Friday, December 31, 2004

A quick note to conclude 2004. Currently I'm working on two items: a French language section for the 27th Internationalization and Unicode Conference (IUC27) in Berlin next April and a project proposal with IDRC that would seek to advance localization in Africa.

I continue to contribute to the lists listed in the left hand column - note in particular the A12n lists, Unicode-Afrique, and AfricanLanguages.

It is my hope to put more on this blog, since there is worthy news and I expect will be much more in 2005, but time constraints and access to this site are a problem...

Monday, December 06, 2004

I will return later to the topic of work on localization (or localisation - that's why logograms such as l10n are useful) efforts later, but wanted to mention two New York Times articles - one on education that didn't mention African languages and the other on ICT that did. The latter, "Using a New Language in Africa to Save Dying Ones" (Marc Lacey, 12 November 2004) was a welcome recognition of localization. I posted some comments on it on the A12n-forum (link to the list in the left hand column).

Re the article on schools, "In Africa, Free Schools Feed a Different Hunger" (Celia Dugger, 24 October 2004), it brought up the jump in primary school attendance in many African countries following governments' elimination of enrollment fees. This is certainly positive, but unfortunately the article did not mention the issue of language of instruction. My letter to the author, Ms. Dugger, follows. It is the third time that I've noted similar oversights in the NYTimes - by Somini Sengupta on girls' education in Benin, and Nicolas Kristof on schooling in Chad (for the latter, see my entry in this blog for 25 March 2004) - and the third time I've written...

I appreciated your article on primary education in Africa but wish that you had brought up the issue of language of instruction in it. In most of the continent, instruction is in a second language, generally English or French. There are reasons for this, and there are costs. Unfortunately the reasons are unquestioned (some are unfounded negative assumptions about bilingual education and about African languages themselves) and the costs are not calculated (starting learning in a second language is an additional challenge to students - no wonder so many need to repeat and, as you point out, in Uganda "more than half of third graders still performed poorly in math and English"; it reduces potential parental & community involvement in their children's education, and arguably has longer term consequences for the very development goals education is meant to address). 

The case of Giriama [the article featured a visit to a school in a Giriama-speaking part of Kenya] might have been a particularly good one to consider. With about half a million speakers according to Ethnologue, it is neither a major tongue nor negligible. The issues of cost of materials and training teachers are valid concerns - though even in the case of more widely spoken languages these are often excuse by donors and governments to focus uniquely on the official language. The issue of medium of instruction has been around for years and merits at least mention.

If you come back to the education in Africa topic it may be interesting to look at the efforts to establish education in indigenous languages in a bilingual system in Mali. (Save the Children has worked a number of years on this.)

Thanks for you attention to this and all the best.