SENEGAL: New efforts underway to educate in local languages
DAKAR, 14 September 2007 (IRIN) - With formal education systems crumbling in much of sub-Saharan Africa, educationalists are looking more to informal systems of education taught in local languages. "Every child and adult should be able to learn in their own language, especially in the face of staggering failure rates from the French education system," said Sonja Diallo, director of Associates in Research and Education for Development (ARED), a non-profit group based in Senegal that promotes learning in African languages.
She points out that it takes about 300 hours to make a student literate and learn basic maths skills in their own languages, whereas reaching grade six in the formal system takes a total of 7,000 hours. The type of education that people get in their own languages is also more practical. “People here have found the confidence and skills to keep accounts and organise themselves,” said Ousmane Mamadou Ba, who went through a non-formal education programme in the northern Senegalese town of Podor and now teaches in his native language of Pulaar subjects ranging from animal health to AIDS awareness.
“We've been able to improve farming in the area by teaching farmers how to get the most from their crops. And newly literate local leaders are encouraging our youth to educate themselves about Pulaar culture,” he said. “People have become really interested in reading and learning about themselves." ARED has produced over 150 fiction and non-fiction books in Pulaar and five other Senegalese languages. Learning in local languages has gained new impetus and was one of the issues discussed in a meeting organised by UNESCO earlier in September in Bamako to promote global literacy.
The formal system
For Diallo, who presented a paper at the conference, "[Families] sending children to formal schools is a bit like playing lottery with their lives." "In rural areas families scrape and save to send their kids to school, knowing quite well that they probably won't make it past the sixth grade," she said. A staggering 75 percent of children fail the seventh grade entrance exam and are forced out of the system, she said.
Learning in a foreign language is a big part of the problem, she said. "What we must understand is how incredibly difficult it is for most Senegalese students to succeed in the formal system. A great number of them enter primary school not speaking the language of instruction," Diallo said. "They are destined to fail from the start," she said.
Moreover, with massive unemployment in formal sector jobs in Africa the formal education system is teaching students skills that are not uthey need to further their lives. "It’s great for those who will make it to formal sector or urban jobs,” educationalist Molly Melching, director of Tostan, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) supporting non-formal education in West Africa, told IRIN, “but for those returning to rural communities they are left with skills they may never use."
Proponents of non-formal education are not calling for the formal education system to be replaced, but for people to be given other options. "Non-formal education is not concretely opposed to the French formal system," Diallo said. “Instead, it provides an alternative for people who have very little chance of succeeding in a top-down system.”
The alternatives should be designed and structured by local communities, to meet local needs, the proponents say. The education programmes start with literacy in local languages and basic maths skills, and then cover human rights, gender equality, health as well as agricultural issues. "Communities choose subjects that apply to their lives," Diallo said.
While the programmes do not lead to a degree or certificate, advocates of the system say they are crucial to community driven development. "It gives them the tools to drive their own development, which is entirely more sustainable than any development initiative imposed from the outside," Melching said.
In Senegal the government has had a plan in place for more than a decade to revitalise the country's education system through the use of national languages and promoting local cultures. The plan, called 'Faire-Faire' (make happen), is intended to provide community driven education outside of formal schools. It is an idea that has spread to other countries in Francophone Africa, including Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Mali.
Fary Ka, a former adviser to the Minister of Literacy in Senegal who now works as a consultant and researcher on non-formal education, has called the programme "an alternative to the failed mirage of formal education which creates civil servants, elites and intellectuals". Yet of the 18.9 percent of the US$3 billion Senegalese state budget that goes to education only 1 percent of that is directed towards non-formal education programmes.
"It's amazing that more money is not directed towards these programmes," says Diallo. “Non-formal education plays such an essential role in levelling the playing field in Africa.”
Nigerian Languages: 30% lost to English
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 28 2007
Prince Adetukunbo Kayode, Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, says 30 per cent of Nigerian languages is lost to communicating in English language by the Nigerian elite.Speaking in Abuja at a workshop to `Safeguard the Endangered Nigeria Languages,' the minister said the situation had also led to the erosion of norms and ethos. ``The consequences are that the languages are fast fading while values, norms and ethos embedded in them are going into oblivion,'' he said.
Kayode said that the establishment of some institutions by the federal government had therefore stepped up efforts at encouraging the learning of Nigeria languages. ``Such included the establishment of Institute of Nigerian Languages, Institute for Culture Orientation and National Orientation Agency.
``Allotting of airtime and space in both electronic and print media to Nigeria languages were all steps to revive some endangered Nigerian languages,'' he said. He urged participants at the workshop to focus on protecting, preserving and strengthening the use of Nigerian Languages in their interactions.``I implore you to go deeper and unearth other areas that need to be strengthened and improved upon to enable government put in place policies that will safeguard Nigerian cultural heritage,'' he said.
Earlier, Mr Abhimanyu Singh, UNESCO Country Representative in Nigeria urged Nigeria's policy makers to put into action the National Policy on Education to ensure promotion of mother tongue. Singh said that universities should be challenged to take practical steps to encourage students to take indigenous languages as elective courses. He also said that minority languages should be protected even as he called on publishers to publish multilingual texts.
Singh called for support and capacity building of departments of languages in tertiary institutions faced with the challenge of promoting indigenous languages. According to him, this would enable them to effectively discharge their responsibilities.
Their Last Words? Languages Dying Out
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID
Filed Under: Science News, World News
WASHINGTON (Sept. 19) - From rural Australia to Siberia to the southwestern U.S. state of Oklahoma, languages that embody the history and traditions of people are dying, researchers said Tuesday. While there are an estimated 7,000 languages spoken around the world today, one of them dies out about every two weeks, according to linguistic experts struggling to save at least some of them.
In addition to northern Australia, eastern Siberia and Oklahoma and the U.S. southwest, many native languages are endangered in South America - Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia - as well as the area including British Columbia, and the states of Washington and Oregon.
Losing languages means losing knowledge, says K. David Harrison, an assistant professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College. "When we lose a language, we lose centuries of human thinking about time, seasons, sea creatures, reindeer, edible flowers, mathematics, landscapes, myths, music,the unknown and the everyday."
As many as half of the current languages have never been written down, he estimated.That means, if the last speaker of many of these vanished tomorrow, the language would be lost because there is no dictionary, no literature, no text of any kind, he said.
Harrison is associate director of the Living Tongues Institute based. He and institute director GregoryD.S. Anderson analyzed the top regions for disappearing languages. Anderson said languages become endangered when a community decides that its language is an impediment. The children may be first to do this, he explained, realizing that other more widely spoken languages are more useful. The key to getting a language revitalized, he said, is getting a new generation of speakers. He said the institute worked with local communities and tries to help by developing teaching materials and by recording the endangered language.
Harrison said that the 83 most widely spoken languages account for about 80 percent of the world's population while the 3,500 smallest languages account for just 0.2 percent of the world's people. Languages are more endangered than plant and animal species, he said.
The hot spots listed at Tuesday's briefing:
Northern Australia, 153 languages. The researchers said aboriginal Australia holds some of the world's most endangered languages, in part because aboriginal groups splintered during conflicts with white settlers. Researchers have documented such small language communities as the three known speakers of Magati Ke, the three Yawuru speakers and the lone speaker of Amurdag.
Central South America including Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia - 113 languages. The area has extremely high diversity, very little documentation and several immediate threats. Small and socially less-valued indigenous languages are being knocked out by Spanish or more dominant indigenous languages in most of the region, and by Portuguese in Brazil.
Northwest Pacific Plateau, including British Columbia in Canada and the states of Washington and Oregon in the U.S., 54 languages. Every language in the American part of this hotspot is endangered or moribund, meaning the youngest speaker is over age 60. An extremely endangered language, with just one speaker,is Siletz Dee-ni, the last of 27 languages once spoken on the Siletz reservation in Oregon.
Eastern Siberian Russia, China, Japan - 23 languages. Government policies in the region have forced speakers of minority languages to use the national and regional languages and, as a result, some have only a fewelderly speakers.
Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico - 40 languages. Oklahoma has one of the highest densities of indigenous languages in the United States. A moribund language of the area is Yuchi, which may be unrelatedto any other language in the world. As of 2005, only five elderly members of the Yuchi tribe were fluent.
The research is funded by the Australian government, U.S. National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society and grants from foundationsFive hotspots where languages are most endangered were listed Tuesday in a briefing by the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages and the National Geographic Society.