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!