Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Literacy in Senegal; languages unmentioned

I first got interested in African languages after my experience working in the field in Togo, where so much happened around me in languages that I never mastered beyond greetings and a few phrases. Later in Mali and Guinea, I made special efforts to learn their languages for working and living on community levels. This experience and subsequent research and observation have convinced me of the importance of African languages in development work (even for foreigners and outside-funded projects), and attuned me to how language is and is not mentioned in various discussions and descriptions of development work in Africa.

Source: EDC, "Youth Volunteers Can Contribute to Significant Reading
Gains: Evidence from the HYVALL project in Senegal
," March 2015
So it was with interest that I looked at some articles on the "Harnessing Youth Volunteers as Literacy Leaders" (HYVALL) project in Senegal, which is funded by USAID under its All Children Reading Grand Challenge program, and implemented by YMCA Senegal with the US non-governmental organization, Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC). I found it striking that one, and another, and then another article about this literacy effort made no mention at all of the language or languages used.

Only when listening to a YouTube video by two members of  YMCA Senegal could one learn that the students were discussing French lessons in "mother tongues" (French being the medium of instruction). But those languages for some reason were not named (presumably Wolof, the most spoken language in Senegal, is one of them).

This is an interesting approach, making more formal outside of school and via peer tutoring the informal practice sometimes seen in African classrooms of the teacher explaining aspects of a lesson formally given in the Europhone language of instruction in the students' first language. However it also raises the question whether HYVALL makes any effort to expand students' literacy skills in their first language, and towards achieving "pluriliteracy" - or "multilingual literacy" in all their spoken languages.

I've discussed pluriliteracy in African Languages in a Digital Age (pp. 40-41), as well as in a blog posting last year. Puriliteracy may not be the explicit goal of education or literacy efforts in Africa, although mother-tongue based/multilingual education may imply that outcome to a degree, and literacy in different languages or scripts is rarely if ever discussed in statistics. However it would seem to merit prioritization by programs such as All Children Reading.

As much as mention of languages, and African languages in particular, might be omitted from communication about foreign-funded literacy projects, African languages seem often to be absent from the design and content of the projects themselves.

No comments: