Friday, August 28, 2015

Early childhood report overlooks language

The Law Commission of India has just published a good report called "Early Childhood Development and Legal Entitlements" (PDF). In a brief 73 pages it offers a useful overview of the concept and importance of early childhood care; the international conventions, treaties and declarations on the subject; the (Indian) constitutional context; and the various national policies and schemes dealing with health and nutrition, as well as care and education. The report concludes with a list of recommendations to strengthen the "statutory backing" for the various provisions already in existence.

The recommendations include making mandatory free preschool education (rather than optional as it currently is under the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RtE)). But the report is silent on what this might mean for children of Indigenous peoples and linguistic minorities (ILM -- incidentally, ilm is the Urdu word for knowledge and learning). As things stand, when a ILM child enters primary school, hardly anywhere in the country does she receive education in the mother tongue. The report's silence on the issue of medium of instruction indicates that for ILM children preschool education too will be in a non-mother tongue.

This flies in the face of the report's declaration that, "There should be a reference to quality of education in the Rules. Education for children under six must mean quality education and care to prepare them for elementary school and anything less than that should not be called education" (p. 61). Brave words! Similarly, the report also enjoins the state to provide training of preschool teachers "to ensure quality standards and a proper implementation of the best methods of promoting play and learning" (p 72). Let us hope that these admonitions to provide quality education through play and learning translate into a mother-tongue-medium education for our children.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tanzania schools to shift to Swahili from English

Tanzania is overhauling its education system. (I haven't been able to find an English translation of the new education policy yet. But the Swahili version seems to be this PDF document: Sera Ya Elimu Na Mafunzo 2014 (Policy of Education and Training 2014).)

A prominent feature of the new education policy is to shift to Swahili as the medium of instruction at all levels. Kiswahili is currently the language of instruction at the primary level, and English is taught as a subject. Thereafter, English becomes the medium of instruction from the secondary level to higher education. This is set to change. But as a news report says: "The document says the government will continue strengthening English in teaching along with Kiswahili during the transition period because using only Kiswahili will require a lot of resources."

However, it is unclear whether this shift will apply to private, fee-paying schools as well. The new policy envisages some regulation of private education. As the news report says: "After years of being driven by market forces, private schools in Tanzania will have a regulator to ensure that the cost of education is realistic and provides value for money. The idea is to make sure that school owners do not overcharge parents who shun public schools in search of quality education in the mushrooming private schools."

But there is no mention in the news report of whether the private schools' medium of instruction will also be regulated. In the absence of that, as one observer warns: "I suspect one effect of this legislation will be an increase in enrollments in private schools that continue to offer tuition in English. Keep an eye open for politicians opening new English medium schools in the near future!"

English-medium education thus will once again create two streams of learners. The first of those in poorly resourced, poorly run government schools which have a non-English medium of instruction. To these will come those who cannot afford the second stream. This second stream being low-cost, fee-paying, English-medium schools. Parents send children to these schools at great expense. But these too have poor learning outcomes. As indeed we have seen in the case of the Andhra Pradesh School Choice Study.

The (urban) elites, in Tanzania as in India, are far removed from these problems, as an observer remarks: "Their children go to international schools [where the language of instruction is English]. We, the poor ones, will continue with going to under-performing and poorly equipped schools and continue with our English of ya, ya, yes no yes no. At the same time their children are speaking English fluently."

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 (list of languages)
- 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, "MLE Policy Implementation and Guidelines for Odisha" (DOCX, 37 pages).

The policy document is itself worth reading for the wealth of evidence it gives in support of MLE from studies worldwide. It is also notable for the care with which it suggests measures to make MLE work in Odisha. The document concludes: "The question is not whether Odisha can afford MLE, rather it is WHETHER ODISHA CAN AFFORD NOT TO IMPLEMENT MLE."

Let us hope that this Odisha government initiative serves as a template, and 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.

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!