Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Language & education - current reading

Quite a lot of language-related reading to report. Prof Saeed Farani (visit his online bookstore Sufiwisdom.org) alerted me to Speaking Like a State: Language and Nationalism in Pakistan by Alyssa Ayres. This is a good study of the divisive and exclusionary language policies of Pakistan, and what the country can learn from the language policies of India and Indonesia.

A reference there led me to "Language Policy and National Development in India" (2003) by Jyotirindra Dasgupta, an excellent account of language policy and politics. This essay (in a book called Fighting Words) was particularly interesting because it argues (among other things) that language conflict in India in fact has contributed to deepening democracy.

Meanwhile, IIIT's library acquired Probal Dasgupta's Inhabiting Human Languages: The Substantivist Visualization (2012) -- a stimulating essay on translation and Esperanto as key tools to democratize traffic between and within languages.

And then there are these studies (I reproduce the details from my email to the IIIT library):

1. S. Manoharan, V. Gnanasundaram, "Linguistic Identity of an Endangered Tribe Present Great Andamanese (Andaman and Nicobar Islands - India)" (2007), XVIII + 122, Rs 150

2. H. R. Dua, "Language Use, Attitudes and Identity Among Linguistic Minorities" (1986), V + 129,  Rs 34

3. Jennifer M. Bayer, "A Sociolinguistic Investigation of the English Spoken by the Anglo Indians in Mysore City" (1986), IX + 154, Rs 18

4. Jennifer M. Bayer, "Dynamics of Language Maintenance Among Linguistic Minorities (A Sociolinguistics Study of the Tamil Communities in Bangalore)" (1986), IX + 124, Rs 13

The address for ordering these is at the bottom of this page: http://www.ciil.org/PubBook.aspx

I'm currently reading the second in that list -- especially interesting since the linguistic minority Dua treats is "Dakkhani Urdu Speakers in Mysore". Much of what he says applies to just such speakers in Hyderabad (where I live).

More about these books in other posts.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Education in mother tongue essential - ASER

ASER, whom we've met several times in this blog, has a new report Inside Primary Schools: A study of teaching and learning in rural India (PDF). The study tracks about 30 000 children over a period of one year.

For about 10% of those children the school language was different from the home language. They consistently attend and learn less compared to the 90% for whom the school and home languages were the same (see Table 6.14 "Home/School language and children’s learning and attendance", p. 69).

As the authors - Suman Bhattacharjea, Wilima Wadhwa, and Rukmini Banerji - note:

"Children whose home language is different from the school medium of instruction face enormous additional problems at school. Given the lack of bridging mechanisms to enable a smooth transition from one language to the other, these children tend to attend school far less regularly. Whereas across both classes, about half of all children whose home language was the same as the school language were present in school on all three visits, this proportion is far lower among children whose home language was different from the school language (Table 6.14). Learning outcomes for these two groups of children are unequal to begin with and these differences accentuate over the course of one year, both in [class] 2 and in [class] 4." (pp. 68-69)

Here are the key findings of this report (p. 8):
  • 20% of children surveyed are first generation school goers. Less than half of all households have any print material available, so children do not have materials to read at home.
  • Children are learning in the course of a year, but even in states with the best learning outcomes, children’s learning levels are far behind what textbooks expect. At each grade level, children’s starting point is well below that of their textbooks.
  • Children whose home language is different than the school language of instruction learn less.
  • Attendance is the most important factor in children's learning.
  • The average number of children present in each classroom is low, but in most classrooms children from more than one grade are sitting together.
  • Child-friendly practices, such as students asking questions, using local examples to explain lessons, small group work, have a significant impact on children's learning.
  • Teachers can spot mistakes commonly made by children, but have difficulty explaining content in simple language or easy steps. Teacher characteristics such as qualification/degree, length of training, and number of years of experience make little difference to children’s learning.

And the key policy recommendations (p. 8):

  • Textbooks need urgent revisions. They need to start from what children can do and be more realistic and developmentally appropriate in what children are expected to learn, with clear learning goals and sequence.
  • Systems must be put into place to track attendance, not just enrollment, and ensure regular reporting and monitoring of this attendance.
  • Mother tongue instruction and programmes for language transition need to be introduced and expanded.
  • Teacher recruitment policies need to assess teachers' knowledge, but more importantly their ability to explain content to children, make information relevant to their lives and to use teaching learning materials and activities other than the textbook.
  • State teacher education plans should invest in the human resource capacity of academic support structures, like Block and Cluster Resource Centres (BRC/CRC) and District Institutes of Education and Training (DIET), to enable them to help improve teaching and learning quality via in-service training and classroom visits.
  • As per RTE [Right to Education Act], indicators for child-friendly education need to be defined and measured regularly as a part of the markers of quality.
  • Libraries, with take-home books for reading practice at the household level, should be monitored as part of RTE indicators. Family reading programmes could also be part of innovations to help support first generation school goers.
ASER studies and surveys have considerable impact. Let us hope some of these recommendations find their way into policy. As the study concludes:

"this study has provided a host of insights about influences on teaching and learning that can help align policy with what children need in order to learn well. As new provisions are put into place for teacher recruitment and training, student assessment and tracking, textbook content, and so on, we hope that these ideas will be debated vigorously and tested in practice."