Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Language skills talk on IMLD

Yesterday - on the International Mother Language Day (IMLD) - I gave a talk on "language skills" to about 30 Technical Officers of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). This one-and-a-half-hour session was at the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), Hyderabad. I kept coming back to IMLD throughout the talk.

On the question of language skills, I proposed three perspectives:
  • a long-term perspective on language and education (in the Indian context)
  • a medium-term view of Esperanto as a tool to think about language skills
  • a short-term list of useful web resources to improve language skills
The "long-term" section rehearsed some of the arguments of my Languaging paper. It dwelt on the kinds of structural issues that the PROBE (2006) and the ASER 2010 reports deal with: no teachers; and when there are, no teaching happening on the day the researchers visit; plus, in any case, not much learning happening - the poor quality outcomes that ASER highlights. Meanwhile, non-MT (mother tongue) education for children of linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples contributes to their high-rate of "push-out" (82% in Andhra Pradesh).

On the positive side, I mentioned the initiatives in Orissa and at Bhasha in Gujarat, which show that multilingualism works.

This section also touched upon the society-wide consequences of English as the medium of higher education in India: poor participation in higher education and poor skill-sets.

The next view on language skills introduced Esperanto briefly: idea, structure and community. I focused on the "global education" and "effective education" sections of the Prague Manifesto, arguing that Esperanto offered a means to high-level multilingualism, necessary in an age of globalization, and essential for peace-building and collective action in the face of transnational threats. Esperanto's effectiveness as a preparatory language for further language learning, and its role in "decolonising" the mind were also mentioned.

The short-term view on language skills rapidly listed a few useful websites: (multilingual) dictionaries, (specialist) encyclopedias, databases, writing and usage tools, and the like.

Since Esperanto was for this audience the most exotic part of the talk, I ended with Reto Rosetti's translation of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"

The talk was part of a course called "Personal excellence for professional development". As may be inferred from the report, I interpreted both terms widely, as the rather bemused listeners noted.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bihar education report

A new report from Patna, Bihar has some positive things to report on the state of education in that state. The report, due to be released by Amartya Sen on 4 February, is from Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), Pratichi (West Bengal) and Centre for Economic Policies and Public Finance. The following is taken from a "curtain-raiser" in Indian Express; it gives a glowing report to the state government.

"The most startling finding is the phenomenal rise in children's enrolment in Classes VI to VIII, credited primarily to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar coming up with the idea of distribution of free school uniforms in Class V and bicycles for those getting into Class IX, along with midday meals. While earlier only girls were being given the free cycles, even boys are entitled to the same now.

"Parents and students vouch that while the government provides bicycles only from Class IX, it has boosted fresh enrolment from Class VI itself."

While the uniforms and bicycles have no doubt played a role, a more substantial statistic is that there is a "jump in the number of schools — there are now 114.3 schools for every one lakh people in the state, against just 60 three years ago."

The impact on vulnerable groups has been startling. As the ASER report for Bihar [PDF] shows, the proportion of "out-of-school" 11-14-year-old girls has fallen from 17.6% in 2006 to 9.7% (2007), 8.8% (2008), 6% (2009), to 4.6% (2010).

The most critical remark in the Express story is a last-sentence observation: "The report comes hard on the general status of the midday meal scheme, criticising the way it is run."