Torwali MTB-MLE: an outsider's view

Torwali MTB-MLE: an outsider’s view


December 2018


By: Syeda Anum Iftikhar, Ayesha Mehkeri, Ajay Pinjani

Research team at The Citizens Foundation





Swat is located in the northern region of Pakistan, within the province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). In Swat there is a tehsil called Bahrain. The majority of the people in Bahrain have Torwali as their mother tongue – a language that belongs to the Indo-Aryan family. The number of Torwali speakers is between 100,000 and 110,000.


A three member research team from The Citizens Foundation visited the MTB MLE ILM School located in Bahrain on the 18th of December, 2018. The aim was to explore and understand the MTB-MLE model in practice, including curriculum development, its implementation and teacher training.




  1. Understand IBT (Idara Barae Taleem o Taraqqi) and its role in the Torwali MTB-MLE School


  1. Observe the implementation of MTB-MLE Program and its outcomes


  1. Construct views and insights that guide the development of our envisioned multilingual pilot




  1. Classroom Observation – ILM School (Torwali)


  1. Classroom Observation – Private School (English as MOI)


  1. Interaction with ILM teachers, trainer, and school lead


  1. Interviews from alumni students


The MTB-MLE school


4 Torwali MLE schools are operational in Swat District, three of which are located in villages near Bahrain, while one is located in the Bahrain town. The latter was visited. The school had a small playing ground and four classrooms (KG1 to G2 – one section each) with 58 students in total. No classroom had more than 25 students, and all students belonged to the Torwali language group.



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The school is placed amidst tall mountains full of green lush trees. As one enters the school, they are welcomed with colorful painted walls with a cartoon carrying a board which has alphabets that are unique to Torwali language. On another wall is a giant painting covering all Torwali alphabets with words and pictures that begin with each alphabet.



















Image 1: Ilm School from a distance                                Image 2: Inside the Ilm School





This school started in 2008 and was initiated by Idara Barae Taleem o Taraqqi (IBT). IBT began in 2006 and has been involved in multiple projects including community development initiatives for the Torwali people, adult literacy programs and more. This is a four year school after which the students either move to private or government schools – as per their capacity and choice. Both the latter type of schools have English as Medium of Instruction (MOI) and Torwali is not taught formally, while Urdu is taught as a subject.


Note: The government schools in KPK had Urdu as MOI earlier but since 2014, the provincial government has made English as MOI from G1 onwards.


Classroom Observations – Ilm School


Two classes – KG 1 and KG2 were observed. These were naturally lit classrooms, sun rays making its way through the window. The students in the classrooms were full of energy and expressed active engagement while they studied. The students followed instructions and responded loudly to their teacher who spoke only in Torwali. There were chart papers and big books in the classroom, and the mathematical numbers were written in both Torwali and English. Teachers walked to every student and gave each, individual attention. While class decorum and norms of conversation were in place, there were no rigid rules, and students freely expressed.









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Image 3: Mathematics lesson                                                Image 4: KG 1 classroom




Mathematics Class (KG1)


The theme for this week was Shamali (currency). The teacher first made students familiar with the number six by asking questions and making them count familiar objects, and then made them write the number six on their workbook. This was followed by a problem solving question asked to the students, which was related to the theme of currency, the answer to which was # 6.


Language Class (KG2)


The students were addressed in Urdu for the Urdu Class. L2 was being taught through Total Physical Response (TPR). Examples include statements: “Make a queue”, “Close your eyes” and “Come outside” (in Urdu). Students appeared to understand these instructions in Urdu and exemplified the same with actions..


Although KG2 students were introduced to Urdu and English through TPR in the last term, when spoken to them in Urdu, the response was rarely received – and teacher had to translate the same in Torwali. Similar experience occurred with students from Grade 1.



Classroom Observations – Private School


This school was located at a 5 minute walk from the ILM School. The medium of instruction was English, while Urdu was taught as a language subject. The research team observed KG1 and KG2, and interacted with G10 female students. Pre-dominantly all students were Torwali speaking.


KG1 and KG2


Unlike Ilm School the students had the same uniform, they were quietly placed in their chairs and waiting for the teacher to instruct. On the board a few lines were written in English, which the students were asked to repeat. When some aspect had to be explained Torwali was used as a medium. The level of interaction among students or between student and teacher was highly limited. When inquired from the teachers from both classes, what language is used more often in the classroom, both responded – Torwali.



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G10 Students and Principal


The principal of the school also shared that ideally students should be taught in their mother tongue first.


Students shared personal encounters of struggling with L2 and L3 in the early years. Many held the opinion that Torwali should be given significance for the purpose of ease of communication in the early years, and to save the language and its culture. Many stated that, when concepts are difficult to understand they first understand those in Torwali and then in other languages.



Student Interviews


The graduates of Ilm School were interviewed. All the students were very comfortable with Torwali language and could understand Urdu and speak with partial fluency. Three interviews were conducted: 1) Government School Students 2) Private School Students 3) Private School Students


The Government School students (G6 – 2 boys): Rote learning was evident. They said they only copy what is written on board and don’t make anything of their own. When spoken to in Torwali, their response was quick and they appeared more fluent. When asked questions in Urdu, their response was slow. They said one teacher in their school is really good because he teaches in Torwali, and they would prefer their exams to be in Urdu (presently in English).


The Private School students (G8 – 2 boys): They studied in the Bahrain Private School. Currently, these students were in grade 8. They had strong communication skills in Urdu and said that their Urdu was better than other students of their class, because they had a stronger foundation in language, through Torwali first.


The Private School (G7 – 2 girls) – One of the girls had studied pre-school from Ilm School. She said that reading Torwali stories had been fun in the school. If given option, they said they would prefer their exams to be in Urdu. The other girl was of the opinion that if taught in Torwali, she would better understand concepts.



Orientation to the Two Track Approach


The research team was oriented to the two track approach in detail by one teacher, who had been part of the MTB-MLE training provided by SIL and Forum for Language Initiatives (FLI). The teacher was an extremely dedicated individual who contributed to both teaching students and training other teachers. – The school followed two track approach – story track and workbook track simultaneously. In the two year project, there are 8 terms and each term is for 2 months. Each term has 8 weeks and each week follows a theme. These themes are context based e.g. Mountains, derived from students lives. In total 32 themes are followed in one year, and there are 64 listening stories, 64 reading stories and 32 poems which are developed on these themes


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through writers workshops with diverse individuals from the community. In addition to languages, non-literacy subjects were also taught using the same themes. Those subjects included: Mathematics, Social Studies, Science, Health, Poetry and Art. There were teacher guides developed for each week and each day of the week. For every day in particular, the lesson was further broken down to 15 minute plans, to guide the teacher.


Challenges and Limitations Observed


Through classroom observation and interaction with diverse stakeholders, the following challenges came to fore:


  • Teacher attrition – some female teachers left after their marriage, some teachers left for better financial opportunities to private school or for job security to government sector


  • Lack of continuous capacity building for teachers – the training received by one teacher from FLI and SIL in 2008 was 27 day intensive by language and other experts. Offering similar trainings after that have not been possible financially as well as administratively. Although IBT does provide quarterly refresher courses for teachers


  • A high tendency among the teachers to revert to the traditional 'translation and rote' method. To overcome this, consistent evaluation and teacher training is required


  • The Two Track approach is well guided by themes and teacher guide, however the time allocated for every task is not always accurate to the contextual realities of the class


  • Although Urdu and English are introduced in the last two terms of Pre-school, there is limited formal instructional guide of how to introduce English and the rationale for introducing both languages simultaneously is not clear


  • Ilm is a Pre-school with a subtractive model at present – Torwali does not continue formally beyond KG 2 and students have to move to Private or Govt. schools with distinct multilingual and language transition model


  • No formal evaluation study has been conducted to evaluate the impact the school in Torwali has had on students graduating from the school, except anecdotal accounts


  • Since the private and government schools (that are compared with Ilm School) do not use the Two Track Approach, and many are observed as using non-student centered pedagogy, it is difficult to ascertain the role played by the Two Track methodology and the Mother Tongue, if observed separately.







With funding constraints and resource limitations, operating a resource and engagement intensive MTB-MLE Program such as Ilm School is appreciative. The Ilm team was genuinely involved in what they were doing and were passionate for the cause of conceptual learning. Thorough evaluation of the benefits of the programme will help others learn and emulate. While teaching in MT is a strong component of the model, the transition to L2 and L3 needs to be strengthened.



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