Indigenous Minority Languages Approximately half of the world’s 7,000 distinct spoken languages are at risk of extinction within this century as a result of market globalization. Generational language loss emerges from the prioritization of dominant languages over minority languages. Yet, online communications technology expands outlets for the promotion and preservation of endangered indigenous minority languages. 

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) recognizes 56 ethnic minority groups, of which 55 have indigenous languages, numbering approximately 130. Indigenous peoples consisting of 1,000 or fewer people speak at least 20 of those languages. Out of 11 million ethnic Manchus, fewer than 100 have conversational fluency, a symptom of Standard Mandarin supplanting the Manchu language. The Hezhen, Tatar and She languages face circumstances like Manchu, while the Jinuo, Nu, Pumi and Yilao languages risk losing their conversational status.  

Historic Policies for Preserving China’s Indigenous Minority Languages

The PRC Ministry of Education has implemented policies for the preservation of indigenous minority languages. These policies rest on the premise of the legal equality of all ethnicities and autonomous governments in the nation. Hence, minority ethnicities have considerable self-government in the form of five autonomous regions, 30 autonomous prefectures, 120 autonomous counties and 1,256 autonomous communities. Autonomous ethnic minority areas comprise 64 percent of China’s total landmass, governing 75 percent of the ethnic minority population.

The law guarantees the provision of language interpreters for ethnic minority representatives in the PRC’s parliamentary assemblies. Likewise, official bodies translate all laws, regulations and major political documents into indigenous minority languages. Autonomous governments conduct their affairs in these languages. Standard Mandarin and minority languages coexist on autonomous government seals, identity cards and in the commercial sector.  

Plaintiffs may file lawsuits in indigenous minority languages, and defendants without fluency in Standard Mandarin may request translators. Courts may conduct trials in native languages for the sake of convenience and efficiency, while the translation of court documents into many languages occurs in multilingual regions.  

Autonomous regions receive latitude in structuring education in many languages. But such schools must also ensure skill in Standard Mandarin. As of 2012, bilingual education existed in 21 autonomous regions and 13 provinces, encompassing approximately 10,000 schools.

Policies incentivize minority authors and translators to write and publish in their native tongues. No cap exists on the quantity of minority language writings permitted, while the free provision of stripe codes further facilitates publication. State proposals to fund minority language magazines and journals raise questions of integrity and autonomous development.  

Kazakh, Korean, Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur, Zhuang and Yi are among the sixteen indigenous minority languages in which CCTV has broadcast since May 22, 1950. The national radio has broadcast in more than 20 minority languages, compared with local radio broadcasting encompassing 30-plus languages.

The Increased Role of Digital Technology in Present-Day Language Preservation Measures

As a supplement to these earlier measures, authorities now explore the opportunities afforded by technology for moving language preservation into a globalized digital world. In 2010, the PRC began developing a vocal database of the nation’s officially-recognized languages and dialects. Xinjiang-based ethnic Kazakh university professor Akbar Majit notes that as of 2010, online communication had already made inroads in minority communities. In 2010, the PRC began developing a vocal database of the nation’s officially-recognized languages and dialects. Majit notes that as of 2010, online communication had already made inroads in minority communities.

An event held in September 2018 in Hunan province showcased technological options, such as the comprehensive recording of endangered languages. Among the advanced technologies discussed as language preservation tools were AI speech recognition and synthesis.

Conclusion

Tibetan monk and software developer Lobsang Monlam notes that even small inroads of digital technology on Tibet make a considerable impact. Internet, word processing and other adaptations of the Tibetan language currently exist. From grammar, character and spell-check programs to optical character recognition, speech-to-text and translation software, digital technology may substantially assist minority language preservation and promotion throughout China. Building upon the policies of the past with the technology of the present and future, justification exists for optimism about the future of China’s minority languages. 

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Everystockphoto

Traditional Cham Script
Vietnam is a multiethnic state, home to a myriad of indigenous peoples in addition to the dominant Vietnamese (or Kinh) ethnic group. Centuries of conflict and cooperation, from Han Chinese domination, Vietnamese southward imperial expansion, Mongol invasions, French conquest and American intervention, molded the complex dynamics between these various groups. The Cham, inheritors of an ancient civilization with a culture and language all their own, are one of the unique groups of people within Vietnam.

The Marginalization of a Culture

Now diminished to a small minority in their central Vietnamese homeland, with much of the population diasporic, the Cham people seek preservation of their unique culture. Their cultural heritage includes their traditional script, an integral aspect of their cultural heritage and their link to the wider Indian Ocean sphere. The Eastern Cham, residing along the coast of present-day central Vietnam, preserved the traditional Brahmic alphasyllabary-based Cham script despite centuries of foreign domination. Unfortunately, decades of pedagogy neglected the classic script in favor of a simplified but less logical, modified one. However, efforts are underway to ensure the predominance of the traditional Cham script through digital means.

While the annexation of the northern Cham lands by Nguyen Vietnam in 1471 diminished Champa’s sovereignty, Cham culture persisted in the still unconquered regions to the south. Po Rome, a 17th century King of Champa, established a uniform version of Cham script. Originally developed for bureaucratic communications, the traditional script came into regular use in the everyday lives of the Cham people, particularly the Western Cham of present-day Vietnam.

Opponents of a Modified Script

Now, modified Cham script in educational institutions threatens the survival of the former script. Though both traditional and modified Cham scripts derive from the Brahmic alphasyllabary, the modified form introduces characters not present in the traditional script, creating substantial differences between the two. The Cham Textbook Compiling Committee, the organization responsible for developing the modified Cham script, seeks to improve primary school education through the use of the script, but in doing so precipitates pedagogical neglect of the traditional Cham script. Standing athwart the Cham Textbook Compiling Committee’s preference for the modified Cham script is a cross-section of the Western Cham, ranging from elders to students and intellectuals.

Opponents of the modified script’s ascendancy over the traditional script insist that favoring the former and marginalizing the latter will hinder the transmission of Cham customs and values from the older to younger generations. In turn, assimilation of the Cham minority into the hegemonic Vietnamese majority will accelerate. Defenders of the traditional script fear that loss of the traditional script may lead to the physical destruction of precious historical documents, as functional illiteracy will plague students taught the modified script. Moreover, traditional script proponents emphasize that the traditional script is more stable when one compares it to the less rule-bound character of the modified script. Continued relegation of the traditional script will compromise the Cham cultural identity and sever the people’s links with its history, all while replacing a rational system with an arbitrary one. Yet cause for optimism exists, thanks to multinational initiatives aimed at restoring the traditional Cham script’s predominance through the script’s integration into digital interfaces.

Digitizing the Traditional Cham Script

The USAID-backed SPICE program, with the company BREOGAN, made significant strides in promoting the use of the traditional Cham script in Cambodia through the development of digital technology. This initiative emerged from a policy seeking to secure at-risk languages by providing an easily-accessible online communications medium. In the case of Eastern Cham, the SPICE program designed a downloadable keyboard based on the traditional script, resolving the failure of earlier systems to reproduce all Cham phonemes with success.

With the increasing prevalence of online communication, even in more remote parts of the world, the creation of a digital access medium in an accurate rendering of the traditional Cham script will, through continual use, encourage greater use of it. The language’s classic script could undergo a revival and replace the modified script that dominates Cham schools in Vietnam. An open-access license for the font and keyboard further facilitates the SPICE program’s mission to revive the traditional script.

USAID is not alone in its efforts to restore the use of traditional script to daily Cham life. In 2015, the Faculty of Education of the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, designed a process to convert Cham in Latin script to traditional Cham script with minimal errors. Although traditional script fonts already exist in Vietnam, flaws beset these fonts. Moreover, before the completion of this study, no process existed in Vietnam to convert Cham Latin font to traditional Cham script font. The digital font conversion that the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia team developed accounts for the intricacies of vocabulary, grammar and semantics in traditional Cham script. Testing the accuracy of the process by converting the fonts of three poems, the study’s authors found 100 percent accuracy for two poems and 99.88 percent accuracy for the last. Many expect that the study will vastly improve the odds of traditional script preservation.

Developing methods that facilitate accurate online communication in the traditional Cham script promises to undo decades of the script’s marginalization. The future of the Cham people and their culture lies with their ability to communicate across the diaspora in their ancestral language. Before, the use of a modified script limited the exposure of the Cham youth to their written language. Now more opportunities exist for the younger generations to internalize the traditional written language. This progress will ensure that the link to their ancient cultural heritage lives on.

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

United NationsThe United Nations is an international organization that was founded in 1945. At the end of the Second World War, many countries came together to focus on global peace, climate change, humanitarian emergencies and country development. The organization has become a forum for countries to negotiate and solve problems together in a regulated environment. Below are 10 cool facts about the United Nations.

10 Cool Facts About the United Nations

    1. The U.N. Has Almost 200 Member States
      There are currently 196 member states in the United Nations. These individual states are all recognized by the United Nations as members of the international organization. There are only four countries that are non-members of the U.N. They are Kosovo, Palestine, Taiwan and Vatican City. These countries have received invitations to join the U.N., but have yet to accept.
    2. Branches and Programs of the U.N. Received the Nobel Peace Prize 11 Times
      Over the last 70 years, the United Nations has been given 11 Nobel Peace prizes awarded to various agencies, specialized programs and initiatives. This prize was inspired by the last will of Alfred Nobel in 1895. Upon his death, he left most of his fortune to those who made advancements for the betterment of humanity in the areas of physics, chemistry, physiology, medicine, literature and peace.
    3. The United Nations Was Proposed in 1942
      United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the term the “United Nations” on January 1, 1942. Representatives of 26 nations came together at that time in order to fight the Axis Powers during World War II. However, the U.N. did not officially create a charter until 1945. The organization was officially formed in October 1945 when 51 member states ratified its charter. This day is now celebrated as United Nations Day.
    4. The U.N. Has Six Official Languages
      In 1946, the U.N. established six official languages for its meetings and distributed documentation. The languages are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. During meetings delegates and representatives must utilize one of these languages or provide a written interpretation in one of them. Each language is recognized on a specific day of the year to celebrate cultural diversity and multilingualism.
    5. The U.N. Has Its Own News Site
      In order to keep the world updated on pertinent international issues and achievements, the United Nations has a news site. The site separates stories by world regions, topics and timeliness. The site is available in the official languages of the U.N. and has both a written and audio option.
    6. It Prioritizes Specific Global Issues
      Conflict resolution and peacekeeping are the main efforts of the United Nations, but the organization has many other branches of foreign assistance. Through specialized programs, the U.N. also addresses global issues such as decolonization, climate change, ending world poverty, children’s rights and international law. The website also outlines fast facts to engage readers about various topics.
    7. The U.N. Hosts International Court Hearings
      The main body of the United Nations judicial system is the International Court of Justice. It is composed of 15 judges who each serve nine-year terms and are elected by the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council. This court provides legal advising and settles disputes between member states. It also regulates global commons, such as environmental conservation, international waters, outer space and global trade, and ensures that human rights violations are prosecuted.
    8. The U.N. Has 36 Specialized Agencies, Programs and Partnerships
      There are 36 agencies and programs known as the “U.N. Family.” The programs are funded through voluntary contributions and are considered independent international organizations. The agencies and programs specialize on different issues. For example, UNICEF is the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund and focuses on ensuring the proper treatment of children worldwide and the protection of children’s rights.
    9. The Official Emblem Hasn’t Changed Since 1946
      The United Nations flag and symbol are blue and white. The design team created the logo in 1945, and it was officially adopted by the organization in 1946. The emblem is “a map of the world representing an azimuthal equidistant projection centered on the North Pole, inscribed in a wreath consisting of crossed conventionalized branches of the olive tree, in gold on a field of smoke-blue with all water areas in white,” according to the original description.
    10. The U.N. Has the First Recorded Definition of Human Rights
      In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly drafted the first Universal Definition of Human Rights (General Assembly resolution 217 A). It was drafted by representatives from different legal and cultural backgrounds to make it more comprehensive. It sets out fundamental human rights that should be protected; condemning slavery, torture, imprisonment without trial and prejudice. It has been translated into more than 500 languages.
The United Nations has worked for decades to protect human rights around the world. These 10 cool facts about the United Nations shed some light on the history of the organization as well as some of its policies.

Emily Triolet
Photo: Flickr

China
Poverty in China today primarily refers to the rural poor, as the country’s economic growth over the past few decades has led to the majority of urban poverty being eradicated. But while local Chinese governments have implemented many programs and policies in an effort to aid China’s poorest regions, there is still one major factor that researchers say China is forgetting about: language. In a lot of ways, language and its variations affect poverty in China.

Language Statistics in China

Geography plays a huge role in analyzing the relationship between spoken Chinese languages and poverty. China’s last national census reported that the nation has more than 1.38 billion inhabitants, many of whom are located in the urban areas of Eastern China. Studies of China’s urbanization trends also reveal a migration of the nation’s various ethnic groups. The main language of the most urbanized cities is determined by the ethnic group that populates that area the most. With 91.51 percent of the Chinese population being Han Chinese, standardized Mandarin is the most commonly spoken language across the nation.

The remaining 8.41 percent of the Chinese population is made up of 55 other ethnic groups. This part of the population, though a minority in terms of the general population makeup, accounts for the majority of those who are located in rural Chinese areas. The Chinese central government has identified 14 of these rural provinces as areas of concentrated poverty. These areas have their own distinct languages and cultures, speaking one of 200 dialects from five main dialectical groups, out of which Mandarin Chinese is only one. Furthermore, around 30 percent of these ethnic minorities are illiterate and unable to speak Mandarin, the main language in the country. As such, many of these ethnic minorities remain isolated from provincial opportunities that may help them rise out of poverty.

Government’s Work

There has been an increase in attention from regional and local Chinese governments in terms of addressing the education gap between urban and rural communities. One expert, Zhu Weiqun, even states that the Chinese government needs to do more to teach these ethnic groups standardized Mandarin, as this has been a primary influencer in the development and urbanization of cities like Beijing. This type of education will provide these ethnic minorities with the lasting ability to access other jobs apart from farming, that will enable them to earn enough money to feed and clothe themselves without such a strong dependency on governmental programs.

Challenges

Understandably, there is also the problem of resistance from certain ethnic minority groups, particularly Muslims, who feel that their language is integral to their cultural identity. As such, the government is tasked with encouraging the standardization of its most commonly spoken dialect in a way that does not simultaneously alienate any one ethnic group. This cycle of promotion and rejection is integral to the way that language continues to affect poverty in China.

– Jordan Washington

Photo: Unsplash

The Importance of Native-Language InstructionIn schools across the world, students find themselves at an inherent disadvantage because their classes are not taught in their native language. Native-language instruction is crucial to optimize a student’s success, for many reasons.

Development of a student’s first language facilitates development in a second language. In other words, it is far easier to learn a second language when students already have a strong foundation in their first language. Knowledge and skills are also completely transferable from one language to another.

Native-language instruction also benefits a student’s overall well-being. Students enjoy school and are happier and more successful when they are taught in their own language. Conversely, students who are taught in a language other than their first language are more likely to fail early grades or drop out of school completely.

Girls are more likely to go to school and stay in school when the language of instruction is their first language, and parents are more likely to be involved in their children’s schooling. On a larger scale, native-language instruction emphasizes the importance of that language and its culture, and preserves the language for future generations.

Schools are typically taught in one of the national languages of a country. For example, Burundi recently declared that English was one of its national languages, so an increasing number of schools are now taught in English. This privileges urban students over rural ones. Urban students are more likely to already speak the national language or at least to have been exposed to it. Rural students are far more isolated and often enter school knowing only the language spoken at home.

In countries with large indigenous populations and a multitude of languages, the lack of resources is a barrier to adequate native-language instruction. It costs money to employ teachers who are fluent in each of the native languages, and to provide textbooks that are in those languages and are culturally appropriate.

In Mongolia, the Kazakhs are the largest minority. Until 2005, teachers were only given textbooks written in Mongolian, even when they were teaching in Kazakh. In Botswana, schools teach exclusively in English and Setswana, the national languages and the languages of the ethnic majorities. These languages are also core subjects in the national curriculum, and thus students are required to take and pass exams in those languages. This disadvantages indigenous children who enter school with no prior knowledge of English or Setswana.

There are many programs targeted at addressing bilingual students and bridging language gaps. In the Bronx, there are schools which alternate teaching in English and Spanish every other week, meeting the needs of students who are fluent in both languages and enhancing their bilingualism.

In the U.S. alone, 175 indigenous languages are still spoken. All but 50 of these are projected to be extinct by 2024. Project SEED (Scholarships for Economic and Educational Development) and AILDI (American Indian Language Development Institute) develop curriculum in, teach and work to preserve native languages. In Cameroon, indigenous peoples have created a culturally sensitive education policy called ORA (Observe, Reflect, Act) which is tailored specifically toward young Baka children.

For curriculum to be most effective, especially for disadvantaged and marginalized students, it should be in their language, culturally sensitive and incorporate indigenous culture and traditions.

Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr

Education in Malaysia
Whether in textbooks or spoken in lectures, language is crucial in effective education. Without a common means of communication, many students will be left behind. While education in Malaysia has predominantly used Malay, the country’s official language, in its classrooms, some Malaysian schools also include more English, Chinese and Tamil cultures into their curricula.

In most instances, immense diversity is a privilege to instill greater global awareness, but, in the Malaysian education system, it has hindered progress, especially in keeping up with other countries’ educational opportunities. To keep up in an ever-changing economy and job market, education in Malaysia needs to establish a common language for all schools.

Despite its linguistic differences, Malaysian education is goal-driven and focused on improving itself. The government released an ambitious Malaysia Education Blueprint in 2013. The detailed plan hopes to achieve universal access and full enrollment of all children from preschool to upper secondary school, improved student test scores, and reduced urban-rural, socio-economic and gender achievement gaps, all by 2020.

To meet such high standards, however, promoting a mother tongue language for education in Malaysia is key. The benefits of doing so include higher enrollment and success rates, especially for girls and rural-based students, and greater parent-teacher communication. The students that tend to feel the most marginalized, those from poorer households, are more likely to attend school, retain information, and participate in their learning.

Other countries in the region with similar struggles serve as examples of how to overcome potential language barriers. Laos has dozens of diverse languages that are mainly spoken in rural, impoverished communities. However, with education requiring fluency in Lao, the official language, children from different ethnic backgrounds were left out. With UNICEF’s support, the government took a “Schools of Quality” approach that starts children in their native language and slowly transitions them into Lao. The change has been a successful way to boost student morale and attendance.

Such benefits of a mother-tongue-based education will propel Malaysia to become a world leader in a digital economy. Students who face language barriers in their education have limited opportunities to reach their full potential. If students fall behind in understanding their studies, they will also fall behind when facing an increasingly technical-based economy. Acquiring skills in technology and STEM-related fields requires a quality, forward-thinking education as a foundation. That education appropriately requires a cohesive language to teach and learn.

Education should be an accessible service to every person, regardless of their language, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. Education in Malaysia is on the right path to improving its system, but an important step forward will involve overcoming language barriers. Other countries in the region serve as testaments to the positive growth in preserving the mother tongue, and, with continued support, Malaysia too can experience this progress.

Allie Knofczynski

Photo: Flickr

A Non-Traditional Way to Reduce Poverty
The U.S. Government employs a variety of strategies to combat global poverty. Over the past decade, U.S. foreign assistance has reformed to include less traditional measures to reduce poverty such as the funding of educational and cultural nonprofits.

In 1946, President Truman established the Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs (OIC), which is the first U.S. sanctioned effort to reduce poverty in a non-traditional way.

In 1979, reducing poverty in a non-traditional way became the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). The ECA now funds a variety of international cultural, educational and athletic interactions to accomplish the objectives of the 1961 Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act.

The 1961 mandate stipulates that the U.S. government will fund public diplomatic efforts “to build friendly, peaceful relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports and professional exchanges, as well as public-private partnerships.”

Notable ECA efforts to reducing poverty in a non-traditional way include the Critical Language Scholarship, which provides study abroad scholarships to students who are interested in learning languages deemed critical by the Department of State — Swahili, Urdu, Persian and Bangla.

Applicants are required to demonstrate their plan to apply the language in an impactful way — translating for a nonprofit, working with the local community, or researching for developmental programs.

U.S. efforts to reduce poverty in a non-traditional way also include the Future Leaders Exchange, which selects an exemplary high school to serve as a cultural ambassador around the world. The program includes intensive community service efforts in which the American student-ambassador lives.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs also oversees inbound and outbound inter-cultural exchanges to promote cultural understanding, which is one of the strongest measures to countering the attractiveness of joining a violent extremist movement in impoverished areas.

Youth For Understanding (YFU) is at the forefront of this laudable public diplomacy. YFU is an international nonprofit consisting of over 50 international partners to provide a variety of inter-cultural immersions to students of all ages.

In 1951, the nonprofit was started by Rachel Andresen with the mission to repair the disjointed global community after the devastating consequences of World War II. YFU has since become a global leader in the fight to reduce poverty in non-traditional ways.

Poverty reduction efforts of YFU are best embodied by their six approaches to intercultural exchanges: caring: personal and people-oriented, learning for life, valuing diversity: inclusive and fair, volunteering: engaged and dedicated, cooperating in international solidarity, and promoting quality, transparency and sustainability.

YFU is just the beginning of innovative approaches to reduce poverty in non-traditional ways. To truly end global poverty, however, the U.S. must continue to encourage the private and public sector to tackle public diplomacy in unique ways, along with increasing foreign assistance to the countries who need it most.

Adam George

Photo: Flickr

The use of Kiswahili as an Official Language of the East African Region
Language plays a pivotal role in creating a country’s identity. The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) has decided to reclaim its identity by passing a resolution to make Swahili the second official language of Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

The resolution promotes the use of Kiswahili as an official language in domains like offices, hospitals and schools.

Kiswahili has been an official language of the African Union since 2004, and the language will help define the EALA as a union. An agreement between EALA members to speak the same language will represent a stalwart bond between them.

Kiswahili’s roots are in the Bantu language, a language spoken by about 50 percent of the African population. The language’s prevalence will make Kiswahili easier to integrate into society.

In all EALA countries except Uganda, Kiswahili is commonly spoken among the general public. The assembly is looking for help directing the education of Ugandan youth, women and civil societies in the language.

Unifying the EALA’s official language will help create a shared East African identity among member countries.

The language of Kiswahili will facilitate all goings on in the EALA, from government activities to the tourism industry. In addition to this, according to Rwandan legislator Patricia Hajabakiga, “besides promoting unity among the EAC populace, Kiswahili is a critical medium of communication that will facilitate trade in the region.”

Mariana Camacho

Photo: Flickr

Education in Rwanda
Education in Rwanda has blossomed in the years following the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, currently boasting the highest primary school enrollment rates in the entire continent of Africa. The challenge now is to increase secondary school enrollment, which was only 28 percent in 2011 and get more students to enroll in higher education.

Rwanda’s educational system operates on a 6-3-3-4 system; there are six years of primary school, three years of junior secondary school, three years of senior secondary school and four (optional) years of university to obtain a Bachelor’s degree.

Children are instructed in three different languages in Rwanda: Kinyarwanda, English and French. Kinyarwanda is a Bantu language spoken by around seven million people in Rwanda. These official languages were established after the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) gained control of Rwanda’s government in 1994; many of the RPF’s members grew up in English-speaking Uganda and Tanzania.

Kinyarwanda is the primary language of instruction during the first three years of primary school. When children enter secondary school, most of their classes are taught in English. Prior to 2009, French was the principal language of instruction after year three of primary school. Now, French can be taken as an elective in both primary and secondary school.

Fluency in English, Claver Yisa of the Rwandan education ministry said, will help strengthen Rwanda’s ties with their English-speaking trade partners Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, as well as help attract foreign investors in education in Rwanda—most of whom will speak English.

The switch from instruction in Kinyarwanda to English is difficult for some teachers, which is why Rwanda launched STEM (Supporting Teachers’ English proficiency through Mentoring). For effective learning, teachers themselves needed to be more fluent in the language they must teach. Their innovative and effective program earned Rwanda the prestigious Commonwealth Education Good Practice Award in 2015.

Yet there is still a long road ahead of Rwandan teachers, as they work to improve the English skills of students and themselves so more students can go on to further education in Rwanda and abroad. Students’ immersion in the English language has positioned them to be larger contributors to the global economy and will no doubt play an important role in defining Rwanda in the coming years.

Bayley McComb

Photo: Flickr

Conflict in Thailand
Since 2004, 6,500 people have died as a result of cultural conflict in Thailand between Malay Muslims and Thai Buddhists in the ‘Deep South’ (Thailand’s three southernmost provinces). The culture clash stems partly from the majority Muslim area’s desire for autonomy, a hot topic in Thai politics. On numerous occasions, public schools have been targeted for attacks, leaving educators concerned about their students’ safety.

In the Deep South, four out of five individuals identify as Muslim, compared to Thailand’s overall 93 percent Buddhist population. Many of Thailand’s Muslims believe the country’s public education system, which is geared toward Buddhists, only serves to exacerbate the ongoing conflict. Although Malay Muslims’ first language is often not Thai, all public school classes are taught in it.

Professor Suwilai Premsrirat of Thailand’s Mahidol University has spent the past 10 years working to integrate the Patani-Malay language into public-school curriculum in the Deep South through a pilot program to deter cultural conflict in Thailand.

Although Premsrirat faces criticism from both sides for incorporating elements of the opposing group’s language, she believes the bilingual approach is the key to success. Primary school teacher Mrs. Hareena promoted the pilot program, saying “you can see [the students] are understanding better now.”

Hopefully Premsrirat’s initiative will also serve to reduce cross-cultural violence in the Deep South by promoting understanding and diversity. “We want to make it [clear] we respect [Patani-Malay language and culture],” Premsrirat said, speaking for the Thai public school system.

According to Asia Peacebuilding Initiatives, incorporating the Malay language into the public school system may discourage Muslim families from sending their children to private Muslim schools. More Malay children attending public schools will result in increased diversity and mingling between the two cultures. This in turn may help promote national unity and reduce cultural conflict in Thailand.

Asia Peacebuilding Initiatives is quick to point out, however, that while language integration is a major step, the ultimate goal is to shift educators’ perspectives on the importance of diversity in language and religion.

Because of the cultural conflict in Thailand, many Malay Muslims feel alienated by their native tongue. Hopefully, incorporating their language into Thailand’s public school curricula will provide Malay Muslims a sense of belonging and Thai Buddhists an opportunity for understanding.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr