Education in Mother Tongue?


The opinions on the use of language can fall in various categories.  There is the politico-cultural issues of identification.  When the language of a people is taken out from the school and the office, it is perceived by them as downgraded and rendered secondary to some other more privileged language.  This is bound to cause social and cultural resentment that ultimately also becomes political. When jobs and privileges are associated with a particular language, it also becomes economically divisive, turning the linguistic divide into one between haves and have-nots.  But this is a problem that almost all linguistically diverse countries must confront and there are very few linguistically homogenous countries in the world, if at all.

The existing political borders were seldom carved out, especially in the post colonial contexts, on linguistic basis.  The retreat of colonialism meant formation of nation-states consisting of multiple linguistic communities.  In such a situation, it was quite possible for a particular language, and mostly only one language, to assume the role of the signifier of national unity.  It was also considered politically/economically useful to constitute a monolingual community to make communication possible between people with different mother tongues.  The hierarchical ordering of languages in the post colonial states closely followed the patterns pedimented during the colonial times.  The existing national borders [or at least most of them] are erstwhile colonial borders which are guarded jealously by the now-independent states.  Like the territorial boundaries, the divisions and hierarchical ordering of languages within the post colonial nations are also similarly protected by the post colonial orders.  As the famous saying in French goes: plus ca change, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The ‘national-unity’ argument in favour of a single language typically militates against the use of mother tongues as language of instruction in linguistically diverse countries.   This is not just true for United States or for India or for Pakistan.  It is a problem in all linguistically diverse political unions.  Consider, for example, the Turkish Columnist CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER’s case against the use of Kurdish as a language of instruction.

If our children have education in separate schools, we will raise generations who are not familiar with each other’s not only language but also culture, values, traditions, customs, beliefs, aspirations and pains etc.

If we will live under the Republic of Turkey umbrella, we should jointly claim these elements as a whole!

If our children have education in separate schools, we will raise generations who are not familiar with each other’s not only language but also culture, values, traditions, customs, beliefs, aspirations and pains etc.

No one can keep them together around a common denominator. Within the process, separation comes automatically and naturally.

If Kurds insist on education in mother tongue, let’s not waste resources, let’s not waste time.

Let’s split now. via Education in mother tongue – Hurriyet Daily News.

Even if articulated differently, the political argument against the use of mother tongue is similar in character. The motives behind advocating a single language are not necessarily similar to those which motivated the erstwhile colonial powers’ governing needs.  They are mutated into those of a nation-state trying to figure out how to turn a mass of multilingual communities into a unified ‘nation.’  We have all heard of states without nations.  The argument for a single language usually raises its head when a state without a nation looks for one.  But this is not to say that this argument for a single language to promote national unity is uniformly advocated in all multi-lingual countries.  Some people, notable among them the former Indian president Abdul Kalam, favour the use of mother tongue for learning science.

The arguments in favour of mother tongue as medium of instruction are also drawn from the ‘science’ of learning.  These arguments routinely adduce evidence about better learning gains when children are instructed in their mother tongue.  A good review of literature on this subject can be found here. Also see, Policy and Experiment in Mother Tongue Literacy in Nigeria [F. Niyi Akinnaso, published in  International Review of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft / Revue Internationale de l’Education Vol. 39, No. 4 (Jul., 1993), pp. 255-285]. Middle grounds are also sought by some scholars who are looking at what happens in multilingual classrooms when teachers and students switch codes, i.e. they go back and forth between the main Language of Learning and Teaching [LOLT] and their mother tongue [See, for example, Jill Adler’s book on Teaching Mathematics in Multilingual Classrooms].

Meanwhile, some international organisations also swung to action, only to be stopped in their tracks later [though I am not quite sure of that!]. UNESCO, for example, seems to have gone some distance when it started celebrating the International Mother Tongue day in 2000. It seems from its online portal though that it perhaps gave this celebration up after four years. Look up the UNESCO portal here.

Ironically, Pakistan was one of the supporters of the resolution to celebrate Mother Tongue Day annually.  Perhaps government of Punjab does not know about this display of national eagerness to celebrate the mother tongue–Punjab recently announced its policy of English as medium of instruction in the early grades recently.  The resolution was was submitted by Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia [See here].

UNESCO Resolution

It seems that UNESCO gave up celebrating the mother tongue day.  But I am not sure!  But if it did stop it, it would be interesting to find out why?

Meanwhile, for the readers of blog from Pakistan [and else where, of course], I have heard great things about a book written by Zubeida Mustafa that addresses the issue of language of instruction in the context of Pakistan.  I do not have access to the book yet, but am looking forward to reading it soon as I lay my hands on it.  For its reviews and more information please visit Zubeida’s website.

Disclaimer: The external websites are quoted on this blog to provide the readers with a range of opinions on any given topic to help them reflect on their own questions concerning the issue being discussed.  This blog does not endorse views expressed on external websites unless explicitly stated

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About Irfan

I am an independent researcher and blogger interested in everything under the sun, but more so in the philosophy and history of education and education reform generally, and specifically in the so-called post colonial contexts

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