It’s like when I go to another town, I don’t know Spanish, I can’t talk to anyone, I have no voice.”
How would you feel if this happened to you. Competent to speak to friends and neighbours in one area of our global world and suddenly unable to communicate on reaching another town or village.
This is an interesting news article that explores the school experiences of children and teachers who speak an indigenous language.
Intercultural Bilingual Education: a public policy priority
Research from Young Lives on the uses and attitudes towards Spanish and native languages in rural public schools was presented in Lima on 16 August, by the researcher Elizabeth Rosales. Her work explores the school experiences of children and teachers who speak an indigenous language. It is based on a language test and in-depth interviews with children, their mothers and teachers. Rosales found that although a large proportion of both the children and their teachers were highly competent in the indigenous language, Spanish was mainly used by both of them in school. Teachers used their knowledge of the indigenous language primarily to ensure that the children learned better Spanish, rather than using the children’s native language as the medium of instruction.
“Spanish is highly valued as it is useful for children to continue to higher levels of education and to find work in the future” Rosales commented. She found consistent with previous research that parents prefer not to register their children in bilingual schools and do not expect better quality from those schools. Their attitude to their own native language can be attributed to a fear that their children will be stigmatised or they will lose opportunities to become completely fluent in Spanish.
Following the presentation, Elena Burga (Director General for Intercultural Bilingual and Rural Education within the Ministry of Education) and Madeleine Zúñiga (Vice President of the Foro Educativo), lead the discussion.
Madeleine Zúñiga emphasised that indigenous children have the right to receive an education in their own language. “They have the right to learn in their mother tongue… but what about the right to learn good Spanish?” she asked.
Elana Burga confirmed that the Government has allocated more resources to schools that offer bilingual and intercultural education, and that attitudes to indigenous languages and cultures are changing. However, she acknowledged that basic public services in indigenous areas – including many health centres, police stations and the courts – do not have access to sufficient interpreters. She added that more bilingual schools, better teaching materials, better training for new teachers, are all needed in order to reach all children. “Our aim is that all children should be able to learn in both languages,” Burga said, adding for this to be achievable will require efforts not just from government, but also civil society and researchers.