A Bridge to Other Worlds

A Bridge to Other Worlds

Imagine for a moment that you’re a small child with a love of books. We may be biased, but we think that makes you pretty much “a small child,” period, because we believe that all children love books! Anyway, imagine we bring you, a small child, into a vast library filled with hundreds or even thousands of brightly colored books.

The colors! The pictures! The beautiful words!

You’ve heard about books. Someone has told you of the worlds these books will open up to you, so you head for the closest shelf and pluck off a promising title with an intriguing cover image of a baby cradling a giant grasshopper. What a mysterious image! …

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Redirecting the Spotlight

Redirecting the Spotlight

Dr. Susan Malone does not like to talk about herself. Not, she says, when “there are too many much more important things to talk about, such as the children in non-dominant language communities who are discriminated against in formal education systems.”

The strength of an organization is always its people, and SIL LEAD’s strength comes from the fact that its staff and associates always seem to insist on shining the spotlight away from themselves and onto the people with whom they work. In a world grown obsessed with the ephemera of fame, it is good to be reminded that everyone has a voice worth hearing, and that all too often some voices are silenced—either intentionally, or by failing to listen…

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Working Under the Shade of a Mango Tree

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Last month near Pucallpa, Peru, our partner organization AIDI (Asociación Indígena de Desarrollo Integral) sponsored a Grade 2 primer development workshop with the participation of teams from six minority language communities. Four of the languages are the most spoken indigenous languages in the Peruvian Amazon—Asháninka, Awajún, Shipibo, and Matsigenka.

Map shows where the participants language groups are located in Peru. 

Map shows where the participants language groups are located in Peru. 

Dr. Patricia Davis led the this four-week long workshop. The workshop was designed to develop Reading Primers for Grade 2 and also provided a short training session on how the primer lessons should be taught. Dr. Davis and her Peruvian assistant, Eva Mamaní, supervised drafting and checked the materials as the authors progressed. In addition to the six language teams, another team finished a textbook for teaching Spanish in Grades 1 and 2. Two additional participants arrived unexpectedly to complete a Kindergarten Workbook in the Shipibo language. Iris and Mercy heard about the workshop and wanted to complete this desperately needed workbook.

Access to books in this area is a challenge that AIDI  has worked earnestly to overcome.AIDI and numerous other indigenous organizations are banding together to petition for the printing of the books and seek new sources of funding. (Until the indigenous organizations began to support the project this year, AIDI had not been successful in finding funding.) In the second week of the workshop, reports of the workshop were broadcast by radio to over 400 Shipibo communities. These broadcasts resulted in requests for books in that language. This was good news given the concerns that the Shipibo workshop participants have about the fate of their language.

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Excitement was tangible among the workshop participants, although the work was hard and the weather warm, despite the shade of a large mango tree covering the working space. Dr. Davis wrote that she is grateful for the friendship and loyalty of these capable people. They demonstrated the heart of International Mother Language Day, whose theme this year is “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education”.

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On its web page dedicated to this day, UNESCO writes, “It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired. Local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus playing an important role in promoting sustainable futures.” So this year as we celebrate International Mother Language Day, we reflect on the positive impact multilingual education has for millions of indigenous language speakers around the world. The workshop led by Dr. Davis is a wonderful example of this. We applaud the commitment and hard work of Dr. Davis and the educators from these six minority language groups.

As the participants from this workshop return home, they are anxious to use the books in their schools and to continue promoting mother tongue education. Because of the month spent learning together, they feel they know how to teach better and look forward to passing on to others what they have learned.

SIL LEAD partners with AIDI to provide scholarships to indigenous teachers in the Peruvian Amazon. Through their sponsorship of and participation in the workshop, their knowledge of and commitment to multilingual education was also strengthened.

How Children Learn Best

“Children who start off learning to read and write in their mother tongue do better in school. Literacy programs in mother languages bring learners the self confidence they need to participate in their communities and make informed choices.” — Irina Bokova,  UNESCO Director-General (UNESCO video, Language Matters)

The theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day (February 21, 2016) is Quality Education, Language(s) of Instruction and Learning Outcomes. We join with UNESCO and others to not only celebrate the more than 7,000 languages spoken around the world today, but to reaffirm our commitment to promoting mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE).

We at SIL LEAD believe that children learn best in a language they understand. They become proficient readers more quickly when learning in the language they speak at home than when using a language that is only used in school. Children also learn other subject matters better when they do not have to simultaneously decipher a new language. A strong foundation of reading and learning in the mother tongue even improves acquisition of second language literacy and fluency. All of this contributes to a student's long-term success.

SIL LEAD is committed to doing all that we can to promote mother tongue-based reading and learning. We are currently involved in MTB-MLE programs in Ethiopia, Nepal, and Uganda as well as a number of smaller projects. With the support of private donors, SIL LEAD is also providing scholarships to indigenous teachers in Peru who are on the front lines of teaching children in their mother tongue. And we continue to seek new opportunities where we can contribute further to promoting and developing multilingual education.

Our consultants see first hand the benefits of local teachers being equipped with quality mother tongue classroom materials.

According to Carolyn Adger, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Applied Linguistics and SIL LEAD consultant, “Research shows the value of teaching children to read in their mother tongue. Less recognized is the systemic value of preparing materials for mother tongue literacy.”

Dr. Adger recalls from her time in Uganda last year as an SIL LEAD Consultant that, “a member of the Grade 3 Runyoro Rutooro writing team in Uganda reported that when she finally saw the printed pupil book and teacher guide that her team had produced, she was overwhelmed with pride in what we cherished most: the stories that resulted from their six weeks of enormous work writing instructional materials.” When the teachers are trained on using the materials they produced, and Dr Adger said, "It’s my prayer that they too fall in love with this material."

Dr. Adger goes on to note that, “As a teachers college instructor and administrator, this team member will be preparing teachers and collaborating with colleagues and other speakers of her language for years. Each one who participates in planning, preparing, and using high quality mother tongue materials is a potential link in sustaining the mother tongue literacy network that nurtures learners.”

We are grateful for Dr. Adger and more than 50 other consultants who work with SIL LEAD to help children around the world to learn in their mother tongue.