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LALIT's Reply to Harish Boodhoo (IV)


The final set of arguments that Harish Boodhoo uses in his article against the use of Kreol as medium in schools is that other countries that used the mother tongue are "reverting to English and French". But he is vague and silly in the examples he uses.

It is curious, for example, that in his little list he mentions France. Is he saying that most children in France learn through the medium of English? He must be mad. It is just not true. And if he is saying most learn through the medium of French, well that is because it is most children's mother tongue, and thus fails to prove the "reverting to English and French" he alleges. (Other languages within the nation-state were more-or-less exterminated during the fairly violent assimilation politics, an ugly bit of the history of the process of the unification of the European nation-states, like France, the UK and Germany).

He also mentions the USA. In the USA, English has always in the past been the medium. Only fairly recently in many schools, Spanish has been introduced as medium. Comparisons of children's performance for different ways of using the Spanish mother tongue as medium have conclusively shown that the longer the mother-tongue is kept as medium, the better the performance of children, especially at the higher level "thinking" tests. Those who are "immersed in English" along the Harish Boodhoo lines fare the worst. In fact, it is in the USA that the BICS and CALP studies were developed. It is a serious gap in Mr. Boodhoo's research that he is not aware of the David Ramirez seminal studies in the USA.

As for the Seychelles, when English was the medium before the introduction of the mother-tongue, there was about 75% illiteracy in the Seychelles. After the introduction almost everyone learnt to read and write. The whole society developed and was top in almost all ratings in Africa. Singapore is hardly an example for anything. Its heavy repression, near-fascist regimentation, obsession with turning humans into machines, has failed to develop creative intellectuals. They would do much better in both English and in creativity had they encouraged mother-tongue based multi-lingual education instead of the very harmful "immersion" method.

Mr. Boodhoo mentions South Africa. This is a country which uses the mother-tongues and has used them since before the democratic elections of 1994. Since 1994, then there is the 11-language policy, where in any one area there are two languages that act as the main languages in schooling. There are petty bourgeois prejudices in all societies, including Singapore and South Africa, that make some parents misguidedly believe that English-medium education is "better for their children's prospects". But all those who know anything about language education promote mother-tongue medium.

But, in speaking about the African countries, Mr. Boodhoo does not even refer to the biggest and best study of all commissioned by the African Union, Optimising Learning and Education in Africa: The Language Factor: A Stocktaking Research on Mother Tongue and Bilingual Education in Sub-Saharan Africa, ADEA, March, 2006. These all show conclusively that the best results in content subjects and in foreign language proficiency are from schools that use as medium the child's mother tongue. BEC's preliminary results, of course, show the same thing.

The big NGO, Save The Children, in its 2007 Policy Statement takes a firm stand for the first time in favour of mother-tongue-based multi-lingual education. In any case, UNESCO is really in the best position to give advice. It advises the mother-tongue as medium. And has done so consistently since as long ago as 1954.

In fact, Mr. Boodhoo's ignorance of the existing academic work could have been mitigated had he read LALIT's bilingual Program on Education, 2006.

What LALIT advocates is mother-tongue based multi-lingual education. This is what brings with it high-level thinking and creativity.

The main reason for the abominable school results in this country and the main reason for the very high percentage (perhaps over 40%) of adults unable to express themselves in one paragraph in writing about their daily lives (the UNESCO definition of literacy) and the main reason for the difficulty all children have in the cognitively demanding aspects of academic work, are the refusal to use the mother tongues as medium in schools. We do not deny that there are other factors that contribute as well, like the level of teaching in different schools, social class of the teachers relative to that of the pupils and their parents, and poor teaching methods. But the main reason is the bizarre attitude towards writing in and reading the languages of the children, Kreol and Bhojpuri.

And let us conclude by explaining why at the beginning of the article we drew attention to Harish Boodhoo's shoddy use of English. Leaving aside the politics of his title which is paternalistic in the extreme, let's take just its language: "Rescue Measures to Help the Poor" . Surely one either has "rescue measures for the poor" or one "helps the poor". Not both. Throughout his articles, there is this same level of linguistic inaccuracy. We know that English is not Mr. Boodhoo's mother tongue or the language of his environment, just as it is not ours, so we do not expect it to be perfect. But he pretends his English is perfect. In fact, his shoddy use of language is probably a symptom of his not having had the chance at school to master his own mother tongue/s, while being forced at the same time to learn content subjects through languages he was not familiar with. He would probably write just as shoddily in his mother-tongue, unless he begins to work at it.

As well as taking his title, let's take his conclusion: "Yes," he writes, "let's not sail near the dangerous rocks where so many ships have been previously wrecked. Yes, our mission is to save the poor. Let there be no miss-out now!" It is not clear what "miss-out" means. Maybe "missing the boat" or "missing out on something". But, for sure, it means be careful you do not "miss" something. The only thing to "miss" in his own metaphor is "the dangerous rocks". What his words make him say, despite himself, is that we should sail children so that they do not miss the very rocks he wants to avoid. His argument proposes ship-wreck. And in reality, his "immersion in a foreign language" policy is now proven by all the studies to prevent children from achieving high level proficiency in other languages and from doing well in advanced abstract thinking, and perhaps more importantly, it damages children's cognitive development as well as their psychological and emotional well-being. The State should not be responsible for this damage. This is all the more crucial now that education is compulsory until a child is 16 years of age.

And all this damage is in addition to the State being responsible for forcibly removing people from the language group they belong to (Kreol and/or Bhojpuri) and forcibly converting them to belong to another language group (English or French). This kind of colonial policy, as Ledikasyon pu Travayer has argued, even if justified by those who have colonized minds, is just not acceptable.

We must stand up and oppose it. We must stand up for our own languages. They must be introduced as medium in schools.

Alain Ah-Vee & Rada Kistnasamy
20 October, 2008