Foundation for Endangered Languages
3. Language Assertion: some differing official approaches
Learning in Their Native Tongue Mexican Cities Join Experiment in Bilingual Education
By Mary Jordan Washington Post Foreign Service Tuesday, May 11, 2004
MEXICO CITY -- Jose Roberto Cleofas depends on red lights to make a living. As soon as cars brake for the stoplight in front of the PizzaHut on Insurgentes Avenue, Cleofas, 14, moves in on dirty windshields and starts wiping.
“How else can I eat?” said the fifth-grader, one of the hundreds of thousands of indigenous people who have migrated to Mexican cities in search of work as agriculture has failed in their dying villages.
The federal government is struggling to educate migrant children here and in other Mexican cities. The Education Ministry has opened more than 2,000 bilingual schools for speakers of 62 indigenous languages in the past 10 years.
In part, the initiative is a response to the armed Zapatista movement in southern Mexico in the 1990s, which embarrassed the government by bringing worldwide attention to its neglect of indigenous people. Most of the new schools are in rural areas where indigenous children are in the majority. Now, the challenge is to accommodate their growing numbers in cities where they are a minority.
Like 300,000 other Mexicans, Cleofas's first language is Otomi. There are 10 million indigenous Mexicans in a population of 103 million. During the Spanish conquest 500 years ago, indigenous people fled to remote desert and mountain areas and remain among Mexico's poorest, marginalized by racial prejudice and inferior schooling.
Cleofas attends the Alfredo Correo school, a two-story brick schoolhouse, where about 100 of the 124 students are indigenous, according to the principal. The school was chosen last year to be one of 76 city schools in a vanguard bicultural project, because nearly all students speak the same language and are from Santiago Mexquititlan: a farming village 100 miles north of Mexico City. The schools' computers are programmed in both Spanish and Otomi, and teachers are required to learn Otomi so they can communicate more easily with students who are not proficient in Spanish. The national anthem is even sung in Otomi.
Cleofas, who began speaking Spanish five years ago at age 9, said he no longer feels bad in class for not knowing a certain word in Spanish. Rather, he said, he enjoys helping others pronounce Otomi words. Science concepts are clearer when explained in his native language, he said, and when he sings the Mexican national anthem in Otomi “it rings with more meaning.”
Cleofas has already attended school longer than many indigenous students, who typically don't finish primary school. He said no one in his family had ever finished fifth grade. He said he had moved to Mexico City last year, aspiring only to earn money cleaning windshields. But he now likes school, especially maths.
The soaring number of indigenous children in urban Mexico is being compared by education officials to the situation in the United States. In both countries, the influx of migrant children is prompting schools to introduce native languages in the classroom. And in both countries, multicultural education is facing some resistance.
“Yes, there are parents who don't like it,” said Nancy Miranda, head of the parents association at the Alfredo Correo school. She said some parents believe assimilation and speaking Spanish are the way to get ahead in Mexico.
Some parents said the cost of training teachers in indigenous languages and creating special bilingual textbooks was a wasteful expenditure for an already thin education budget. Rather than have their children learn Otomi, some parents interviewed said they would prefer their children learn English or French, the languages wealthier Mexicans study.
Sylvia Schmelkes, coordinator of bilingual and intercultural education for the Education Ministry, said some of the opposition is based on discrimination against indigenous people.
“Racism is very profound in Mexico,” she said. “You can ask any Mexican whether he or she is a racist, and they'll say, 'Of course, not.'... Nevertheless, in direct interaction, it exists.”
Miranda, the parent association head, said some parents object to the growing number of indigenous children in their neighbourhood school. She said some parents unfairly complain that the newcomers “are slower to learn, don't know how to speak, are lower class.”
Miranda, who is not indigenous, said she feels it is “neither positive nor negative” that her son Donovan, 9, comes home singing songs in Otomi. But she said there are practical benefits for him to be part of this experiment: The school receives additional funds, computers, and attention. President Vicente Fox visited recently to see the new program, considered a blueprint for integrating indigenous languages and customs in additional urban schools next year.
Students in the program receive scholarships of a few hundred dollars a year to make up for the cash that children might earn if they dropped out of school.
As Miranda spoke, the recess bell rang in the tidy school in the upper middle-class Roma neighborhood. Boys and girls wearing the school's blue uniform ran onto the concrete playground, some laughing and telling jokes in Otomi.
Most of the indigenous children at Alfredo Correo live in shacks haphazardly built in alleyways in a neighbourhood of ornate homes and expensive apartments. Life is harder for them, said school principal Juan Valente Garcia Lopez. Nearly all are so poor they quality for subsidized lunches of oranges, bananas, peanuts and milk, which were stacked in boxes outside his office.
Garcia said his job was to create an environment that raises self-esteem: “School represents a place where they are treated equally, where they aren't discriminated against, where they are happy.”
When classes end for the day, Cleofas walks two blocks to the busy street corner where he earns, on a good evening, about $6 for eight hours washing windshields. Nearly all his classmates also work after school. Most of them sell handmade dolls from their village, or gum and candies.
“Usually their mom is working in one spot, but they are off on their own,” said Rosalba Esquivel Fernandez, a first-grade teacher. She said most of her students, who are as young as 6, work on the streets until after midnight.
The migration of indigenous families to such major cities as Tijuana, Monterrey and Mexico City is more visible every year, in large part because of the women and small children it is bringing to urban street corners. The mothers commonly wear colourful traditional dresses and carry a baby strapped to their back. Children knock on car windows selling homemade handicrafts for the equivalent of $1. It is a business born of desperation.
“All that is left is a ghost town,” said Domingo Gonzalez, a town official in Santiago Mexquititlan, Cleofas's village. So many people have left, he said in a telephone interview, because there is “no food, no jobs, nothing here.”
The price of Mexican corn, the staple many indigenous people have grown on small plots for generations, has been undercut by less expensive U.S. corn that has flooded the Mexican market in the 10 years since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
A shy boy with black wavy hair, Cleofas said that his mother died last year and that he survived on a little corn and the edible parts of cactus plants until he left his village for Mexico City.
“There is nothing left at home. It's better here,” he said, wearing new tennis shoes and sport clothes he bought with his earnings from washing windshields.
He now lives with his sisters, who had previously migrated to Mexico City. Cleofas said school has given him goals and that he is now thinking about studying medicine, because, “I'd like to help others.”
Language training for Welsh early years staff
The Welsh assembly has announced £4.87m of funding to improve Welsh language training for those working with under-fives.
The minister for education and lifelong learner, Jane Davidson, today approved £4.87m of the £7m for the provision of training for early-years staff as part of Iaith Pawb, the national action plan for a bilingual Wales.
The funds are earmarked for Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin (MYM), the Association of Welsh Nursery Schools and Playgroups, and Trinity College, Carmarthen, the university sector college of west Wales.
“These resources will mean that 450 early-years practitioners will be trained over the next two to three years,” Ms Davidson said. “This is three times as many as we had originally envisaged.
Calls are also being made to increase access to Welsh-taught subjects higher up the education ladder, as Welsh students came together this week for the National Eisteddfod at Tredegar park, outside Cardiff, and demanded the right to a Welsh-language education in Wales's universities.
The Eisteddfod is an annual event in Wales which has descended from a Celtic tradition. “Over the years, it has become a political event,” explained James Knight, the president of the National Union of Students Wales. “Many organisations, such as political parties and the Welsh assembly have a stand. It's like a huge Freshers' fair for Wales.”
He added: “NUS Wales's view is that it's a basic human right to have education in the language of their [Welsh students'] nation. As we're a bilingual nation, this should be provided,” said Knight.
Over the course of the week, students from NUS Wales, and UMCA and UMCB (Aberystwyth and Bangor's Welsh Students' Unions), have called for equal opportunities for bilingual students, as well as increased student funding, and continue to campaign to keep top-up fees out of Wales.
“Welsh language, literature, history and drama are really the only subjects currently taught in Welsh in higher education institutions, so someone studying a physical science for example, can't study it in Welsh,” explained Knight.
Aboriginal Languages onto the Curriculum in New South Wales
ABORIGINAL language studies will become a major part of the school curriculum in an Australian first that takes indigenous education to a new level across New South Wales. The formal lessons in Aboriginal languages will be driven by demand from local communities, but it is hoped thousands of non-indigenous students will support the program.
NSW Education Minister Andrew Refshauge today will launch a new syllabus for mandatory and elective courses in Aboriginal languages for students from Kindergarten to Year 10. Students in Government and independent schools will be able to study an Aboriginal language subject in primary school, for their School Certificate and for the HSC.
Initiatives to teach and revive the state's 70 indigenous languages will be spearheaded by specialists who will help teachers in the classroom. Under the new policy:
o A kindergarten to year 10 syllabus will be introduced from 2005, enabling any student in the state to study an Aboriginal language;
Education sources indicated yesterday that primary schools could spend at least half an hour a week on Aboriginal language lessons.
At Darlington Public School, children already are learning how to count, sing and identify body parts in the Wiradjuri language. Teachers said reaction had been positive, but they were careful not to "tread on the toes" of community members who were not supportive.
Primary principal Cheryl McBride said the syllabus would give Aboriginal pupils a sense of pride and recognition.
Opposition spokeswoman Jillian Skinner also supported the plan, as long as core subjects were not neglected.
It is understood about 80 schools have applied for resources to run the programs; about 25 are being funded.
Dr Refshauge said learning a language helped improve comprehension and literacy.
Follow-up on Linguistic Minorities “GO” in Mysore State
Through Harold F. Schiffman email@example.com
“Last week I forwarded a message copied from the newspaper Star of Mysore, about a Government Order to communicate with the citizenry in minority languages; this has now been rescinded: (Note the wonderful reference to the use of English reaching only the “creamy layer.”
From the very day it was mooted by the Department of Personnel Administration and Reforms (DPAR), it was clear that the controversial GO was headed for trouble. The GO had stipulated that in areas where the population of linguistic minorities constituted a minimum 15 per cent of the total population, government notifications, orders and rules should also be issued in the language of the said minorities. It could have been Marathi in Belgaum, Tulu/ Konkani in Mangalore, Telugu in Bidar, Kodava in Kodagu. But many of these languages are dialects which use Kannada script. So in any case, they can read Kannada.
Viewed through the prism of an ordinary common man in these places, the GO could have been construed as a patently progressive move, and one that behoves an increasingly cosmopolitan State. By making arcane government notifications available in their tongue, it could have been argued that the government was empowering the very people who had put it there. In addition, the GO would also have gone some distance in removing confusion and eliminating middlemen who thrive in such conditions.
However, a host of Kannada writers and activists, and the Kannada Development Authority (KDA), urged the government to withdraw the move. They feared that the GO would go against the spirit of Statehood of Karnataka, and might spoil the harmony between Kannadigas and linguistic minorities. There is merit in their argument.
It can be argued that the needs of the linguistic minorities are met by publication of notifications in English. But that only reaches the creamy layer, and the Krishna governments bid to assuage the simmering discontent at the grassroots has come unstuck.
One thought Mr. S.M. Krishna, who incidentally was the Dy. CM in Mr. M. Veerappa Moily's cabinet, would have learnt a lesson after seeing the problems created following Moily's decision to broadcast news in Urdu, apparently to please Muslims. Following protest, this decision was withdrawn. Sure, Mr. Krishna has not learnt his lesson.