Chilli Pilli Makkala Koota: Implementing a Novel Phonetics Pedagogy to Rear Multi-Lingual Children

Suhas Kulhalli, FounderMother tongue is the first language a child learns, without the need for any ‘teaching’ or ‘school’. Unfortunately, however, what started as a need for English in professional education has caused a back pressure to such an extent, that it is considered a ‘problem’ if children are not speaking English by the age of three. Resultantly, all Indian languages other than English, are for all practical purposes, being smothered out. Suhas Kulhalli(Founder, Chilli Pilli Makkala Koota) saw this when he found that his daughter, who spoke very good Kannada, was looked down upon by teachers & staff at the pre-schools. The irony was however, even children from Kannada speaking families could not follow her.

Determined to reverse this, Suhas approached more than a dozen preschools in the area to see if they could give equal importance to Kannada and teach it concurrently with English. Some were completely appalled by the idea, others were appreciative but said the parents would not accept it and their school would have to close down. So Suhas along with his wife Kavita, decided to start a school along their vision for their second daughter. Not only did it not close, it became the fastest growing pre-school in one of the most cosmopolitan areas of Bangalore. In just over two years, they have more than 60 children. And, a tribute to the Indian spirit, more than 80 percent of the children are non-Kannadigas. It is not just about Kannada however, children are positively encouraged to talk, converse and express themselves in their languages. Since children are from all over, with some from as far as Mizoram, Nepal, Bihar, the Hindi Belt, Maharashtra, Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala & others, the place feels like a mini India.

“It is not just for sentimental value that our children need to be good at our language;; multilingual children are smarter, more versatile, have better social skills, are more broad-minded and lead emotionally and culturally richer lives according to various studies. Even in adults, multilingualism has shown to delay the onset of brain degenerative diseases by years. That children get exposed to multiple languages at an early age is a good thing it is very unfortunate that most pre-schools and schools in India are out to kill it. Schooling should be a place where children gain something, not loose what they have,” says Suhas

Innovative New Phonics Program
Faced with a challenge of being a multilingual preschool and yet, achieve the same level of proficiency in each of the languages as other single language preschools, Chilli Pilli has come up with its own unique phonics pedagogy. Conceptualised by Suhas and systematised at the preschool, this phonics program gets children to read & write multiple languages simultaneously. The foundational phonics is taught with sounds in a language agnostic way. Once the phonological understanding is obtained, only then are the letters of the language of interest introduced. The mapping
and format is maintained across languages, making multiple languages learning a breeze. A number of fun exercises and activities are done to make the learning engaging and effective.

“Not only do they learn it much faster than other phonics programmes, they do it in a way that helps build their analytical and reasoning skills, gives insight into word structure of languages and builds confidence. This helps in English spellings as well. We are now opening it to parents and teachers and other schools through training programmes,” adds Suhas.

Chilli Pilli invented a novel technique to build upon a phonological framework, where children can independently organize sound forms into a meaningful language

Where Learning Happens
Naturally Unlike other pre-schools, this Bangalore-based institution offers a unique blend of structured and unstructured learning. For example, as soon as a child enters a classroom, one does not start with lessons, but instead have a free-format conversation. Where the child struggles with vocabulary if the language is not its mother tongue, teachers help out. This helps them settle in to the day, improves communication skills and vocabulary, without a formal lesson. And it is driven by the child. Priority is given to not overburden the child with unnecessary information, but rather stay to what is of immediate relevance. Focus is given to conceptual understanding rather than rote learning.

It’s build on some Montessori principles, but goes beyond Montessori in terms of materials used and experiments done, with numerous original ideas and experiments to deepen concepts. At Chilli Pilli, a lot of effort goes in trying to build on the child’s innate intelligence, rather than pass on information in a regimented, spoonfed way, which Kavita says makes the children dull and subdues their creative and problem solving skills. Everyday, the children enjoy a minimum of 40 minutes of free play in adjoining outdoor play area. They interact across age groups, languages and pick up life skills while learning to be independent.

Instead of homework, several engage-at-home activities (sent in a biweekly newsletter, which also updates the progress of every child) are suggested to reinforce learning, where parents can spend some quality time with their children, while learning at school is reinforced. Currently taking children in the age group two years to six years, from play group, nursery, LKG, UKG, Chilli Pilli has a well-rounded curriculum. Talented teachers from diverse professional and linguistic backgrounds, with regular discussions, assessments, planning and reviews create a positive and vibrant culture of continuous improvement and innovation. Chilli Pilli also has a daycare facility with friendly staff and plenty of outdoor and indoor play time.

Engaging Activities for Children
For the holistic development of the child, Chilli-Pilli offers a regular dose of dance, drama, music, clay, art, sports, free-play and more. Every festival is celebrated with pomp and complete involvement of the children. Children themselves will do a flower arrangement for Onam (phookolam), or will make small clay idols for Ganesh Chathurthi and participate in role plays in Krishna Janmashtami and many more, thus getting exposed to the rich cultural heritage of this country and learning through activities in the process.

Further, following a unique concept of open classrooms, classrooms are attached to an open space with greeneries. While the children enjoy free play in the play area (equipped with parallel bars, climbers, a small hill with a mini tunnel & others), the daily sports takes care of their physical development. Suhas concludes, “We are constantly engaging, improvising, fine-tuning our process & methods. A school which blindly follows an xyz curriculum developed in some abc country, is not alive to its children. While we study and research all methods, we will do what works best for the child at that time”.