Category Archives: Language & Development Conference 2015

The 11th Language and Development Conference was held for the first time in India from November 18–20 2015 at The Lalit hotel in New Delhi, supported by the Ministry of Rural Development, UNESCO, Research Councils UK, the National Multilingual Education Research Consortium (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and the Digital Empowerment Foundation. The conference theme was Multilingualism and Development.

Read about the conference here: www.britishcouncil.in/language-and-development-conference-2015

Digital media and the internet

Digital Media and the Internet: Threats or Opportunities for Local Languages, Culture and Knowledge – Plenary by Osama Manzar at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Osama Manzar, Founder Director of the Digital Empowerment Foundation

Osama Manzar, Founder Director of the Digital Empowerment Foundation

There are one hundred and ninety six endangered languages in India, oral languages spoken mainly in rural India. But what is the impact of digital media on local languages? Why do some languages flourish and some do not and will we become a monolingual world?

At the 11th Language & Development Conference 2015, plenary speaker Osama Manzar described his own exposure to a range of languages in his own multilingual journey and the wealth of languages in India. India is an oral society and oral languages are making use of digital media such as Google and Facebook which reach communities and these become tools to support oral languages.

A radical shift is taking place in which graphic design, visuals and symbols become digital tools beyond language which are accessible to speakers of less spoken languages in rural areas, including older people or people who may not be literate. Osama provided striking examples of homemade local language based radio stations at minimal expense, with functions including the reduction of violence against women. Written language is restricted; oral language and oral tradition is inclusive and self-generating digital media including mobile use can support the democratic process of this inclusivity, keep less spoken languages alive and empower their speakers.

Post by: Andy Keedwell
The writer is the Senior Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in East India

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Multilingualism, Education, English and Development: Whose Development?

Multilingualism, Education, English and Development: Whose Development? - Plenary by Professor Ajit Mohanty at the 11th Language and Development Conference, 2015

Professor Ajit Mohanty with Alisher Umarov

Professor Ajit Mohanty with Alisher Umarov

Alisher Umarov, (Chief of Education and Programme Specialist, UNESCO) the Chair of the session, kept the expectant audience entertained and informed with is dry wit while technology issues were solved at the start of the plenary. Professor Ajit Mohanty framed his talk identifying the key issue as access to development, opportunity and success, and that this access is usually controlled by language, with English perceived by many as the gatekeeper to success.

Professor Mohanty outlined the impact of a hierarchical structure of languages, and how these layers put English and major regional languages at the top of the hierarchy, with local indigenous languages disadvantaged and marginalised, entering a cycle of neglect. He explained that in India, EMI schools are almost always private, and therefore link between class and social status is directly related to school fees. The rise of low cost EMI private schools, which he labelled as ‘Doom schools’, are on the rise, with lower socio-economic classes making great sacrifices (5-10 per cent of their income) to send children to schools that achieve very little education, apart from rote learning and memorisation of phrases and texts. The wide held belief is that EMI schools offer a better quality education, however Mohanty provided research evidence that showed that children learning through Mother Tongue medium at lower primary levels are more successful than EMI schools in all subjects, and that when English is introduced in Grade 4 or 5 as a subject, their English proficiency is the same by grade 9. In Orissa, for example, out of the 22 languages identified, education is now being provided through 19 of these languages and research shows these children are doing better than children receiving their education through English or even Odia. English, he stated, benefits the privileged and discriminates against the disadvantaged, and children from low income and marginalised communities who study through EMI and worship the ‘English Goddess’ neither learn English nor get a proper education.

Following this point, Geetha Durairajan asked whether English can be viewed as a ‘healer’ language rather than a ‘killer’ language. Professor Mohanty explained that English can lead to diminishing of linguistic diversity, but within a multilingual framework, English does have a key role to play when it is founded on strong mother tongue development. Our children, he said, need to be multi-lingual, and education is a place where they learn about their world through their mother tongue, and learn English as a subject that can provide access to so much. The key is that English is learnt and used on a strong foundation which he believes is best achieved through teaching in the children’s mother tongue.

Post by: Simon Etherton
The writer is the Senior Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in South India

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