Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Odisha promotes multilingual education

The government of Odisha has just issued orders (JPGs, six pages) on implementing mother-tongue based multilingual education (MLE) for Indigenous (Tribal) children.

"In order to address the language gap faced by the tribal children in the educational process...", Odisha is making the following provisions:

- MLE will be extended to all Indigenous children in Odisha
- the mother-tongue will be the medium for the first 5 years
- Odia in class 2 and English in class 3 as language subjects
- teachers fluent in the children's language will get priority in recruitment
- a long-term plan to attract Indigenous people into teaching jobs
- intensive teacher-training for MLE pedagogy.

There's more. Until the orders are available online on the NMRC or OPEPA websites (see below), see the government orders here as JPGs.

"I am happy that years of persistent effort finally materialized. With this notification, Odisha is the first state in India to have a clear set of policy proclamations for MLE for tribal children", says Prof Ajit Mohanty, Chairperson of the committee that made the recommendations. The National Multilingual Education Resource Consortium (NMRC) collaborated with Odisha Primary Education Programme Authority (OPEPA) to prepare the policy document.

Let us hope that this Odisha government initiative inspires other governments in India and elsewhere.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Private schools not better than government schools - APF study

An Azim Premji Foundation (APF) 2013 report, "Private Schools Are No Panacea" (PDF; 20 pages) "suggests that contrary to popular perceptions, private schools are not adding value as compared to government schools to the children in the main subjects" (p. 15).

Previous analyses like that by Wilima Wadhwa in ASER 2009, "Are Private Schools Really Performing Better Than Government Schools?" (PDF; 3 pages) did suggest the same: "In the case of reading in the local language, in many cases most of the learning differential disappears once other factors are controlled for – Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. In the case of Madhya Pradesh, the difference is actually reversed – once other factors are controlled for government schools perform better than private schools. In the case of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where government schools had higher learning levels to start with, the gap widens once other factors are taken into account" (p. 3).

APF's School Choice study follows a different methodology. Government school children in 180 villages in Andhra Pradesh were offered a scholarship to study in a private school if they wished to. Then, the scholarship children in private schools, the non-scholarship children in private schools, and children in government schools were all evaluated over a 5-year period (2008-2013).

Analysis of five years of test data shows that:

"1. The scholarship children in private schools (children who were interested and voluntarily shifted to private schools) perform no better than their corresponding counterparts in government schools in the two main subjects - Telugu and Mathematics as also in EVS [environmental science] and English. This is observed consistently across the five years. This implies that private schools are not able to add any significant value in terms of learning achievement of these children.

"2. The learning achievement in general among non-scholarship children in private schools (who would have been in private schools any way) is significantly better than among children in government schools. However, the private school children’s households have a relatively better socio-economic and education profile which may have been a contributory factor.

"3. There are clear and significant differences in the profile of the teachers and the school facilities between the private schools and government schools. The teachers in private schools are younger, less experienced, less trained and with lower educational qualifications and are also paid substantially less. On the other hand, the government school teachers need to handle multi-grade teaching situations.

"4. Interestingly, interviews with parents of the scholarship children in private schools indicate that they are happy with the private schools. A closer look at the responses shows that the parents are possibly evaluating school outcomes on softer factors like uniforms, discipline, attendance in school (both of children and teachers) and social standing in the community.

"It seems clear that, contrary to general perception, private schools are not adding any greater value as compared to government schools to the children in Telugu and Mathematics, the main subjects, as also in EVS and English over five years of primary schooling, after controlling for the background of the households. The reasons for the perception that private schools may be better than government schools may lie in socio-economic, household or other factors. This research has provided rich data on various aspects and there is a need to do further detailed analysis to better understand these complex issues" (p. 1).

This is clearly a report that needs to be more widely known.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Multilingual education in Nepal - Report

"Policy and Strategy for MLE in Nepal" (PDF) is a 2009 report authored by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas and Ajit Mohanty. In 67 pages, it takes you through
  • the rationale for mother-tongue based multilingual education (MLE), especially for ITM (Indigenous/Tribal and [linguistic] Minority) children
  • the catastrophic costs worldwide of not implementing it
  • the various effective and ineffective strategies that have been tried
  • the successful implementations worldwide
  • how Nepal might go about implementing MLE
If you are interested in the subject at all, do read at least the section, "Summing up and recommendations" (p. 36 onwards). The authors conclude:
Keeping in view the present levels of linguistic competence of children and different groups associated with school education in Nepal, it is recommended that high competence in the mother tongue must be targeted for quality learning as well as for fostering sense of identity and self-confidence. In respect  of Nepali, school education must aim at high level of final competence, fit for higher education and effective participation in the democratic, political, economic and social processes in Nepal.
However, somewhat lower expectations for competence in English may be a realistic short- and middle-term target in view of the present circumstances where teachers, school administrators and teacher trainers do not themselves have high competence in English, neither in Listening/Speaking nor in Reading/Writing. Since requirement of high international levels of reading and writing competence in English is unlikely in the near future for most people in Nepal, a solid basic knowledge in English that can be expanded later might be a more realistic mid-term goal. The goals in respect of English could be increased later when English competencies of teachers and educators in Nepal become higher. (p. 37)
The report sketches the policy and pedagogic conditions necessary for MLE in Nepal. It ends on this optimistic note: "Nepal has made a very good start with the MLE project and activities around it. As Appendix 2 (Concept paper; one of the results of an earlier consultancy by one of us) and Appendix 6 (working group report, chair professor Yadava) show, there is a wealth of knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment. This knowledge was also eminently presented in the Yadava & Grove (eds, 1994/2008) report. This makes us hopeful in relation to the future in Nepal's attempts to maintain and develop further its enormous riches of diversities." (p. 40)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Species and languages - WWF report

Jonathan Loh and David Harmon, in their new report, Biocultural Diversity: threatened species, endangered languages (PDF), develop analogies between biodiversity and linguistic diversity:
we have chosen two fundamental units or classifiers of nature and culture: species and languages. Species are the basic units of biodiversity; languages are a useful proxy to stand for the world’s diverse cultures. Other elements of biodiversity such as ecosystems or genes, and other aspects of culture such as religions, arts, or livelihood and subsistence strategies, are much harder to define and very much harder to measure. There are striking parallels between species and languages (p. 2).
In a brief 60 pages, they take us through Biocultural Diversity; Evolution of Species and Language; Decline of Biocultural Diversity; and Status of Species and Languages. Among their conclusions are:
Two results are immediately apparent when comparing the status and trends in biodiversity and linguistic diversity. Firstly, at the global level, the trends are very similar, both the LPI (species) and ILD (languages) declined by about 30% since 1970, which suggests that biodiversity and linguistic diversity are being lost at similar rates. This supports the conclusion of the Red List analysis comparing the conservation status of languages and species: globally, linguistic diversity is at least as threatened as biodiversity.
The second result is that, while both biodiversity and linguistic diversity are threatened globally, they are declining at different rates in different regions of the world. By far the most rapid losses in linguistic diversity have occurred in the Americas where, according to the Red List analysis, 60% of languages are threatened or have gone extinct since 1970.
[...] Habitat loss and over-exploitation of species remain the greatest threats for most of the world’s biodiversity. [...]
The decline in linguistic diversity is normally a result of the process of language shift away from small indigenous languages toward larger, national or regional languages. Language shift is driven by a number of social, political and economic factors including migration, urbanization, national unification, colonization, and the globalization of trade and communications. Migrant communities often undergo a process of language shift, whether moving from one country to another, or from a rural to an urban area within the same country. Governments in many developed and developing countries actively promote a single national language at the expense of other, usually minority, languages for political reasons. (p. 44-45)
In their "Epilogue" the authors sum up the vision underlying the vision as follows:
Maintaining diversity is not just a question of protecting endangered languages and species in remote hotspots of biocultural diversity such as the Amazon or New Guinea, vitally important though that is, conservation is also a matter of allowing diversity to thrive in those parts of the world where humans have already had a profound impact on the biological and cultural landscape, in the more densely populated parts of the planet. Recognizing and exploring the parallels between nature and culture, and understanding the processes that underlie their evolution, ecology and extinction, is a first step towards ensuring that we can continue to inhabit a world of incredible diversity. (p. 49)
Loh, J. and D. Harmon. 2014. Biocultural Diversity: threatened species, endangered languages. WWF Netherlands, Zeist, The Netherlands. http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/biocultural_report__june_2014.pdf

Friday, February 21, 2014

How many languages are there in India?


This is a tricky question! Depending on how you define language and dialect, you get diverse answers. Here are three answers.

1. PLSI. "There are over 780 languages and 66 different scripts in India." Ganesh N Devy, Chairperson of the People's Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI), announced this in press conferences in Kolkata and Guwahati in July 2013. As the report in The Hindu said: "Arunachal Pradesh is the richest among the States with 90 languages.... Researchers found that Assam with 55 languages, Gujarat 48, Maharashtra 39, and West Bengal 38 are among the most linguistically diverse States.... The survey, Dr. Devy said, has revealed that the north-eastern parts of the country have one of the highest per capita language densities in the world." Another report quotes Devy as saying, "While it surely is a fact to celebrate the diversity of the country, the sad part is we have lost nearly 250 languages in the last 50 years or so." More elsewhere on this blog.

2. Ethnologue. "The number of individual languages listed for India is 461. Of these, 447 are living and 14 are extinct. Of the living languages, 75 are institutional, 127 are developing, 178 are vigorous, 55 are in trouble, and 12 are dying." This is how the internet's biggest language-database, Ethnologue, characterizes our languages. A-Pucikwar, Adi, Agariya... when I first saw this list many years ago, it was only the 25th language that I recognized -- Assamese.

3. Census of India. "122 languages" says the 2001 census. But wait -- how do they arrive at this number? Well, the enumerators "recorded faithfully" 6661 mother-tongue names from all over the country. These were then "subjected to thorough linguistic scrutiny, edit and rationalization." This resulted in 1635 "rationalized mother tongues" -- each of which is spoken by at least 10,000 speakers -- and 1957 names "which were treated as 'unclassified' and relegated to 'other' mother tongue category." These 1635 "rationalized mother tongues" were further classified following "the usual linguistic methods for rational grouping". The result was 122 languages.

One result of these reclassifications is that under the language-name Hindi, there are 49 "mother-tongues" (from Awadhi to Surjapuri). Besides, there are also 14.8 million "Others", speaking mother-tongues with 10,000 or fewer speakers. 14.8 million "Others": as Wikipedia tells us, there are about 174 countries and dependent territories with smaller populations than that!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Language and environment - a response to Madhav Gadgil

Professor Madhav Gadgil gave a talk at IIIT Hyderabad today. Among other things, he stressed the need to empower local communities with information on and knowledge of how various decisions by governments and corporations will impact their environment. Government-generated environmental information is poor, not-transparent, and frequently manipulated, he said. The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill, 2013 came in for special castigation (see also this analysis of the bill by PRS Legislative Research).

He was tremendously optimistic about citizen-science initiatives (like the Australian WaterWatch) and using the Right to Information Act to generate knowledge for informed debate. He was equally optimistic that machine translation "within about 30-40 years" will make this knowledge available in any language.

In the Q&A that followed, I took the following line (spelt out here in greater detail than I had time for in the session):

(a) biodiversity hotspots are also hotspots of linguistic diversity -- researchers in fact speak of "biocultural diversity";

(b) knowledge of biodiversity maintenance is typically encoded in indigenous languages, and many of these are very small languages indeed -- the median number of speakers of the world's languages is a mere 7000 (compare it to the mean -- 878 thousand);

(c) thus, even from a purely instrumental point of view (setting aside any ethical arguments), there is a good case for the flourishing of these languages;

(d) but this linguistic diversity is disappearing very fast -- "between 1970 and 2005 the number of languages spoken globally has decreased by 20%";

(e) among the most effective mechanisms to ensure that a language disappears is an assimilationist language policy in education -- specifically, the use of  a non-mother-tongue as medium of instruction -- what we have elsewhere called "silent ethnocide -- a low-intensity warfare through formal education";

(f) thus, if information and knowledge are to benefit the environmentally most vulnerable in society, a mother-tongue-based multilingual education is necessary -- machine-translation technologies, while welcome, will not by themselves be enough.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

ASER 2013: no significant improvement in learning to read

The provisional Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for rural India is out.

Highlights from the section "The National Picture".
  • Enrollment in the 6-14 age group continues to be very high, with more than 96% of children in school. The proportion of out of school girls in the 11 to 14 age group has declined since last year.
  • Nationally, there is a slight increase over 2012 in private school enrollment. The proportion of children taking paid private tuition classes has also increased slightly since last year.
  • Since last year no significant improvement is visible in children’s ability to read - nationally, 47% of 5th class children in government and private schools were able to read a 2nd class text. Among Std. V children enrolled in government schools, the percentage of children able to read Std. II level text decreased from 50.3% (2009) to 43.8% (2011) to 41.1% (2013).
  • Children are still struggling with basic arithmetic.
During ASER 2013, 14,724 government schools with primary sections were
visited across rural India. Observations:
  • Teacher attendance holds steady, but student attendance drops.
  • The proportion of “small schools” in the government primary school sector is growing (with total enrollment of 60 students or less).
  • Compliance with most measurable Right to Education (RTE) norms continues to grow.
  • the percentage of schools with no drinking water facility has declined from 17% in 2010 to 15.2% in 2013. In 7 states, more than 80% of schools visited had both the facility and drinking water was available.
  • significant increase in the proportion of schools with a useable toilet, from 47.2% in 2010 to 62.6% in 2013. In 2010, 31.2% of all schools visited did not have a separate toilet for girls. This number has declined to 19.3% in 2013. The percentage of useable toilets for girls has also increased from 32.9% in 2010 to 53.3% in 2013.
  • steady increase in the provision of libraries in schools that have been visited. The All India figure for schools with no library provision dropped from 37.4% in 2010 to 22.9% in 2013.
  • mid-day meal was observed being served on the day of the visit in 87.2% of schools. This year, in 14 states, mid-day meals were seen in more than 90% of schools visited.
The report notes the increasing prevalence of private schools and private tuition in rural India. On this matter, the article in the report by Wilima Wadhwa : "Private inputs into schooling : Bang for the buck?" notes:

"One thing to note here is that while private school learning levels may be higher than those in government schools, children in private schools also are far below grade competency. For instance, in 2013, the proportion of Std. 5 children who could read a Std. 2 level text is 41.1% in government schools. The corresponding number for private schools is 63.3%- indicating that one third of children even in private schools are at least 2 grades behind in reading ability."