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The findings > Thematic Studies> Funding Agency ...> Part 3/Section C/ 4
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9. Language in Education
 

"Literacy in the mother-tongue strengthens cultural identity and heritage" (Declaration: 6)

"An active commitment must be made to removing educational disparities. Under served groups -..indigenous peoples; ethnic, racial and linguistic minorities,….. - should not suffer any discrimination in access to learning opportunities" (Declaration: 5)

 
9.1 Introduction
 
Language in education is an issue raised in the Jomtien Declaration both explicitly and implicitly. The preamble emphasises the importance of recognising and respecting traditional knowledge and indigenous cultural and linguistic heritage. These are regarded as having value in their own right as well as the potential to promote development. Addressing the basic learning needs of all includes recognising that the scope of learning needs will vary across cultures. Strong emphasis is placed throughout the Declaration on those under served by education and the Framework specifies those denied access as a result of various factors, including language. Generally, Jomtien focuses on the importance of universalising access, promoting equity, enhancing the learning environment, improving quality, reducing disparities and focusing on actual learning. Language is a factor in all of these concerns. In terms of choice of language for education the Declaration suggests that priorities for action at the national level include specifying the languages to be used.
 
9.2 Quality and Access
 
Language choices are made by governments both for practical and political reasons and not necessarily based solely on concerns for education. However, the implications for quality and access of these language choices are central for the education system. In multilingual societies where the medium of instruction chosen is that of the majority the needs of other language speakers are also an issue. Countries have to consider at what point, or whether, to introduce other national, regional or international languages into their education systems. Such complex questions are important for who has access to education, the quality of education and equity for minorities. Although language choices are important at all levels and in all forms of education, they are especially important for basic education as it is the basis for all further learning.
 
9.2.1 Quality
 
Language is important for the development of educational materials, especially those which cater for marginalised groups. It is also important in the training of teachers who have to work in a second language, or have to teach in regions where they do not speak the local language. In those cases where students learn from early on in the medium of a second language (local or international) there are issues of achievement. Those agencies which work in areas such as curriculum and materials design do not raise the issue of language choice for education particularly in the documentation received. This is possibly as decisions on language in education are considered a matter for governments. The exceptions include Australia, working on producing mother tongue materials and developing orthographies for local languages in the context of small adult literacy projects and other larger projects, for example in PNG and other countries in the region.
 

GTZ (Germany) points to language of instruction components in 15 out of 53 projects and other projects focusing on Amharic, Tigrinya and other languages. All their language orientated projects cover curriculum, materials, teacher training and linguistic groundwork issues.

The World Bank also mentions the shift towards 'software' in education, which includes curriculum reform, as well as issues of language of instruction. One example is their support for the teaching the national language of Laos to ethnic minority students (World Bank 1999).

 
9.2.2 Access
 

In terms of access, particular groups may be disadvantaged by the language used as the medium of instruction. The Round Table discussions point to the problem of minority cultural groups whose language may not have a written form, as well as the plight of refugees and other displaced persons in terms of their access to education. When referring to literacy for children and adults, the Round Table discussions stress the community as the learning context, stating that "if literacy is to be sustained, children and adults need occasions to use their literacy within the community" (UNESCO 1992: 17). Some agencies discuss the problem of language choice explicitly in their discussions of interventions to support quality and access to basic education.

CDB look at the issues surrounding language for the region, and highlight the lack of policy in the area. They state that "English is not the natural language of the majority of the students, that all languages present in a society are equally valid and that multi-lingualism or multi-dialectalism are positive attributes" (CARICOM 1993:34). They go on to relate this to problems of achievement and teaching.

 

Box 9.1 Agencies Which Explicitly Raise the Issue of Language Choice for Education

Australia Germany The Netherlands Switzerland UK CDB WB UNESCO

 
9.3 Agency Policy and Practice
 
Agency approaches range from not mentioning language in education, through raising it in the context of foreign languages as curriculum subjects, to promoting and advocating mother tongue and bilingual education. It should be noted that these observations are based on policy documentation which has been provided, and it is of course possible that agencies may have de facto policies which have not been articulated in policy documentation. Literacy is most often mentioned by agencies as a necessary part of basic education intervention, especially for adults and within that for women, but often without specific reference to mother tongue literacy being important for cultural maintenance. Literacy is normally addressed in terms of poverty alleviation and as part of the original targets drawn from the Jomtien Declaration.
 
9.3.1 Language as Curriculum Subject and Language as Medium of Instruction
 

Agencies supporting language often discuss language's role as a subject on the curriculum, such as the addition of international languages, or language's role as the medium of instruction in multilingual contexts.

The CDB raises both these issues in its discussion on language choice. Another group of agencies which present a potentially interesting perspective on the language issue is the ex-colonial powers; Portugal, Britain, France, Spain.

Portugal makes no policy statement in this area, but cites the funding of the construction of Portuguese language centres in Maputo and Luanda and subsidies to Portuguese schools and to Portuguese language teaching, as well as towards a Lusaphone bibliographic network.

The UK has a long history of association with language issues. After years of funding English language teaching projects, there has been a shift in policy. The current position is to stress the acquisition of literacy in a 'familiar language', for poverty alleviation and for providing for a good foundation for further learning and participation in society.

DFID's current position on English is related to the need for other languages within the education system. "Education in a familiar language has to be complemented in most education systems with access to opportunities embodied in a more widely used national language or international language" (DFID 1999:26). Thus, Governments may opt for English or other international languages as a tool for poverty alleviation.

DFID's response is to stress the need for basic literacy skills in the familiar language first, a balance in the curriculum between different languages, the availability of materials in local languages, as well as teacher training and other curriculum measures. This would imply that DFID, in line with the declaration, respects the role of national Governments in decisions on language policy, but has a view on the importance of basic literacy in a familiar language. DFID point to perceived dangers of "a narrow focus on a minority language" saying that it "may reinforce social and economic marginalisation" (1999:26). They also point to other potential pitfalls such as "overloading the curriculum".

Other agencies which mention English language teaching include AusAID in reference to distance and vocational education. Also, UNESCO's paper illustrating success stories in education mentions ELT in Mongolia, with UNDP as the donor and in Sri Lanka with Norway as a donor.

Unfortunately there is no information from France, and Spain does no work in basic education.

 
9.3.2 Mother Tongue and Bilingual Education
 
Bilingual and mother tongue education (MTE) are most often associated with addressing the needs of minority / marginalised groups. Bilingual education is often linked with the word 'intercultural'. Hyltenstam and Quick (1996:10) define it as follows: "teaching of and in two languages" (original italics). The use of the two languages is perceived as contributing to the languages' and their cultures' preservation and development. Box 9.2 below shows agencies supporting mother tongue and bilingual education.
 
Box 9.2 Agencies Working in Mother Tongue and Bilingual Education
 

Agencies supporting mother tongue education

Australia Germany The Netherlands New Zealand Switzerland UNESCO

Agencies supporting (intercultural) bilingual education

Austria Australia Germany The Netherlands New Zealand Sweden USAID UNICEF IDB World Bank

Austria does not explicitly mention language issues in their sector policy but do support measures in bilingual education, for example in Guatemala.

Australia points to work with mother tongue education, for example in Laos and Vietnam, as well as bilingual education to assist the transition from mother tongue to the national language for higher levels of education, for example in PNG.

Sweden mentions bilingual and multilingual education as an area of increasing importance from 1992 onwards, for example in Bolivia.

New Zealand provide support for the development of language curricula, in English where this is the medium of instruction and also in the mother tongue, for example in PNG.

USAID note that they have been involved bilingual education in Bolivia since the 1970s, but with negligible impact.

UNICEF emphasise their engagement in programmes directed towards minorities which involve educational work in bilingual education. They state that bilingual education is a context specific issue, but simultaneously a global one. They also mention language in relation to Peace Education.

IDB provides support for bilingual education, for example currently in Bolivia, Mexico and Peru.

The World Bank emphasises that both bilingual programs and schools which offer a choice of language of instruction are important, especially in the case of primary education, as ways of addressing marginalisation.

The German, Swiss and Dutch present more detailed cases in favour of mother tongue or bilingual education.

A GTZ mid-term review document states that "in assisting projects to improve basic education we direct our main efforts at intercultural bilingual education, natural science…." (BMZ, KfW and GTZ 1996: 2), [and] "based on the principle of intercultural bilingual education, primary education in rural areas is to be oriented towards the socio-cultural features there and the rural working environment" (21). For GTZ, mother tongue education (MTE) is a continuing challenge for the organisation, although they have been involved in bilingual education in Latin America since the 1960s and in Africa since the 1980s. MTE is related to the culture of minority groups and the rights that they have asserted for their own languages. Kueper of GTZ argues that "teacher training is a key issue to introduce mother tongue, based on the cultural background of a community/ society thus also contributing to standardise the language" (GTZ 1998: 91). GTZ recognise the issue of efficiency of schooling on which foreign languages can impose a ceiling, but also point to the value of other regional and international languages. Their general approach is therefore support of MTE and the transition to other languages. The countries in which GTZ is working in bilingual or mother tongue education include Guatemala, Ecuador, Niger (in planning), Senegal

The Swiss discuss mother tongue education in relation to groups which are discriminated against. Seeing education as related to identity the SDC will [help marginalised groups] "to develop a form of basic education in their mother tongue, when they themselves take the initiative to do so" (SDC 1996:18). In adult education and literacy mother tongue education is also a priority.

The Netherlands stress the importance of mother tongue medium for the initial years of education in the interests of higher achievement. They point out that policy dialogue should include discussions on mother tongue education and successful transition to other languages. They also stress the necessity of appointing teachers from communities who speak the mother tongue of the pupils to ensure that underprivileged groups are able to participate.

 
9.4 Poverty Reduction and Human Rights
 

As illustrated in Chapter 6, poverty reduction and the promotion of human rights are two major development objectives for agencies. The Jomtien declaration also has a pro-poor focus. In relation to language, however, the debate is complex and economic arguments may seem to contradict those based on a concern for minority rights. Discussions in favour of ex-colonial languages stress the resulting economic and political benefits to the country as a whole. This is especially the case with the promotion of English.

Research which has been carried out on the language of initial education concentrates on achievement in education, which in the context of current theories of education and development is assumed to contribute to the alleviation of poverty. UNESCO is known for its view that the mother tongue should be the medium of instruction for as long as possible, in relation to achievement and also cultural maintenance. LINGUAPAX is one example of a UNESCO language project whose aim is to promote a "culture of peace through multilingual education and respect for linguistic and cultural diversity". The Amman 1996 report also concludes that mother tongue education should be recommended where possible, as well as calling for more research.

Limage, analysing agency positions, states that bilateral and multilateral agencies "for the most part, have little or no concern with examining the status of languages / language speakers and links with poverty with the possible exception of UNESCO" (1999:15). In this review only DFID highlight this as an issue.

The other important strand of agency policy on basic education is the emphasis on human rights and democracy. The Jomtien Declaration states that "literacy in the mother-tongue strengthens cultural identity and heritage" (6). The Round Table discussions focus on the importance of culture in development and the links with language. "There is nothing that more deeply transforms individual identities and cultures than literacy in the mother tongue" (UNESCO 1992:11). Mother tongue literacy is seen therefore both as a means of affirming cultural identity and also opening the possibilities for cultural development.

In terms of democracy, language is important as it is vital for full participation in society, a goal the agencies and the Declaration stress. There is little agency discussion on language in this context. One exception is Sida. "When minorities, ethnic groups and indigenous peoples are given the same rights as the rest of the population - for example education, media and court proceedings in their own language - democracy has a better chance of becoming stronger" (Sida 1999: 48).

 
9.5 Conclusions
 
One of the main questions to ask is not only whether funding agencies do have policies on the role of language in basic education, but also whether they should. The statements from UNESCO as to the benefits of mother tongue education and the Jomtien Declaration's emphasis on mother tongue literacy provide a platform for advocating mother tongue education at a basic level. However, language is the issue most obviously linked to cultural identity and therefore a more difficult area for agencies to be involved in. The 'non-interventionist' stance, such as reported about the World Bank by Brock-Utne (1999), which states that language policy is a matter for governments, is important. Decisions on language choice are made not just on the basis of educational achievement, poverty alleviation etc, but also on the basis of ideology and concerns for national unity.
 
9.6 Outstanding Issues
 
9.6.1 Issues
 
There seem to be two common responses by agencies who raise the language issue; non-intervention in relation to policy and actively supporting bilingual / mother tongue education. The first fits with the notion of local ownership and the idea of response to country priorities highlighted in the Jomtien declaration. It also reflects the Jomtien suggestion that language policy is a matter for national governments. Equally, advocating mother tongue education for initial years in order to guarantee achievement, as well as a way of protecting and enhancing the status of minority groups also reflects the results of research and the consensus in the declaration. The Declaration therefore presents a potential dilemma for agencies. Language choice in education is a sensitive issue culturally and politically and therefore problematic. Much of the work done by agencies in MTE and bilingual education is aimed at supporting initial learning and the successful transition to higher levels of education. The links between language in education and poverty alleviation or the promotion of human rights and democracy is also an issue which seems under explored. To ignore the question of language choice means potentially not addressing the central concerns of basic education fully.
 
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