Tuesday, March 04, 2014

#TeacherTuesday - Honduras: Teach students in the language of their thoughts

Natalee, Honduras
Meet Natalee from the Bay Islands, Honduras. She is a passionate teacher and proponent for better approaches to teaching and learning.

Natalee shares some of her stories of teaching in Honduras, with special emphasis on language. Decisions about the use of language affect the well being of a nation - causing some languages to become extinct, alienating and isolating some communities. I am reproducing Natalee's words here from a recent interview as part of the UNESCO #TeacherTuesday series, and blending in some facts about Honduras in an effort to raise awareness across the world.

Honduras has a Primary school net enrollment of 97%, however it is the completion rate that needs to be considered. In Honduras in 2011, only 75% of children were surviving to the last grade of primary education, with 25% dropping out. Also in 2011 85% of adults were literate. The 2015 target of universal adult literacy by 2015 is unlikely to be met.

Speaking a minority language can be a source of disadvantage
The discrimination some indigenous or ethnic groups face is reinforced by the fact that the language used in the classroom may not be one that they speak. In Honduras in 2011, 94% of those who spoke the language of instruction at home learned the basics in reading in primary school compared to only 62% of those who did not.

From the EFA (Education For All) Global Monitoring Report Honduras Fact Sheet:

Curriculum and assessment strategies that improve learning
When curriculum is standardized to state policies and does not consider the native language, traditions and customs of the people, this creates a barrier that most indigenous people are unable to overcome.
- Natalee, teacher, Bay Islands, Honduras

A recent interview with Natalee

In Honduras there are 9 indigenous groups (Miskitu, Tawakha, Lenca, Tolupan, Maya-Chorti, Garifuna, Nahao, Pech, Negro de Habla Ingles) and 7 languages. Two groups have lost their language and became fragmented. One of those languages (lenca) is almost extinct, there is now a process of revitalization to try and keep that language alive.

As a result of the historic and cultural background in the Bay Islands, English is the main language of instruction. On mainland Honduras, Spanish is the main language of instruction.

The English speakers on the Bay islands are descended from Grand Cayman and Jamaica and we speak English. The others speak Spanish or Garifuna language. The Garifuna people have lived in Honduras for the past 216 years and have become very important for the cultural framework.  They live in the North eastern sector of the island and we are trying to revitalize their language. When people don’t know how to read or write, that’s how a language becomes extinct.

Natalee and her students, Honduras
Language definitely has an impact on how children learn and how they perceive themselves as being part of the teaching-learning process. As a young child growing up in the Bay Islands, there were many times in school when we were not allowed to speak English. (Bay Islanders are English speakers living in a Spanish country). To not be taught in your mother tongue, leaves a gap, and makes you feel that your language is not important. Over the years you tend to develop certain humps.

The first thing teachers need to do if teaching in a multilingual classroom is to keep an open mind. They need to be stay focused and motivated and not to let the system itself get the best of them. They need to build a strong relationship, integrating parents, the community, teachers in the school community and the students. They must strive to use a learner-centered approach, which places the child at the centre of the process. If we find ourselves in a multilingual classroom, it is vital that we bear in mind that our approach must be multicultural, multilingual and needs multi models to reach all students. We must teach the majority language speakers to speak the minority language and the minority language to speak the majority language, which builds on the principles of inclusion. 

In classes with children who speak different languages, I tend to use a lot of visual cues. I divide the class into groups, those who don’t speak the majority language, those who are beginners, and those who are advanced.

Children need their early education to be in their mother tongue but then should be exposed to other languages at grade 3,4,5. When they’re taught in their mother tongue, they can better understand the context and the world, in turn developing a better understanding of the culture around them, and of what’s happening in their surroundings. I also think that they should be exposed to other languages, which aids in developing global learners. Our educational system must strive to enable us not disable us. It should help ground students in an ever-changing and globalized world. 

So by teaching students other languages, we open the gateway for them to interact with others, to become global leaders and to embrace diversity. Just because you speak a different language, doesn’t mean you’re less important than others etc… It also promotes a cultural sensitivity.

Over the years there have been a number of dropouts in our system, this in part is due to fact that students feel lost in the classrooms. Sometimes it’s because their learning style is not catered to, and others it’s because the language at school is not their first language.

The General Direction for Intercultural Multilingual Education (DIGEIM) is to ensure that indigenous and afrodescendent people are a part of the agenda.

In Honduras, regular training courses prepare teachers to teach only in Spanish. If you want to specialize in other subjects, you go to university level. In the govt. programme there are sub-programmes catering to the development of minority languages. But not every teacher learns that. The majority do not have training or skills to teach in multilingual classrooms.

The Ministry of Education has declared that 2014 is the ‘Year of inclusion’ ‘el Año de la inclusion’. In our country they’ve realized the need to prepare every teacher to create an inclusive classroom, embracing learning styles and cultural baggage of the children they will come in contact with. Whether it’s due to economy or a result of the internal migratory movement- people move around. There’s not just one particular group of students in one school, they’re all interacting and you have to be sensitive to their needs.

Finally, it’s essential that to teach students in the language of their thoughts. Some children won’t be able to read or write because they’ve been taught in a language they don’t understand. They’ve been pushed beyond the limit, and they simply don’t understand. However if we teach from the heart with sensitivity and a focus on diversity, we will serve as change agents whose sole goal is that their students become lifetime learners, proud of their cultural identity and respectful of others.

From the EFA Language Fact Sheet:

  • Policy-makers need to focus their attention on hiring and training teachers from under- represented groups, such as ethnic minorities, to serve in their own communities. Such teachers, familiar with the cultural context and local language, can improve learning opportunities for disadvantaged children.
  • Pre-service and ongoing teacher education should train teachers in ethnically diverse societies to teach in more than one language.
  • Curricula need to address issues of inclusion to enhance the chances of students from marginalized backgrounds to learn effectively. Classroom-based assessment tools can help teachers identify, monitor and support learners at risk of low achievement.

This blog post is a contribution to Week 2 of #TeacherTuesday, a UNESCO and EFA initiative.

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1 comment:

Janie said...

Fabulous interview from Natalee about her teaching profession and technique and whatever she said in here that's quite amazing and I think that each and everybody should look forward to read her statement that how to teach students in the language of their thoughts. So good Natalee and keep well.