Monday, September 3, 2012

Multilingualism in Nepalese Education

I just now got around to reading an article that well summarizes multilingualism and education policies in Nepal:

"Multilingualism In/And Nepalese Education" by Shailaja Jha

From the article:

"[T]he forces of globalization, prevailing myths about the power of English (as if it is a magical potion that will create jobs and opportunities and intellectual progress on its own) make it very difficult for societies to develop educational systems based on their understanding of multilingualism. Due to the globalization of English, parents and teachers are attracted towards giving education to the students in English medium right from the very beginning. They wrongly believe that students will be able to better succeed in the competitive world if they have English proficiency. In reality, it is knowledge and skills that students most need. A lot of research regarding multilingualism shows that supporting children’s first language will enhance the acquisition of the second and third language. Similarly, there is a link between multilingualism and creativity. Multilingualism broadens access to information and offers alternative ways of organizing thoughts. But unfortunately, these realities get lost in the maze of myths about the magic of English."

At the Language Development Center my time was spent organizing the numerous reports indicating that multilingual education was clearly more beneficial for early childhood development and general education. Every linguist I met supported multilingual education at least in theory.

At the school where I was teaching in Nepal I was told that the government test scores had risen every year since the school had switched to become an English Medium school. They were in competition with private schools, who do indeed seem to tout English as a magical potion for success. I got the impression that proponents of multilingual education were seen as elite academics removed from the realities of the education system. Some people I met privately expressed the idea that encouraging "jungle languages" would impede progress and the development of the country and even that it would foment ethnic conflict.

For my job in Texas I interview German-Americans who are the last speakers of the Texas-German dialect. Many regret that they did not pass their native language on to their children. Most of them made a conscious effort to raise their children largely or entirely in English because of the belief that it would make them more successful. They themselves usually spoke German exclusively up until they attended grade school, at which point they were educated entirely in English and were penalized for speaking German at all.

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