Published: 23rd August 2020
Meet the Children’s Book writer who spent sleepless nights getting the NEP translated into Tamil
Selvan, who is known better as Vizhiyan, did not just translate the NEP, he also translated the 484 pages of the draft NEP previously and also a version of the Student Collective’s NEP Dictionary too
It is ironic that the drafting committee of the National Education Policy did not deem it necessary to translate the document into regional languages despite all its talk about accessibility and inclusivity. The NEP was made available only in English and Hindi, making it inaccessible to the people in the country who can only read and write in their regional languages. Which is why writer Umanath Selvan decided that he would take it upon himself to translate the policy into Tamil. Today, the Tamil Nadu Education Department has itself posted the version on its site for people to access.
Selvan, who is known better as Vizhiyan in literary circles, did not just translate the NEP, he also translated the 484 pages of the draft NEP previously and also a version of the Student Collective’s NEP Dictionary as well. However, this was not just another translation job for Selvan — it personally affected him as well. Selvan, a software professional has written 18 Tamil books for children and almost 200 short stories for children. He has written for magazines on children’s literature and also parenting. The writer also sends stories on WhatsApp to 8000 parents around the globe!
His work doesn’t end here. The writer was concerned by the fact that children did not seem to be reading enough. He was already a parent so he readily understood that aspect but needed to get into the shoes of teachers to understand why teachers were not encouraging reading among students. That’s when he began to interact with the teaching community and found out the gaps. He began to personally send stories to teachers on WhatsApp and get their feedback on how students responded to the stories and accordingly altered his writing to make it more accessible. And then he went further, he set up reading camps — he and his wife, Ranjani Kuzhali, who is also a storyteller, would travel to schools and read to students and get them to read as well, “We found out that it wasn’t enough to just send the books to them. We had to introduce it to the students, discuss, ask them what they liked and what they didn’t. The reading habit had to be encouraged.”
Selvan mostly travelled to schools in rural areas as part of the reading workshops and got a first-hand experience of the problems that plagued these schools, everything from infrastructure to lack of teachers, resources. So, Selvan’s interactions with the education system had already been quite frequent and deep, which is why when the NEP draft came out, he immediately read it. “Way back when the TSR committee report came out, it was mostly Greek and Latin to me. It was only after that, that I started visiting schools. So when the DNEP was released in 2019, I read it the same night and was shocked by it. I was concerned that there had not been any discussion on the policy when the TSR report came out so I was hoping the teachers would be more actively involved this time. And then I learnt that there was no attempt by the government to translate the document into Tamil,” Selvan said.
Since June 30 was the last day to submit the feedback to the DNEP, Selvan knew he had to work fast. He had only about 10-12 days to get the document translated. Since Selvan has a pretty big social media following, he decided to make an open call on Facebook, inviting people to help him translate the 477-page DNEP. “Teachers, IT Professionals, doctors, home makers, writers, translators and so many others responded. The toughest job was coordination, I had to speak to each person and allocate work. Everybody also had day jobs and other commitments as well. There were last minute delays, people backed out, became unreachable. Some gave handwritten translations, some in unrecognisable fonts, so we had to digitise it and that ended up taking more time,” he recalled.
Then the document was sent to be reviewed and since many had helped, the language changed sometimes from one chapter to another. “After many sleepless nights, we finally managed to get out the document on the 15th day. Bharathi Puthagalayam made it into a book and distributed to teachers and various organisations across the state. It was a huge reason why people finally started discussing the NEP,” Selvan said.
So when the policy was finally released, Selvan knew he had to get down to work again. “This 66-page version just seemed like a shortened version of the DNEP. When we found out there again would be no attempts to translate it into regional languages, my friend, Nanda and I challenged ourselves to translate it over the weekend. So we called out for people again on social media. This time we decided to keep it completely digital, no scanning or re-typing. Our target was Saturday 9 am and we did actually finish about 90 percent of the work. We finished the rest in the next two hours. The next task was to check it completely. We pulled in others to help with the reviewing. Abbreviations, merging, consolidating, spellings, everything was being checked,” he said.
Vizhiyan and Nanda
“Last time, there were lots of ottru pizhai (grammar mistakes), this time we used a tool called ‘Vani’ which generated error reports. There were over 1600 errors. We thought a single person doing the editing would be too cumbersome, About nine of us sat and started the review. But it took an exceedingly long time as there were lots of debates and discussions on word usage and sentences. We thought we could delay the release by a few hours. Finally, it happened on Monday night,” Selvan said, proudly.
When the Student Collective’s NEP Dictionary came out, Selvan was intrigued to see the work that had gone into it and felt this was again something that should be translated into Tamil, so he got in touch with the students, “I was very intrigued by the fact that they called it the ‘National Exclusion Policy.” Selvan is now happy with the response that he has been receiving and the appreciation, activists, educationists and even government officials have reached out to him and applauded his work and are also sharing it. Making his dream come true of getting the NEP to be read by people far and wide.
His thoughts and views on the NEP are clear, “If you look at the policy that came out in 1986, the suggestions are so detailed and delves deep into the problems in education and makes fantastic recommendations. The NEP barely has anything to say about the ways to tackle the problems we are faced with. See, English is a very sweet language. And the language used in the NEP can be very deceiving especially to those who have no idea about the issues that plague the education system. Which is why it was so important for the document to be translated into Tamil,” Selvan explained.