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!

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