Thursday, December 10, 2009

To sing with subtlety in these murderous times

Today, on Human Rights Day 2009, I thought of an editorial I'd written almost exactly 7 years ago in January 2003, as guest editor of the Newsletter of the Indian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (Iaclals). I'd titled the editorial, "To Sing with Subtlety in these Murderous Times" - translating the title of a classic Esperanto poem by Kálmán Kalocsay (1891-1976): "Subtile kanti en ĉi murdepoko".

I wrote the editorial during the week following the death of Sujit Mukherjee - The gentleman scholar, Ramchandra Guha called him. (And on 16 September this year, we lost my teacher Meenakshi Mukherjee as well.)

In January 2003 we were not only grieving for Sujitda. It was also the period between the Gujarat genocide and the Iraq war. All this and more I mentioned in the editorial, concluding:

"Can Writing Make a Difference? Do these murderous times need songs sung with subtlety? The answer -- from Gujarat, Ghosh, Chomsky and the thousands at the Asian Social Forum -- is a resounding Yes!"

I invite you to read the full editorial.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

This Gift of English - review

My brief review of Alok Mukherjee's This Gift of English: English Education and the Formation of Alternative Hegemonies in India appears in the current issue of the literary magazine Muse India. The review ends with a plea for more cross-fertilization of ideas between literary studies people and sociolinguists.

Net resources for my references include E. Annamalai's paper on "nativization" of English in India: here is the abstract; the full text can be requested here.

Robert Phillipson has written extensively on education and language policy in the European Union and elsewhere. Indeed in the subtitle of a paper, he asks: "English as an EU lingua franca or lingua frankensteinia?" His webpage links to much that feeds into his new book, Linguistic Imperialism Continued (Orient Blackswan and Routledge).

Likewise, Tove Skutnabb-Kangas has a rich website full of material that argues powerfully for linguistic human rights, and the crucial role education plays in securing (and more often, violating) these rights. I recently blogged about her presentation on mother-tongue medium education.

Skutnabb-Kangas and Phillipson co-edited with Ajit Mohanty and Minati Panda the excellent collection of essays on mother-tongue based multilingual education (which comes in two slightly differing versions from Orient Blackswan and Multilingual Matters). My recent blog on language and apartheid in South Africa drew upon one of those essays.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Indian languages in South Africa

A school principal of Indian descent in South Africa is asking that his students be allowed to learn their "heritage languages" officially, instead of learning Afrikaans or an indigenous African language. In another report, students of Indian descent are saying the same thing: "We'd rather study Hindi".

The principal, Vishnu Naidoo, declares, that "Afrikaans is irrelevant to Indians in KwaZulu-Natal." Besides, recalling apartheid, he says that, "It is a crime to force Indian children to continue to learn the language of the oppressor." (See the essay "Language Policy and Oppression in South Africa" for a 1982-snapshot of language policy and politics in the country.)

The school does offer Tamil, Hindi and Urdu as additional subjects, but these are not part of the university points system.

But, as a Department of Education official points out, Afrikaans is not compulsory, and principals can apply for their pupils to learn any other of South Africa's 11 official languages. But Principal Naidoo says that his pupils avoid learning isiZulu (the most widely spoken home language) because it is "far too difficult for them".

Naidoo also asks: "Is it necessary for all pupils to do two languages at matric level?"

To which the Department responds: "We are a multi-lingual country, and therefore any two of the official languages have to be taught in all our schools."

Besides, as another report points out: "that there would be practical advantages to learning an indigenous African language rather than one of the Indian languages, which [are] rarely used in practice, even by the Indian community in the country."

But, of course, in matters of linguistic identities, "practical advantages" are never the only consideration. Here's a challenge for the Pan South African Language Board!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Skutnabb-Kangas on MTM Education

"Literacy and Oracy in Mother-Tongue Based Multi-Lingual Education" is the title of a public lecture which Tove Skutnabb-Kangas will deliver at Mahatma Gandhi Institute in Moka in Mauritius. She argues that, "The most important PEDAGOGICAL reason for the world’s ”illiteracy” is the wrong medium of teaching" (slide 37) - and proceeds to present a vast amount of evidence to show that linguistic genocide and lack of LHRs (linguistic human rights) in education is co-responsible for
  • “illiteracy”, lack of school achievement, educational waste, poor life chances;
  • disappearance of groups/nations/peoples (through forced assimilation);
  • homogenising knowledges and ideas and preventing optimal multicreativity;
  • killing of the world’s languages and linguistic diversity, and TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge), as prerequisites for the maintenance of biodiversity. (slide 99)

As David Hough did in his essay (about which I'd blogged this July), Skutnabb-Kangas too spends some time answering some frequently asked questions:
  • Why should children be taught mainly through the medium of their mother tongue (MT) in school for the first 6-8 years? They know their MT already? (slide 107)
  • Parents want children to learn English (and French). If children are taught mainly through their MT the first many years, how do they learn English (and French)? (slide 112)
  •  Isn’t it enough if children have the first 3 years in the MT and then the teaching can be in English? (slide 116)
  • Parents want English-medium schools. What are the likely results? (slide 121)
Her conclusion:

"Mother-tongue based MLE for the first 6-8 years, with good teaching of English as a second language and French as a foreign/second language, and possibly other languages too, with locally based materials which respect local knowledge, seems to be a good research-based recommendation for Mauritius." (slide 126)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Afrikaans and the mother tongue

Kathleen Heugh's wide-ranging essay "Literacy and Bi/Multilingual Education in Africa: Recovering Collective Memory and Experience" in Multilingual Education for Social Justice: Globalising the Local (click here for ordering information) has an ironic example of the effectiveness of Mother-Tongue Medium (MTM) education.

"Apartheid logic included separate ethnolinguistic education systems. This meant eight years of MTM education for African children, followed by a transition to an equal number of subjects in Afrikaans and English in secondary school. The use of MTM education under such circumstances tainted its educational legitimacy amongst African language communities in South Africa....

"Resistance to the compulsory use of Afrikaans medium for half of the subjects in secondary school for African students culminated in a student revolt in Soweto in 1976. Government was forced to make Afrikaans medium optional and MTM education was reduced from eight to four years of primary....

"At the time, heated political debates deflected attention from the de facto achievements of MTM education in South Africa. The secondary school leaving pass rate for African students rose to 83.7% by 1976. The English language (as subject) pass rate improved to over 78%. Within a few years of the reduction of MTM education to four years and earlier transition to English, the school leaving pass rates declined to 44% by 1992, with a parallel decline in English language proficiency (Heugh 2002). Macdonald (1990) was to show that students could not become sufficiently proficient in English by the end of the fourth year to facilitate a successful transition to English medium in grade 5.

"Although African parents hoped that extended and earlier access to English in school would deliver higher-level proficiency in English and educational success, the educational gap between speakers of African languages and speakers of Afrikaans and English, who have MTM education throughout, has widened. The knock-on effect of this is that those leaving school and going into the teaching profession are now less well-equipped for teaching and there is a downward spiral of teaching competence across the entire system....

"Ironically, by accident rather than design, apartheid education offered optimal opportunity for first and second language development alongside cognitive and academic development from 1955-1976. Despite the intention of separate and unequal education, an unintended consequence was greater educational success than other educational policy in the region. (pp. 101-2)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Indians studying abroad

"Previously, more than 71% of [Indian] students were based in the United States, while a small proportion went to the United Kingdom (8%) and Australia (7.6%). Since 1999, the absolute number of Indian mobile students has tripled, while the proportion of students going to the United States has declined to 56%. Meanwhile, an increased proportion of Indian students are going to Australia, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom."

These are among the findings of Unesco's Global Education Digest (GED) 2009. As a Unesco press release (DOC file) tells us, "In 2007, over 2.8 million students were enrolled in higher educational institutions outside their country of origin, a 53% increase since 1999."

"While China accounts for the greatest number of students abroad (about 421,100), other major countries of origin are India [153,30], the Republic of Korea, Germany, Japan, France, the United States, Malaysia, Canada and the Russian Federation. These ten countries account for 38% of the world’s mobile students among 153 host countries reporting data."

And more and more of these "mobile students" are going to Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa. For example, "France saw its share of global mobile students grow from 7.4% in 1999 to 8.8% in 2007. Due to global shifts in destinations, the following countries emerged as new popular destinations: China, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand."

And what are they all studying? Business administration (23%), science (15%), engineering, manufacturing and construction (14%), and humanities and the arts (14%).

The data shows a general, global improvement in women's participation in tertiary education. But it should be noted that the gender analysis in the Digest is based on data "from 102 or fewer countries and territories... In particular, data are not available for several high-population countries, such as Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Nigeria."

The Digest says, "India... accounts for 5.5% of the global total of mobile students. Yet, its outbound mobility ratio is very low with only 1 out of 100 tertiary students from the country studying abroad." Meanwhile, only 11% of India's population of tertiary age is in tertiary education; the figure for China is 23%.

The Digest concludes that tertiary education systems "that are highly subsidized by governments may cause equity issues in countries where a wide share of the population has no chance to access this education". It goes on to say that, "A well-designed system of private fees and targeted financial assistance for less-advantaged students could contribute to overcoming inequalities in the distribution of students who benefit from tertiary education."

But in countries where tertiary education participation is low, shouldn't the aim be to increase enrolment? And if that is indeed the aim, the alternative to subsidized public education is prohibitively expensive private education. The equity implications of that are much more severe. An informative report with a disappointing recommendation, I thought.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

National security in education

In an op-ed in The Hindu, "Questions of real national security", scientist and well-known public intellectual Pushpa Bhargava dicusses "agriculture security... education security, and health security". But in his five paragraphs on education, mother-tongue medium education finds no mention at all. This is a pity. Coincidentally, another part of the same newspaper reviews Multilingual Education for Social Justice: Globalising the Local - "a passionate call to respect and enshrine the inalienable right of all the children of the world to learn their languages and through their languages."

Bhargava rightly bemoans the quality of India's government-school education (which is overwhelmingly in the dominant regional language). What he does not say is that children of indigenous peoples and linguistic-minorities suffer doubly under such a system: a bad education made worse by a non-mother-tongue medium! This no doubt contributes to the official elementary-school drop-out rate of nearly 49%.

But Bhargava also disapproves of the extensive commercialization of both school and higher (including professional) education: "education has become a commodity to be sold and purchased." In the current ASER report on school education, Amit Kaushik in his essay "The Shift to Private Schools" alerts us that enrolments in private schools have increased from 16.4% in 2005, to 22.5% in 2008, even as "learning levels appear to be stagnating or declining":

"only 41 percent across Grades 1 to 8 [were] able to read simple stories in 2008 as opposed to 43.6 percent in 2005. Similarly, only 27.9 percent children across grades could do simple division sums in 2008, as compared to 30.9 percent in 2005. This decline is observed in both government and private schools, even though the latter continue to maintain a marginally higher level than the government schools, at least on an all India basis. However, as has been shown elsewhere in this Report, in many States there is little or no difference in the performance of government and private schools, and in many the performance of the latter is far lower than that of government schools in some of the other, more educationally advanced States. In an uncomfortably large number of cases then, receiving a private school education would clearly seem to be no guarantor of acquiring any significantly better learning."

Clearly, an English-medium education (among the attractions of a private-school education) is not helping these children learn at all! These schools are yet more instances of the "early-start and maximal-exposure" myths that I blogged about recently.

Back to Bhargava: "It is no surprise, therefore, that 80 per cent of the engineering graduates (in fact, graduates in all areas) India produces are unemployable." These are figures amplified by others, for example in this article in Outlook:

"In the intensely desired world of BPOs, IT majors and MNCs, language gatekeepers are turning down all but a minuscule number of applying graduates. According to Uma K. Raman, head, Skills Enhancement, HCL BPO, her company rejects 92-93 per cent of applicants for poor English. Sandhya Chitale, director, Nasscom's Educational Initiative, puts the rejection rate for non-engineering graduates applying to the IT and IT-enabled sector, both in "voice" and "non-voice" roles, at 82-83 per cent, for lack of soft skills, including written and oral English. About 65-75 per cent of applying engineers are rejected for the same reasons."

Anjali Puri, the author of that despairing essay "English Speaking Curse", says:

"The teachers make an important fundamental point, which I hear repeated, time and again, by teachers in other institutions. These problems have their roots in students being language-impoverished rather than just English-impoverished (that is, demonstrating a poor ability in regional languages too), and being virtually cut off from the humanities stream from senior school."

In other words, the education of these students is typical case of a subtractive multilingualism: the dominant, "prestige" language is rarely learnt well, and even when it is, this happens at the expense of the home language(s).

This is why Pushpa Bhargava should have emphasized the language question while speaking of an education system that promotes national security. He rightly identifies the need in India for "a knowledge society in which every citizen has a minimum amount of knowledge." The way to that is through mother-tongue medium based multilingual education.

The crucial message of Multilingual Education for Social Justice: Globalising the Local (click here for ordering information) needs to spread.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pakistan's Urdu Dictionary Project

Participating using Skype in an Esperanto language-festival recently in Maribor, Slovenia, I spoke on Urdu - the language and the culture. The longish report is on my Esperanto blog, and here's the link to the 15-or-so slides I had prepared for the 90-minute session (which included images of a kurtaa, salvaar kamiiz, some delicious birayaanii, and a couple of verses with Esperanto translations - and all the Urdu is in Nagari!).

While looking around on the Net, I came across a report by Rauf Parekh on Pakistan's Urdu Dictionary Project. Dr Parekh traces the interesting history of the project, its predecessors and sources of inspiration (the OED, of course, among others), the scholars associated with the project, and the project's ups and downs. But he also tells us that 21 volumes have already appeared and the last is under preparation! A truly magnificent project! And as he reminds us:

"Moreover, after the publication of the last volume, there still remains to be published an index and a bibliography enlisting the works cited. It would definitely take another volume. Then there is the project of shorter versions of the dictionary and many other spin-offs such as dictionaries of synonyms, antonyms, idioms, proverbs and technical terms."

Dr Parekh also informs us that:

"A similar scheme was launched in India and several scholars were hired by the Indian government to compile a greater Urdu dictionary. But the project in India could not take off and it was abandoned probably due to lack of political will and Urdu’s comparatively lesser status in India. By now the Indian scholars, too, had begun to look to the UDB [Urdu Dictionary Board] for an authentic dictionary...."

Let us hope that this project will further deepen the collaboration between the two countries on this shared cultural treasure - Urdu.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

India's Supreme Court on mother and other tongues

The apex court rejected the argument of senior counsel PP Rao appearing for the state [Karnataka] who, quoting experts, claimed that the mother tongue was essential to be imparted at an impressionable age for the overall intellectual and cultural development of a child.

"Parents are ready to pay Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 for getting their children admitted in English medium schools. This is the real state of affairs. They do not want to send them to schools of their mother tongue. It should be left to the parents," the bench observed.

The court is right, of course: "This is the real state of affairs." Where it is wrong is in rejecting the overwhelming evidence of the effectiveness of mother-tongue medium education.

But it is not enough for Mr PP Rao to present this evidence. What he ought to have impressed upon the court was that it is not about mother tongue or "other" tongue; bilingual education is about acquiring both Kannada and English: additive bilingualism.

And the research is unequivocal on that as well. Coincidentally, I was just reading Stephen Krashen on bilingual education (PDF):

Scientifically valid controlled studies have been done, and they consistently show that students in properly organized bilingual programs acquire at least as much English as comparison students in all-English programs, and usually acquire more. The most recent review of this research is Greene (1997) (see also Willig, 1985), who used statistical tools far more precise than those used in previous reviews. Greene concluded that the use of the native language in instructing limited English proficient children has "beneficial effects" and that "efforts to eliminate the use of the native language in instruction ... harm children by denying them access to beneficial approaches."

Studies from other countries are very consistent with results from the United States. Children in well-organized bilingual programs acquire as much of the second language as those in "immersion" programs or more. Studies confirming this have been done with Turkish and Urdu speaking children in Norway, Punjabi speaking children in England, Turkish and Arabic speaking children in the Netherlands, Finnish-speaking children in Sweden, Gapapuyngu speaking children in Australia, and Tzeltal and Tzotzil speaking children in Mexico (Krashen, 1999a).

All the references are in Krashen's critical review.

This is a case where research results have not yet entered public awareness on the subject. Just as the Court would not leave many, many educational matters "to the parents" (or to teachers or school management), bilingual education too is a subject on which it should be guided by worldwide research. The fact is that children in Karnataka can speak about chemistry or geography in both Kannada and English - just as children in good bilingual programs across the world do.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Indian Folklife issue on multilingual education

The April 2009 issue of Indian Folklife (IFL) has been guest-edited by Mahendra Kumar Mishra. Dr Mishra is the author of Oral Epics of Kalahandi (review here [PDF]). He also writes an Education Diary, an excerpt from which is on the net - "The Magic of the Mother-Tongue".

The theme of this issue of IFL is multilingual education (MLE). In his editorial Dr Mishra acerbically speaks of the poor education that indigenous children receive: "Looking at tribal education in the Indian context, it is evident that not much effort has been made for the education of tribal children, except providing them inappropriate education." He argues for the important role folklore can play in the school curriculum.

The next essay is Tove Skutnabb-Kangas's hard-hitting "Linguistic Genocide: Tribal Education in India":

"subtractive dominant-language medium education for ITM [indigenous/tribal and minority] children can have harmful consequences socially, psychologically, economically and politically. It can cause very serious mental harm: social dislocation, psychological, cognitive, linguistic and educational harm, and, partially through this, also economic, social and political marginalisation. It can also often result in serious physical harm, e.g. in residential schools, and as a long-term result of marginalisation - e.g. alcoholism, suicides and violence."

She cites examples from Orissa, Nepal and Ethiopia of successful "additive" mother-tongue based MLE programs to show both their pedagogic effectiveness, and to show that even relatively resource-poor education systems can deliver more just and inclusive education.

David Hough in the next essay describes the Nepal Multilingual Education Project and its efforts to build a curriculum "bottom-up" in close consultation with the community:

"In order to make MLE sustainable nationwide by 2015 – the UN mandate for Education for All – local communities must take control of curriculum development, teacher training and methodology. If each community, after developing their own program, goes on to train five new communities, the goal can be reached. This approach is known as Cascading."

His essay ends with a very useful set of Frequently Asked Questions about multilingual education.

Iina Nurmela's article too is based on the Nepal experience. She fleshes out her field-notes into an absorbing essay on transgenerational cultural transmission:

"We have walked a long way since the first visit in the hot month preceding the monsoon. That day, no one thought their language or culture had a place inside the school. In seven months since, they are implementing their own mother tongues as the media of instruction in grades 1 to 3 through models they devised themselves."

Of the other essays in the issue, one focuses on mother-tongue revitalization in Hawai'i, and asks: "What can outsider non-Natives do to be helpful for realising these rights, then?" Citing another researcher, it answers: outsiders should

"... work collaboratively with Native allies, listen carefully to our wisdom as well as our concerns, interrogate unearned power and privilege (including one’s own), and use this privilege to confront oppression and “stand behind” Natives, so that our voices can be heard."

Another essay in this issue is on the Intercultural Bilingual Education program in Peru. This essay ends with the very interesting observation that:

"Thus bilingual education does not in itself guarantee a break with colonial social structures. On the contrary, Peruvian history shows that bilingual education from the 1950s until today has mainly served to assimilate the indigenous population to the dominant political, economic and social order. The introduction of the concept of interculturality by indigenous organisations in the 1970s was crucial, and has resulted in a permanent focus on the cultural hidden curriculum in teaching methods, educational materials and curricular content and on the ways in which formal schooling reproduces colonial power relations."

The issue ends with Dhir Jhingran's essay "Appropriate education strategies in diverse language contexts".

A rich issue indeed. Do read it!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Meghalaya kids in RSS schools in Karnataka

The current issue of the magazine Tehelka has a horror story on the plight of indigenous chidren from Meghalaya studying in Karnataka in schools run by the "Hindu revivalist organization" RSS.

I'll just stick to one aspect of the outrage - the language side of it. Excerpts from "A Strange And Bitter Crop" (Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 26, Dated July 04, 2009):

"In all the schools that TEHELKA visited seeking information about children from Meghalaya, the school authorities summoned the children from their classes and instructed them to introduce themselves in Kannada. For the authorities, it was a matter of great pride that children who had no association with Kannada had been taught the language well. That students who did not know a word of Sanskrit earlier now recited Sanskrit prayers with great clarity. In... BG Nagar, Mandya district, the headmaster, Manje Gowda, flung a Kannada newspaper at a student from Meghalaya, ordering him to read it. Obediently, in a low voice, devoid of any expression, the boy proceeded to read a few sentences, before quietly folding and placing the newspaper back on the headmaster’s desk. Till he was sent away, the boy never looked up. In school after school, the same scene unfolded with variations in the demonstrations of skill and familiarity with Kannada and Sanskrit....

"A consequence of completely immersing young children from Meghalaya in a Kannada-speaking environment was visible at the Deenabandhu Children’s Home in Chamarajnagar district. A caretaker at the Home described one child’s growing familiarity with Kannada, “Sibin [one of the children at the Home] has picked up a lot of Kannada in the two months he has been here. During a phone call from a relative back home, he kept answering questions in Kannada which obviously they did not understand at all.” In a shocking display of insensitivity, the caretaker burst into laughter at what she thought was a hilarious incident and added, "For 45 minutes, a woman, I assume his mother, kept trying. Sibin, of course, had no answers since he had forgotten his own language." She giggled. The caretaker then proceeded to teach Sibin the Kannada word for dinner."

Earlier we are told that:

"In a chilling admission, an RSS worker in Shillong... told TEHELKA that care is always taken to ensure that any siblings are separated from each other. "It is easier to discipline them if they are not together. We have to control them if we have to mould them. The lesser the contact they have with home, the better it is, really," he stated."

Not surprisingly, the author says, "The physical and mental impact of studying in school environments diametrically opposed to their culture, language, religion, and food habits has been devastating."

For a detailed account of how the children are taken from their homes and communities, and a completely frank admission by the people doing this of their intentions, do read the entire article.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Language discrimination in Mizoram

"The teachers in Chakma areas [in Mizoram] are Mizos who do not stay in the village of their appointment, and are unable to teach the Chakma children who do not understand either the Mizo tongue or English. Clearly, the appointment of Mizo teachers is not benefiting the targeted populations (at least in the case of the Chakmas), and hence is a futile exercise." Paritosh Chakma, "Mizoram: Minority Report" (PDF file), EPW, 6 Jun 2009.

Nor is this all. As Paritosh Chakma reports in his blog: "The state government of Mizoram has passed several Recruitment Rules where "working knowledge of Mizo language at least up to Middle School standard" has been either made a compulsory requirement of educational qualification or as a "desirable qualification".

As I commented on this post: [This] rule ... goes against the National Commissioner of Linguistic Minorities (NCLM) "Safeguards for Linguistic Minorities". The safeguard in question is the following:

i. No insistence upon knowledge of State’s Official Language at the time of recruitment. Test of proficiency in the State’s Official Language to be held before completion of probation

Using the NCLM's various Reports, Mr Chakma came back with another post on his blog, this time with a thorough indictment of the state government's practices of language discrimination.

In Mizoram, Chakma is not the only minority language discriminated against, of course. NCLM's 43rd Report (2004-5) (DOC file) recounts a visit to a Nepali-medium school in Aizwal which revealed that, "[since] Mizo was not taught there up to upper primary standard.... those desirous of joining the [government] services are at a disadvantage."

As Paritosh Chakma concludes, "the discriminatory Recruitment Rules must be scrapped to remove the language hurdle for linguistic minorities in state employments."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reforming Pakistan's textbooks

"Awaiting changes to a syllabus of hate", Nirupama Subramanian's excellent op-ed piece in The Hindu (9 June 2009) argues that "the education imparted to Pakistani children is flawed and encourages extremism, intolerance and ignorance."

She cites the influential 2002-study of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad - The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan. The SDPI report details how the curricula of government schools systematically indoctrinate young minds, and just how urgent the task of curriculum-reform is in Pakistan. The report resulted in a new curriculum being drafted, but this has not yet been implemented.

Subramanian cites one of the authors of the SDPI report in conclusion:

Compared to the 1.5 million who study in madrasas, an estimated 20 million children are enrolled in government schools. Dr. Nayyar laments that in the five years since the publication of the SDPI report, children who were 11 years old at the time have completed their matriculation. They read the old textbooks, and learnt a way of thinking about themselves and the world that will prove hard to change.

"Another generation has been lost because the process has taken too long," he said. And until the new textbooks are introduced, millions of children will continue to learn in their Urdu lessons in schools about the differences between Hindus and Muslims in a hatred-generating way, about "India's evil designs against Pakistan" in their Social Studies, and that Bangladesh was a result of a conspiracy by India with assistance from "Hindus living in East Pakistan."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Schooling crisis in India

"Struggling to Learn" about sums it up. The 2006 visit by De and colleagues was a follow-up to a 1996 survey of "primary schools in about 200 villages in undivided Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh". A decade later the team found "many signs of positive change": enrolment rates, gender disparities, infrastructure, cooked mid-day meals - all showed improvement.

But quality of teaching remains a big worry: "barely half of the children in Classes 4 and 5 could do single digit multiplication, or a simple division by 5". These results reinforce the abysmal findings of the ASER 2007 report about which I'd blogged in passing, in November 2008.

De and colleagues report on the continuing plague of insufficient teachers and teacher absenteesim, also noted by filmmaker Umesh Aggarwal in his documentary on the dismal condition of schooling in Rajasthan. Indeed, the Andhra Pradesh government is currently recruiting over 47 thousand teachers - how did they allow such a huge shortfall to build up?

Meanwhile, Krishna Kumar, head of the national education council NCERT, recently revealed that India currently needs 500,000 teachers; a number that he said will shoot up to 6 million in the near future. An April 2008 report in The Guardian said that the "world needs to find and fund an extra 18 million teachers by 2015 to cope with its burgeoning pupil population".

In India's 2009-10 budget estimates, outlay for all education - primary, secondary, higher, technical, agricultural, scholarships - all education, constitutes 7.86% of the total central plan outlay: 326,680 m out of 4,156,910 m rupees. "School Education and Literacy" constitutes 71.03% of the total education outlay, or 5.59% of the total central plan outlay.

Is 5.59% enough to address the crisis?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Language Diversity on the Internet - New studies

About the language diversity on the internet, a friend summarizes Daniel Pimienta's study to say that between 1996 and 2007, the proportion of English-language websites went down from 75% to 45%, and the proportion of English-language users from 80% to 32%. According to my friend, the study also has "figures for the proportion by country of people using French, Spanish, Portuguese, and English (where the US is massively dominant)".

Pimienta's paper is in French, which I don't know at all. It would therefore be very useful if someone could (dis-)confirm or nuance the conclusions above. The paper was presented in January 2009 at a conference in Mali; here's the list of presentations - in French and in English.

In another study, Languages and Cultures on the Internet - 2007, Pimienta and his colleagues declare that because of the rapid growth of pages in the internet (especially in Asian languages), and because of the growing use of context-dependant advertising (like Google AdSense), search engines can no longer represent accurately the distribution of languages on the internet. Depending on the search engine one gets dissimilar figures on the language diversity on the internet. The research group, in fact, concludes that it would be a good idea to have a separate search engine for Romance languages. Should Esperanto, for example, be included there?

This last study I translated into English using Google's Translation tool. The research results can also be read in Catalan, Italian, Portuguese, Rumanian and Spanish. But not in English: are they trying to rub in the point that the internet is no longer only or mainly in English?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Esperanto: A tool for decolonizing the mind

"Esperanto: A tool for decolonizing the mind" is the English version of the talk "Esperanto - ilo por la malkoloniigo" - that I gave at the 34th Catalonian Esperanto Congress in December 2008. Comments welcome!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

MTM education in RtE Bill

The Right to Education (RtE) Bill - about which I blogged the other day - says, "medium of instructions [sic!] shall, as far as practicable, be in child's mother tongue" (emphasis added).

As far as practicable; appropriate; wherever possible; adequate; substantial numbers; if there is sufficient demand; endeavour; within the framework of their education systems; pupils who so wish in a number considered sufficient.... Tove Skutnabb-Kangas gives many examples of these "opt-outs, modifications, alternatives, claw-backs" in her UEA-UNHCR talk in April 2008 in Geneva (slides 63-71) - I had blogged about this talk in October 2008.

From her recent keynote in Bamako, Mali, I copied her recommendations in a post on the Jharkhand forum. Here they are:

madhu prasad wrote:

> The pedagogically sound solution would be to retain the former as the medium of
> instruction but to introduce English as a subject, to be taught adequately
> and imaginatively, even from Class 1.

Yes, here are the main recommendations (slides 30-33) from a recent keynote by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, a language-rights activist:

Recommendation 1: the mother tongue should be the main teaching language for the first eight years

1a. All Indigenous/tribal and other linguistic minority children (hereafter, IM children) should have their first or own language (or one of them, in case of multilingual children) as their main medium of education, during minimally the first eight years (but absolutely minimally the first six years), in non-fee state schools.

1b. Even if the mother tongue might no longer be used as a teaching language after grade 8, it should be used orally in the classroom, and it should be studied as a subject during the entire education process.

Recommendation 2: good teaching of a dominant local or national language as a subject

2. IM children should have good teaching of a dominant local or national language as a second language, given by competent bilingual teachers, from grade 1 or 2. It should be studied as a subject throughout the entire education process. It should be studied as a second (or foreign) language, using second/foreign language pedagogy/methods; it should not be studied as if it were the children's mother tongue.

Recommendation 3: transfer from mother tongue medium teaching to using a dominant local or national language as a teaching language

3a. Some subjects can be taught through the medium of a dominant local or national language and/or an international language in the upper grades, but not before grade 7 and only if there are competent teachers.

3b. If necessary one or two practical subjects (physical education, music, cooking, etc) can be taught earlier through the medium of a second language, but cognitively and/or linguistically demanding subjects (such as mathematics or history) should be taught in the child's first language minimally up to grade 7, preferably longer.

Recommendation 4: additional languages as subjects

4. IM children should have an opportunity to learn other languages as school subjects, including a language in international use such as English, Spanish, French, Russian, Hindi, etc, if it is not a dominant local or national language mentioned in Recommendation 2 above.

This keynote - at the Bamako International Forum on Multilingualism (19-21 Jan), organized by the African Academy of Languages (ACALAN, the African Union) - is archived on her website.

The next three slides (34-36) give a slew of references to back up these recommendations. Skutnabb-Kangas concludes:

Research conclusions about results of present-day indigenous and minority education show that the length of mother tongue medium education is more important than any other factor (including socio-economic status) in predicting the educational success of IM students, including their competence in the dominant language....

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Language and knowledge flows

Yesterday, in Hyderabad, there was a seminar on "Knowledge Society and Uncertain Futures", organized by STEPS - Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability - "a global research and policy engagement centre, funded by the ESRC, bringing together development studies with science and technology studies."

STEPS is collaborating in a series of consultations in India: "Knowledge Society Debates: A series of events exploring science, technology and innovation in India, 5-13 January 2009".

The premise (detailed in the Background Paper) is:

Though divided by colonial legacies – and further separated by media emphasis on today’s techno-economic rivalries – India and Europe present many parallels in their engagements with the knowledge society. They share an awareness of culture and history (with all their contingencies), a vibrantly critical politics of technology, and an imperative for inclusion and a plural understanding of the public good.

The key speakers at the seminar were: D Balasubramanian, Brian Wynne, Sheila Jasanoff, V Balaji, Shiv Visvanathan, and G Haragopal. More about (most of) them in the seminar announcement.

I (of course!) intervened. Here's more or less what I said:

My name is Giridhar Rao; I am from the World Esperanto Association. No surprise then that I focus on language.

Seems to me that neither the deliberations here nor those in the European Commission report that Dr Wynne has authored, have focused on the link between language and knowledge flows. I wish to highlight two domains where this link is clear: indigenous knowledges and higher education.

A considerable amount of knowledge about biodiversity management is encoded in indigenous languages. This cultural diversity is fast disappearing, faster than biological diversity. For this reason too, it is important to safeguard and promote the linguistic human rights of indigenous peoples - who, as Shiv Visvanathan has reminded us, are very much our contemporaries. And all the research shows that mother-tongue medium education is the most effective countermeasure to this "linguistic genocide", as Tove Skutnabb-Kangas calls those policies that result in the death of languages.

In the domain of indigenous knowledges, one sees clearly the link between knowledge flows and language.

Language is a bottleneck in knowledge flows in the domain of higher education and research.

In India, poor overall teaching in schools means poor cognitive skills in English - the language of higher education in India. In applied sciences like agriculture this disjunct sets up its own barriers to knowledge flows - between the home language and English: the farmer in the field and his son in the university cannot communicate with each other.

And in international scientific collaboration, there is considerable (anecdotal) evidence of disruptions in knowledge flows caused by language asymmetries.

Even in the European Union, where teaching is not poor, and where, for most citizens, the language of higher education is the home language, even there, language plays an important role in knowledge flows.

The Swiss economist François Grin in his 2005 report (in French), "Foreign language teaching as public policy", (summaries: Fr, Eo) estimates that every year the European Union transfers 25 billion euros - that's billion: 10 to the power 9 - 25 billion euros to the United Kingdom for language-related reasons. These include the sale of English-language learning materials; the 700,000 or so EU citizens who visit UK every year to learn English; and the savings for UK resulting from not having to teach foreign languages.

Thus, in vastly different areas of the human experience - from indigenous peoples in India to the European Union - one sees asymmetries and disruptions in knowledge flows because of language-related factors.

It's clear that both India and the European Union need to manage their complex multilingualism much better for more efficient, cost-effective and democratic knowledge flows.

And it is precisely at this point that one can point to the 120-year-old history of the Esperanto movement in creating more democratic communication between peoples. But that is a theme for another seminar.... :-)

Thank you.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Education Bill - three critiques by Anil Sadgopal

Here are three excellent articles by Prof. Anil Sadgopal arguing that the education bill just tabled in the Upper House of the Indian Parliament is deeply discriminatory, and needs to be radically amended or replaced.

1. "C For Commerce", Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 23, Dated June 14, 2008

A new Bill seeks to put the constitutional promise of free and quality education for all at the mercy of market forces, warns ANIL SADGOPAL

2. "Education Bill: dismantling rights", Anil Sadgopal, Financial Express, Posted: 2008-11-09

3. "The 'Trickle Down' Trick", Tehelka Magazine, September 2007

The Prime Minister’s promise of "6000 high quality schools" is clearly designed to divert attention from the issue of long-pending structural transformation in the school system, says Prof. Anil Sadgopal