Local language in the spotlight in multilingual Mozambique

By Leopoldino Jerónimo

January 10, 2018

MAPUTO – For Armando Silvestre, a retired teacher and trainer in bilingual education, teaching children in their mother tongue language is a crucial part of preserving Mozambican culture and respecting personal identities.

“I sadly remember in the past, when we were forbidden to speak in our local language,” says Silvestre. “There were jokes made about our origins, cultures, languages and local names.”

Armando-Silvestre
Armando Silvestre says his major motivation is to ensure that disadvantaged children living in rural areas learn to read and write in their own local languages and in Portuguese. Photos by: Leopoldino Jerónimo

Mozambique has more than 20 local languages spoken in its 10 provinces but Portuguese remains the official language of instruction in the majority of schools.

Frequently called to facilitate teacher trainings, Silvestre is one of 123 instructors who was trained last month in Nampula, Mozambique, on how to effectively train primary schools teachers to teach local language literacy. Along with the other trained instructors, Silvestre will apply the newly acquired training skills this month, working with teachers in 21 districts in two provinces: Nampula and Zambézia.

“I am focused on learning more about my language so that I can enable children to learn. I’m looking forward to starting my work right away to train the teachers who will in return train the doctors and specialists of tomorrow.”

Armando Silvestre, a retired teacher and trainer in bilingual education

Along with the Ministry of Education and Human Development and experts from the Eduardo Mondlane University and other partner organizations, the trainings are organized by Let’s Read! (Vamos Ler! in Portuguese), a five-year early grade reading program aiming to improve the reading and writing skills of more than 800,000 children.

The program is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Creative Associates International, in close partnership with World Education, Inc.Overseas Strategic ConsultingAmerican Institutes for Research and blueTreeGroup.

Silvestre says his major motivation is to receive more relevant and specific bilingual education training to ensure that disadvantaged children living in rural areas learn to read and write in their own local languages and in Portuguese.

When a child who speaks a local language at home enters a classroom where lessons are in Portuguese, he struggles to understand what the teacher is explaining. This learning barrier often results in illiteracy and overall low academic performance.

“I am focused on learning more about my language so that I can enable children to learn,” he proudly shares. “I’m looking forward to starting my work right away to train the teachers who will in return train the doctors and specialists of tomorrow.”

Sharing expertise to improve bilingual education

The teacher training is building off of similiar collaborative efforts to draw local language expertise from education professionals.

Language and education experts from five countries recently gathered at the second annual National Conference on Bilingual Education on Nov. 16-17, 2017, in Maputo, to share lessons learned on applying early grade reading and teaching methodolgies throughout the country.

Organized by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with Let’s Read!, the symposium focused on sharing experiences on several subjects, including literacy transfer and transition from the local language to the second language of instruction, teacher training, monitoring and evaluation, community and parent engagement, as well as expansion strategies for bilingual education to other geographic areas.

The Minister of Education and Human Development Conceita Sortane, Ph.D., opened the discussion and urged the more than 150 attendees to begin supporting the bilingual education program that the Ministry is currently implementing and expanding over the next four years.

Sortane urged the syposium attendees—bilingual education researchers, linguists, teachers and representatives of education-focused organizations from Finland, Malawi, Mozambique, the United Kingdom and Zambia—to share experiences to improve education in Mozambique.

She highlighted the importance of preserving national values, identities, languages and culture as global societies emerge through increased access to the internet and technology.

Rethinking language policy in a post-colonial era

Portuguese was the only allowed language during the country’s colonial period. Mozambican languages were denied as a tool for knowledge sharing and enjoying a common culture or background, education experts highlighted.

Symposium participants reflected on this learning barrier to better understand why children in Mozambique have not received a quality education.

The symposium discussion on effective bilingual education approaches focused on four main themes: 1) the Mozambican political framework for bilingual education; 2) Applied models of bilingual education; 3) In-service teacher training; and 4) Materials development for and monitoring of bilingual education.

The first symposium panel on the country’s political framework on bilingual was moderated by Armindo Ngunga, Ph.D., the Vice Minister of the Minister of Education and Human Development. Marcelino Liphola, Ph.D, bilingual education activist, also joined the panel discussion to highlight the use of African languages for classroom instruction.

“It is my dream to teach a child in his or her own language so that he or she is an active part of change in the educational development process in Mozambique, with more confidence and wisdom,” said Liphola. She urged other participants to demand the standardization and ratification of all African languages.

“Fluency in and control of the child’s own language builds the foundation and the confidence to express themselves and helps to eliminate barriers that slow down human development and feed poverty cycles.”

Marcelino Liphola, Ph.D, bilingual education activist

Liphola explained that the suppression of local languages neglects local identities. For example, many local names were forcibly changed to represent Portuguese language and heritage.

In a lively discussion, participants noted that in many Southern Africa countries colonial languages are still used in classroom instruction and national curricula have not fully embraced a bilingual education system post-independence.

“Linguistic policies that privilege colonial languages as an exclusive means of instruction push children away from school, and from their family where they learned all about their community, the local skills and vocabulary to express themselves,” shared Liphola, who highlighted that more than 221 million children start school unable to understand the language used in the classroom.

“Today, I am more than happy to share a common ground of understanding with other scholars and researchers that education is not only teaching a child to learn in a foreign language,” he said. “But fluency in and control of the child’s own language builds the foundation and the confidence to express themselves and helps to eliminate barriers that slow down human development and feed poverty cycles.”

At the end of the symposium, Vice-Minister Ngunga expressed that the Ministry of Education will expand bilingual education through a decentralization process in which the provinces and districts are fully involved in the implementation and monitoring of bilingual education to gain better quality education results.

In her closing speech, Sortane reiterated the importance of local languages, “Our national languages represent who we are and what we can achieve. Without them, we hardly can be, let alone express ourselves.”

With editing by Natalie Lovenburg and the Let’s Read! (Vamos Ler!) program team.

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