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