number of languages, initially 100 indigenous languages, were fast diminishing, and their number of speakers ranged from 5 to 100 (Grenoble & Whaley, 2006). A native speaker of the language, usually an elder, teaches the native language, and English is strictly forbidden.

Reclamation models are used when the language is no longer spoken, is “sleeping,” and has written corpus produced in old times, but there is a reason for it to be taught and learned; e.g., Hebrew and Latin in the United States.

Skutnabb-Kangas (1999) describes another type of program for language revitalization, the Language Maintenance or Language Shelter Program. Children who speak the same minority mother tongue are placed together in classes to receive high-quality teaching in their language and a dominant language; often instructional techniques used in these classes are from second or foreign language instruction, facilitated by a bilingual/multilingual teacher. The ethnolinguistic community often organizes the program. In the initial phase, the students’ native language/mother tongue is used for learning content, and the majority language is taught as a subject only. The native language may continue to be used as the medium of instruction in later grades, and in an ideal language maintenance program, the minority language is used as the medium of instruction for the majority of subjects throughout students’ schooling.

Skutnabb-Kangas (1999) describes a progression plan for using the mother tongue as medium of instruction: 1) Initially, all subjects are taught through the mother tongue as a medium of instruction; 2) All core subjects—cognitively demanding decontextualized subjects—are taught through the mother tongue for the first seven years of school; and 3) The mother tongue is taught as a subject from the first year of school throughout high school.

A progression plan for teaching the mother tongue as a second language involves 1) The second language is taught as a subject from grades one through twelve; 2) The second language becomes a medium of instruction in third grade, for cognitively less demanding, context-embedded subjects; and 3) Cognitively demanding subjects are taught in the language only after children have been taught the language as a subject for seven years.

The model of education in the Torwali revitalization program adopted by IBT is nearer to the Language Maintenance or Language Shelter Program, with a transitional early-exit strategy. It is a multilingual education (MLE) approach in which children aged 4-7 (beginning in pre-school) are taught all subjects, cognitively high-demanding as well as less demanding, through Torwali as the medium of instruction in the first year. In the second year, oral Urdu and oral English are introduced as subjects, while the medium of instruction remains Torwali.

The MLE school in Torwali was first established in 2008 by IBT in Bahrain, the main town in the Torwali-speaking area in upper Swat valley. It was named Mhoon School” (our school; Torwali Z., Columns). In 2015, the name was changed to the ILM (Innovative Learning Model) School. Currently, there are three campuses of the ILM School in different villages of the Torwali area. Each school has two mandatory classes — Kindergarten 1 (KG 1) and Kindergarten 2 (KG 2) — except on the main campus in Bahrain, where Class 1 and Class 2 are also included, and Torwali is taught as a subject. Almost all instruction is done in Torwali by the teachers, who are native speakers of Torwali with Pashto and Urdu as second and third languages. They are also somewhat proficient in English.

The parents are multilingual: They speak Torwali as their mother tongue, and they are also fluent in Pashto and Urdu. A small number of them can understand English to some extent. As the ILM Schools charge no tuition fee, a number of the students are from low-income families.

Students complete two years of their early schooling at these schools in Torwali, and then their parents get them admitted to either public primary schools or low-cost private schools, which are in Bahrain only. In none of the private and public schools is Torwali taught as a subject or used as the medium of instruction. Most of the teachers, however, use Torwali to give instructions to the students during their teaching.

This approach involves a transitional early exit from the MLE schools after students are admitted to either the private or public schools. IBT staff, however, now and then evaluate the performance of the students at the other schools in order to connect them to mother tongue literacy. IBT and the MLE school staff call some of the students and evaluate their literacy—writing and reading—in Torwali each year.

Often the parents of the children of a minority group view the dominant language as the language of advancement and power and want to ensure that their children master it (Cummins, 2009). This is also the case with the parents in the Torwali community. To help these parents support literacy development in Torwali, IBT has undertaken community-based literacy initiatives to enhance prestige of the Torwali language, identity, and culture outside the school environment. IBT staff realized that for a mother tongue-based early education program to be effective, it is imperative to change language attitudes in the children’s homes. Thus, the IBT started holding weekly literacy sessions for the mothers of children at the ILM Schools. The mothers came for two hours and learned how to read and write in their own language (Torwali) along with some basic Urdu. On a larger scale, the IBT designed and implemented a bilingual, Torwali and Urdu, literacy program for 2,000 adult women in the community in 2013, with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (Khaliq, 2013). This project has greatly changed the language attitudes of the women and also given them the opportunity to learn Urdu and learn about social issues.

Additionally, IBT staff held indigenous cultural festivals in order to reinforce the cultural identity and sense of self-esteem among the Torwali speakers. These events started with a three-day celebration of and participation in the indigenous culture (Torwali, 2011) in July 2011 in Bahrain Swat. Since then, cultural events of smaller scale are continuously held by the IBT.

These endeavors greatly add to the efforts to change the perceptions of the people regarding their language, culture, and identity. However, many challenges still exist regarding Torwali language revitalization efforts.

Other complementary efforts

Unfortunately, the Pakistani constitution does not recognize any indigenous groups in Pakistan, despite participating in some international conventions regarding indigenous people and their rights. The only minorities that the constitution recognizes are religious groups. Therefore, communities like the Torwali are the least developed in the country. This has resulted in poverty, ignorance, and disintegration of these communities. The IBT is working in the communities to create more access to education, protect forests and land, and promote conservation of natural resources, and has launched a campaign to institute formal education. It has organized the people using the traditional platform of Jirga (The News International, 2015) or Yarak. (Yarak or Jirga, which in English means something like “council,” is the traditional social capital used by the Torwali people for the reconciliation of feuds and conflicts among the various clans or families in the community. It is indigenous and voluntary. The IBT mobilized and organized the people in Swat-Kohistan for the purpose of advocating and lobbying for an integrated development of the people. The IBT is continuously holding large Jirgas (councils) with the people to mobilize them over the issues they face and their rights to hold the government accountable for its neglect and apathy. These Jirgas have strengthened unity among the people and, since their organization, continue to meet with community members and demand education and social development for their area, Swat-Kohistan (The News International, 2016).

With the recent emergence of social media among the Torwali living in the area or elsewhere in Pakistan or abroad, the IBT has been using social media, particularly Facebook, to promote the Towali language, literacy, culture, and music and to strengthen Towali identity among its speakers. A number of pages are posted on Facebook (Literature and Music of Torwali, 2013) and YouTube (Zubair Torwali, 2015), and Torwali poets and writers have begun to write their poetry on the Facebook page. When IBT shared video songs of Torwali on these pages, the songs got thousands of views and hundreds of shares. In addition to social media outreach, the IBT regularly writes articles in the English and Urdu daily papers in Pakistan on the indigenous languages and cultures of Northern Pakistan and on Torwali literature. A Torwali keyboard was developed, with the help of Google, for android mobile phones, and people with these phones can now write Torwali in texts and on social media.


We ethnic educators often assume that our ethnolinguistic communities think like us. Many communities in Pakistan are often opposed to having their children educated in their mother tongues because of the ‘formal’ education sponsored by the governments. They often regard their language not school-worthy. This is not necessarily be always an outside, mainstream evaluation. Though modernization itself and the growing cultural awareness have spread the view that all mother tongues are potentially school-worthy, but not all cultures influenced by colonialism accept this view. We at IBT have also been facing this since the inception of our schools in 2008, though over the time there has been some significant change in the attitude of the parents. Many parents of our communities have their educational goals different from the ones the educators in these communities have a passion for. They opt for schools which teach English or Urdu rather than their own mother tongue.

When the course books in Torwali were ready for the pre-school children, the IBT, in August 2008, established the first-ever Torwali-based early childhood multilingual education school under the name of “Mhoon School” in Bahrain, the main semi-urban hub of the Torwali community. Owing to the overwhelming importance given to English and Urdu, these schools initially could not attract large numbers of children as their parents, having grown up in a linguistic context where their language was considered inferior by the dominant language communities, were reluctant to send their children to these schools. A reason that the parents would often give was, “My children already know Torwali. Therefore, they do not need to learn it at school” (Parents, 2008). It seemed that loss of their own language was of no concern to these parents, and their primary concern was economic and social development; and for that they thought (think) English as a lever.

Another critical challenge is posed by globalization. ‘Globalization is the wave of the future’ (Fishman J. A., 2001) and has become quite a fashion. The ethnolinguistic minorities in Pakistan have recently been exposed to globalization in the form of Westernization on the one hand and the increasingly religiosity on the other. On the one hand demand for English increases whereas on the other we see more children in religious schools called Madrassah. In such a scenario to convince parents to send their children to a school of the minority language and culture becomes a constant challenge.

Being socially, economically and politically marginalized the minority language and culture groups are always under-resourced to carry initiatives of protecting and promoting their languages. It is so worldwide with minor changes. Joshua Fishman rightly states that, “the ‘sad but true’ facts of life that the resources available to threatened languages are often quite meagre and constantly fewer than those available to their Big Brother, rivals and competitors” (Fishman J. A., 2001). The minority languages do not have outside support to rely on; and wherever it is, it is too meagre to continue the mother tongue education for long and for all children of the minority language groups. The governments in Pakistan have never been in a willing position to fund or adopt such programs.

There are technological challenges as well. Our languages are not technologically advantaged. The technology used to document and write these languages in the adopted scripts pose challenges to the native speakers because not all information technology is supportive of these languages. In this era of technological boom our languages still linger on finding a place to be read and written on mobiles and computers. In addition, the technologically advantaged languages and cultures are in a position to replace and displace our languages and cultures.


One of the best models of reversing the language shift of an endangered language(s) is to adopt a functional goal of the language(s) to offer an education in which that language(s) can function as a sole medium of instruction or at least as a co-medium or co-media.

Education in mother tongue requires an integrated approach, different from the one where the dominant language is used in education, because education in a minority language is often less preferred by the parents given the status of the dominant language in the larger society. It demands from the planners a holistic strategy wherein to involve the entire community and make the minority language school worthy of being a precursor in rallying the community around the whole efforts of reversing the language shift. The educational strategy for minority language education and the overall goal of reversing language shift need to focus on the instructional materials inside the school and related pedagogy on one hand while on the other it involves integrated activities outside the schools with the youth, parents and community. Culture plays an important role in fostering positive attitude in the community as well as supporting the mother tongue education and claiming the cultural identity. At the same time, post-and out-of-school functions for the minority language must also be assured for adolescents and young adults. This is critical as the post schoolers do not have opportunities to have their language at the higher schools, colleges or universities.

To the question why is it so hard to strengthen threatened languages? Joshua Fishman postulates five reasons: (Fishman J. A., 2001, p. 21) (1) the loss of a minority threatened language is the result of a mix of continuously leaving the traditional culture; and that process robs the culture of most of its erstwhile and potential defenders. Alternatively this departure from the traditional culture establishes a rival identity that does not require the traditionally associated language; even though it may still claim to admire it (2) organizing on, and advocating on behalf of a traditionally associated or minority language is competitively depicted and regarded as parochial and anti-modern; (3) in order to defend a threatened language some of its functions must be both differentiated from and shared with its stronger competitor – the dominant language; (4) any functions to be regained by the threatened language must be simultaneously reinforced both from‘ below’ and from ‘above’ in terms of power considerations; and (5) the opposition to reversing language shift is both political and statist, thereby labelling these efforts as simultaneously disruptive of local civility and of national cohesion. Nevertheless, the efforts for reversing language shift can attain strategic functional allocations without descending into either separatism or parochialism, neither of which is in its own best interests.


The Torwali MLE model can best be described as a Language Maintenance Program but, unfortunately, with an early-transitional exit. This study reinforces the demand of the Torwali community that the model needs to cover the early five grades of primary education (after Kindergarten 1 and 2), for a total of seven years of early education. The study also points to the need for additional efforts to revitalize the Torwali language. These include, but are not limited to, conducting a review of the curriculum developed for the Torwali MLE program, training its teachers on different pedagogical approaches to developing literacy, writing more books for adults and students to read, introducing Torwali as a subject in the private schools, conducting research on the history and identity of the Torwali people, and producing literacy materials for informal (community-based) literacy programs by using existing folklore and indigenous knowledge and by translating books and papers from other languages. It also reinforces the IBT’s effort to revive and rejuvenate the indigenous culture so as to reinforce the Torwali identity which is consequently leading towards higher acceptance of the Torwali language education program.

Inclusion of their languages in the educational domain carries both symbolic and concrete importance for the native speakers (Fishman J. A., 1989). It gives the language a function beyond its usage at the levels of family, neighbourhood and rituals. It links the minority community to the modern literacy which is so immensely required to prepare a future modernized generation of intra-communal leaders, poets, writers and other social functionaries.

From a minority perspective education in their language provides an additional essential opportunity to influence the younger as well as the parental generation. (Fishman J. A., 1989) In this modern era when there exist scant chances of connection between children and parent schools become the common grounds where an intra-communal and intergenerational interactions can be ensured. And by having the mother tongue in such schools the intergenerational ethnolinguistic continuity is strengthened. Such schools need not to merely obey the choices of the parents and dispositions of the respective constituencies. They rather strive to influence the parents and communities and function as catalytic in the overall change in the community, specifically the attitudes towards language and culture. They must also be closely linked to the community processes of intergenerational and ethnolinguistic and cultural continuity if these schools, the minority language schools, are to live up to the expectations of the overall efforts of reversing language shift and providing inclusive education. Minority language based bilingual or multilingual education thus becomes not only a ‘major opportunity within the confines of alternative philosophies of bilingual [multilingual] education’ (Fishman J. A., 1989) but also an effective and potential contributor to ‘the betterment of modern life and to the very preservation of that which is most precious in human existence: ethno-cultural fidelity, creativity, and diversity’. (Fishman J. A., 1989)

By Zubair Torwali



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