Issue 70, december 2015
Why is Basque-language teaching on the increase in the Spanish Basque Country? Is Malay still spoken in Singapore? Who studies in French in modern-day Algeria? Is the Estonian language under threat in Estonia? Why has France not ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages? And, in India, why do parents choose English-language schooling for their children?
These are some of the questions that emerge from the reading of Issue 70 of the Revue internationale d’éducation de Sèvres, which focuses on the choice of languages of instruction. They show that this choice is clearly an eminently political one, which goes well beyond the scope of educational policies alone.
The 10 studies in this dossier cover contexts as diverse as Algeria, Burkina Faso, the Comoros, Estonia, France, India, Paraguay, the Spanish Basque Country, Singapore, and Council of Europe policy.
They reveal that, today, the choice of language of instruction is no longer the prerogative of public authorities and official policies alone. It is also influenced by multiple factors and actors, which, to varying degrees, depending on the context, manifest their support for a common policy or, on the contrary, seek to circumvent it.
Groups with diverse interests deploy strategies of social differentiation in order to respond to the issues of the modern-day world: employability and occupational mobility; the obligation to produce results; the privatization and diversification of training provision; or identity affirmation and the recognition of minority languages in school systems.
Around the world, the influx of new actors in debates – whether they be regional-level public authorities, parents, or international organizations – is producing change, including within education systems.
An issue coordinated by the linguist Daniel Coste (École normale supérieure de Lyon) and the sociologist Abdeljalil Akkari (University of Geneva).
Languages of instruction: between official policies and strategies of the actors
Abdeljalil Akkari, Daniel Coste
Schooling in Algeria through the prism of languages of instruction
Khaoula Taleb Ibrahimi
The issue of languages of instruction, their mastery as taught languages and their involvement in the learning of other disciplines and the acquisition of other knowledge form the Gordian knot created form the Gordian knot created when the Algerian education system was set up. It has captured the interest of both specialists and the general public. The choice of language(s) of instruction remains a key issue for those whose decisions have played and currently play a role in determining the country's future, as well as for the different stakeholders (the elite, families (parents and children) and the media), and it always sparks a lively and impassioned debate within society. At each stage of its implementation, this choice – characterised by its persistent association with the assertion of national identity – has been highly controversial, revealing that certain fundamental and sensitive questions relating to the history and future of the Algerian nation have not yet been settled.
Towards a sociological basis for literacy in Burkina Faso
Analysis of the language needs of populations in Burkina Faso
Alkassoum Maïga, Abou Napon, Zakaria Soré
In Burkina Faso, around thirty national languages are officially used for developing adult literacy. Despite the efforts made, there has been very little improvement in literacy, which raises the question of the choice of languages used for teaching. The article takes account of a study that aimed to identify the language needs of populations in Burkina Faso with regard to literacy. Its findings are based on secondary data and field data. The data was collected by conducting questionnaire-based surveys and qualitative interviews. In the 13 regions of the country, at least 50% of the interviewees wish to be taught how to read and write. Their choices of the language of literacy are based on social as well as commercial and economic reasons. The article also compares the differences between the situations in the formal and informal education sectors.
Statuses of languages and basic education in the Comoros
In the Comoros, the role of languages within basic education is gradually being defined, following the recent standardisation of Shikomori. The current language policies, in striving to improve the academic performance of pupils, have two main thrusts: one policy aims to promote Shikomori, which is the country's main language, while the second policy seeks to provide support for French, which is the language used for the transmission of knowledge. The success of this policy will partly depend on the proper coordination of the teaching of and through these two languages. It will also take better account of the potential offered by exposure to Arabic, particularly at the pre-school level.
Shaping the ecology of languages in the education sector
The case of Estonia
This article provides a brief overview of how competition among three languages (Estonian, Russian and English), in the Estonian linguistic environment has manifested in education and has been shaped by the language education policy. As a post-Soviet country, Estonia has had to establish the full functionality of its national language in a society that has a quite significant minority of Russian speakers. At the same time, Estonian is in competition with English – the language of globalisation which is also perceived as being the language of personal success. While Estonia has been dynamic and successful in implementing its language policy, the analysis also shows that the results have been achieved through interactions with a wide variety of parties with often conflicting interests.
French, the language of schooling and the language at school
Regarding a consensus that remains intact in France
The French language enjoys a privileged position in the French school system. It dominates the school timetable, both as a discipline in itself and as the language that supports learning in other subjects. Developing a command of French is one of the key conditions for achieving academic success. The origins of this role, for which there is a broad consensus within families, are found in a very long historical and disciplinary development process, which is inseparable from the creation of the nation-state. However, this position, while extremely favourable for education in schools, is not so beneficial for higher education and scientific research, in which the presence of English is increasingly dominant. The position of French needs to be reconsidered, both at the local level – but a local level that is to be revised to take into account the languages of migration and regional languages – and the transnational trends that are increasingly apparent within France.
Mother tongues and the policy of languages of instruction in India
Padma M. Sarangapani
India has a varied linguistic landscape, with more than 1,652 languages, 47 of which are used as languages of instruction in the school system. Due to colonisation by the British, English has traditionally been a dominant language in the social, cultural, economic and educational spheres. The growing dependency on private sector for the provision of jobs and responses to social aspirations has revived this phenomenon. The article follows the emergence of education in the mother tongue within the political sphere, in relation to English and as an assertion of policies promoting regional identities. A second tension stems from the dominant status of regional languages vis-à-vis linguistic and ethnic minority groups. The recent changes within the states suggest that the previous political consensus no longer exists and that a new consensus must be created, which will be adapted to the current realities and their political, economic and cultural challenges.
"The second language is a carriage"
Analysis of the process of establishing a bilingual education programme in Paraguay
The reform of education in Paraguay is claimed to be carried out on bilingual and intercultural grounds. But in the absence of clear and pertinent strategies, it could merely help to impose Spanish to the detriment of Guarani, which is still the most commonly spoken language. This article endeavours to explain the difficulties associated with the choice of language by using a real-life situation: a Spanish class in a small school situated in a rural community in which Guarani is the daily language. This teaching approach is quite new to the teacher and it results in a series of misunderstandings and incomprehensions. Analysing the management of bilingual education programmes in the manner of a collective learning process that is designed and conducted in different phases may make a beneficial contribution, from the standpoint of introducing innovation into teaching practices and lending a certain legitimacy to the language choices made by the ministry.
Basque-medium Education in the Spanish Basque Country: why is it increasing?
The varied characteristics of the Basque Country make it a living language laboratory. The article focuses on the Spanish Basque Country and pays particular attention to the language of instruction that parents choose for their children. The minority language (Basque) and majority language (Spanish) coexist, with the international language (English) having an increasingly strong presence in the educational context. What actually motivates parents to decide that Basque, a language spoken by less than one million speakers, is the most appropriate language of instruction? The article considers the interactions between different stakeholders: society as a whole, public institutions and parents themselves.
Bilingualism in Singapore: a challenge for education policy
Aishah Mohamad Kassim
In pre-independence Malaysia (consisting of Singapore and the current Malaysia), the schools were founded by groups with different interests (missionaries, colonial government and philanthropists), in order to meet the needs of different communities by establishing multilingual schemes. At the time, the lingua franca of this region was Malay. Even before the independence of Singapore, education policies corresponded to the aims of nation building and ethnic integration. After its separation from Malaysia, Singapore adopted a bilingual education system. English became one of the country's official languages, along with Mandarin Chinese, Malay and Tamil, with these languages also being taught as "mother tongues" in schools to their respective ethnic groups. Nearly five decades after independence, followed by exponential development and profound demographic and sociocultural changes, questions have arisen regarding the language policy that has been implemented, which in practice has led to the development of two distinct education systems.
The Council of Europe and languages of education
The question of languages of education is one of the Council of Europe's key concerns, due to this institution's commitment to multilingual and intercultural education. In the current European contexts, this question is the focus of debates and tensions wherever the speakers aspire to this status for their ethnic language, and this desire often merges with the aim of autonomy for regions in which these languages are spoken. Languages of education also pose questions of a pedagogical nature. The Council of Europe is making Member States aware of these issues through framework instruments that ensure cooperation between these States. For the language of education as a specific subject, the cooperation projects supported concern educational outcomes, so that these programmes are not used to further the creation of closed and exclusive identities.