Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Language and Education resources at Early Literacy Initiative

In September 2017 I argued for MTME -- Mother-Tongue Based Multilingual Education -- in a blog post titled "Why Mother Tongue Medium in a Multilingual Context?"

The post is part of the recently launched website, Early Literacy Initiative (ELI), of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). As the ELI website states:

ELI is working broadly towards accomplishing:

  1. Research: To conduct new research in early language and literacy in India; and to disseminate knowledge that is already available.
  2. Teaching: To create a cadre of knowledgeable and well-prepared professionals in the area of early language and literacy.
  3. Advocacy: To provide visibility and leadership to work in early language and literacy by engaging in national level dialogues with scholars, policy-makers and other professionals working in allied areas. ELI will also provide networking support for practitioners and scholars working in the domain through a variety of means, such as, a visible and dynamic web presence, offering short-term workshops and courses, collecting and disseminating relevant information, and so on.

The blog is organized thematically. Their first theme is multilingualism. The website's Resources are organized around general interest, themes, handouts and publications, and talks and presentations.

All in all, ELI promises some interesting conversations!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

School closures and mergers - Report

A report on School Closures and Mergers (PDF 4.5 MB) in India argues that tens of thousands of government schools in three states are being arbitrarily closed down and merged, causing immense hardship to children and their families. Poor girl children, and children with disabilities are the most severely affected, often dropping out of school altogether. The Save the Children report (not yet on their website, as of August 2017) studies the implementation and impact of policies of school closures and mergers in Telangana, Odisha, and Rajasthan.

Among its findings are that:

  • the policies are being haphazardly and arbitrarily implemented (Chapter 3)
  • no consultation with the community; nor any guidance to the community regarding alternatives (Chapter 7)
  • "Closures are both a cause and a consequence of the process of privatisation of schooling in educationally advanced districts and urban centres." (p. xi; see also Chapter 11)
  • "the mergers have only disrupted teaching-learning activities and perhaps further degraded the quality of education" (p. 50)
  • the closures and mergers impact more severely the economically underprivileged (Chapters 8 and 10)
  • serious impact on gender equality: "girls will be much more vulnerable to be married off earlier than before" (p. xi; see also Chapter 10.2)
  • these closures and mergers are a violation of various provisions of the Right to Education Act (Chapter 12)

The Report also documents cases of resistance. Regarding Rajasthan we are told that "about 384 schools were re-started due to the pressures from community members and political parties and representatives, thus making the total number of schools closed 14,673" (p. 69, Annexure 4, footnote 34).

The Report concludes in its section on "Issues and Recommendations for Advocacy" that the issue of school closures and mergers needs to be more widely known and better understood by the various stakeholders.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Information for Interlinguists - IfI

The Esperantic Studies Foundation (ESF) website has this news:

IfI (Information for Interlinguists) is a publication by the Center for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems (CED) and the Esperantic Studies Foundation (ESF), for all those interested in news and developments in the fields of interlinguistics. The publication is available for free in English...  and in Esperanto. To submit materials and to receive the publication by email, please write to Deadline for the next issue: October 1, 2017.

Here are the contents of IfI 1/2017 (PDF):
  1. Editorial
  2. Symposium on Language, the Sustainable Development Goals, and Vulnerable Populations
  3. Future Conferences and other events
  4. Esperantic Studies Foundation and the University of Costa Rica announce an LPP Summer School
  5. Call for Papers
  6. British Association for Applied Linguistics founded
  7. New President for the Center for Applied Linguistics
  8. The 6th Global Esperanto Examinations are complete and a series of individual sessions begins
  9. In memoriam: André Albault (1923-2017)
  10. Recent Publications
  11. Language Problems and Language Planning 41:1 and 41:2 (2017)
  12. Esperantic Studies Foundation appoints a new Executive Director
  13. Languages of Internationalism, University of London
  14. The Interlinguistic Studies program in Poznan is now accepting applications for 2017-2020

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Some myths about language

Osmania University celebrates its centenary this year (plus a few other anniversaries!). As part of its celebrations, it has brought out a freely downloadable volume called Insights on Global Challenges and Opportunities for the Century Ahead -- here's the link to the 27-MB PDF.

As the Preface notes, the 400-page volume "contains 81 articles with insights from eminent personalities including Nobel laureates, World Food Prize winners, Padma awardees, Heads of national and international organizations, distinguished scientists, social workers, and spiritual leaders."

Among the several interesting contributions to the volume is "Some myths about language" by Duggirala Vasanta, Aditi Mukherjee, and Dipti Mishra-Sharma (pp. 95-99). Addressing a general audience, they briefly discuss the following 10 myths:

Myth 1: Sanskrit is the ‘mother’ of all Indian languages.

Myth 2: Borrowing from other languages or language-mixing ‘spoils’ the purity of a language.

Myth 3: ‘Dialects’ are inferior to ‘languages’.

Myth 4: ‘Script’ is an essential part of language.

Myth 5: Exposing preschool children to multiple languages / scripts will hinder their cognitive growth.

Myth 6: The alphabetic writing system of English is inherently superior compared to Indian scripts.

Myth 7: Sign languages are not real languages / there is just one universal sign language.

Myth 8: Men and women differ in their linguistic / spatial abilities because their brains are wired differently.

Myth 9: Machine Translation (MT) will replace human translators.

Myth 10: Machine Translation output quality is so bad that it is useless.

Do take a look at these useful reminders.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Myaamia revitalization and well-being

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas drew our attention to an inspiring story of language "resurrection": that of Myaamia, the language of the Miami tribe in USA. As  Lorraine Boissoneault says in the Smithsonian Magazine article, "Despite the threat of language extinction, despite the brutal history of genocide and forced removals, this is a story of hope. It’s about reversing time and making that which has sunk below the surface visible once more. This is the story of how a disappearing language came back to life—and how it’s bringing other lost languages with it".

But it takes time, as linguists David Costa and Daryl Baldwin know. Costa has already spent 30 years on reviving Myaamia, and we're told that he "anticipates it’ll be another 30 or 40 before the puzzle is complete and all the historical records of the language are translated, digitally assembled, and made available to members of the tribe". As a project that will probably outlive its initiators, the focus has to be on youth. One result of their work has been wide institutional collaboration: "From this initiative came National Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages. The workshop has been held in 2011, 2013, 2015 and is slated once again for 2017.... The workshop has hosted community members from 60 different languages already".

And the benefits of this revitalization are startlingly tangible!
To emphasize the importance of indigenous languages, Baldwin and others researched the health impact of speaking a native language. They found that for indigenous bands in British Columbia, those who had at least 50 percent of the population fluent in the language saw 1/6 the rate of youth suicides compared to those with lower rates of spoken language. In the Southwestern U.S., tribes where the native language was spoken widely only had around 14 percent of the population that smoked, while that rate was 50 percent in the Northern Plains tribes, which have much lower language usage. Then there are the results they saw at Miami University: while graduation rates for tribal students were 44 percent in the 1990s, since the implementation of the language study program that rate has jumped to 77 percent.
As the website of Healing Through Language summarizes: "One tool for improving health has become apparent in recent years: language. Communities that maintain their Native language have lower suicide rates. Elders often find renewed vitality when called upon to help the younger generations recover a language. Youths in language programs graduate from high school at higher rates than those who take a mainstream language like Spanish."

Thursday, January 5, 2017

MTME needed beyond early grades

In his fortnightly column, Anurag Behar has just published 'The focus for education in 2017' - a comprehensive 'cheat-sheet' of 'approaches and issues, which will be worked upon and fought about, this year and next'. The list of 25 issues range from the high-minded (constitutional values) to the everyday (inadequate water in schools).

About mother-tongue education, he says:
21. Mother tongue is the most effective medium of education in early grades. However, given the reality of the social capital of English, all children must have the opportunity to learn the language.
In fact, mother-tongue medium (MTM) education is most effective not just in early grades. It is most effective throughout the schooling years. Several studies show that length of time spent in mother-tongue (L1) schooling is the best predictor of academic performance. This includes performance in the second language (L2). In the world's largest longitudinal study of minority education (over 210 000 students), Thomas and Collier (2002: 7) conclude that 'the strongest predictor of L2 student achievement is the amount of formal L1 schooling. The more L1 grade-level schooling, the higher L2 achievement'. Early-exit to a dominant language does not yield good outcomes. What is needed is a mother-tongue based multilingual education (MTME).

Regarding this study and another, Skutnabb-Kangas and Dunbar (2010: 96) note, 'The length of MTM education was... more important than any other factor (and many were included) in predicting the educational success of bilingual students. It was also much more important than socio-economic status.' We've blogged earlier about their excellent overview of education of indigenous peoples, tribals and minorities. In the context of this post, see especially Chapter 8, 'What forms of education would be consistent with law and research?' (and section 8.1.3 therein).

Earlier in their monograph, Skutnabb-Kangas and Dunbar also cite Kathleen Heugh's study (2000) in South Africa (which we've blogged about too) which shows that even under the racist policies of apartheid,
secondary school pass rate rose, with 8 years of MTM, to 83.7% by 1976 and the English language as a subject pass rate rose to over 78%. When after the Soweto uprising MTM education went down to only 4 years, with an earlier transition to English-medium, the secondary school pass rate declined to 44% by 1992, with a parallel decline in English language proficiency. (p. 53)
A final pair of examples for this post are from Assam and Odisha in India, from the work by Ajit Mohanty and his colleagues. In a well-controlled study, Bodo children learning in Bodo-medium outperformed Bodos studying in the regional language Assamese. In Odisha, Kui-speaking tribal Kond children in Kui-Odia bilingual programmes 'in their later grades (i.e. the high school grades) were found to perform in Odia language tasks at the same level as the Odia-only monolingual children'. (Skutnabb-Kangas and Dunbar, pp. 97, and 70-71)

So, a more accurate phrasing of Behar's point would be:
21. Mother tongue is the most effective medium of education. Given India's multilingual reality and the social capital of English, all children must have the opportunity to get a mother-tongue based multilingual education.