A special blog post for International Women’s Day – by Linda Edvardsdottir

In the centre: Besigo, from Progreso, a Ngäbe indigenous community in Costa Rica.

When I was nineteen years old, I volunteered in Progreso, a Ngäbe Bugle Indigenous reservation in Costa Rica. Progreso is a rural community of Indigenous peoples who are spread across a large mountain side close to the Panamanian border. There is one school and education is regarded as very important by the Ngäbe people. To get to school some children must hike in tropical heat for up to two hours. The children often arrive to school exhausted, where they then start studying in Spanish, a secondary language to their own. When it rains, rivers tend to block the roads and the kids have to be sent home early, carrying with them homework in Spanish rather than in their own language.

During my first days living in Progreso I met Besigo who lived a bit further down the mountain with her husband and their entire family. Besigo, who is in a way a pioneer within her own community, is among the women spearheading the community´s spiritual and material growth. She was one of the first individuals from her community to travel to a different continent when she visited Chile last year. She was also among a handful of individuals selected from her community to attend an international conference in Managua, she traveled for two days to meet people from Central and South America and discuss community building in an uplifting environment celebrating the diversity of Latin America.

After my arrival in Costa Rica, Besigo and I soon became friends which was made easy by her openness and frank attitude. She has a special love for English and when I lived in Progreso we would often practice together at the high school, learning each other’s language. The high school which serves a small population of Indigenous youth, conducted all teaching in Spanish, which is mostly used only by the Ngäbe when they are at school. All of the teachers were non-Indigenous and none spoke their language.

Ngäbere, the native language of the Ngäbe people, is a great source of pride for the Ngäbe’s and an important tool to hold on to their cultural heritage. Trying to learn it became a great way to connect with a group of people from a vastly different cultural background than mine.
Besigo shared with me the following about having to study in a different language

“Well, as Ngäbe, we learn our first language, Ngäbere, through our parents. Which we understand very well and which we also learn to read and write in as we grow up. In school, we then learn Spanish with our teachers and my experience has been really beautiful. For us to speak Spanish is really important. To learn a second language and to teach our children to master both languages, to not lose our cultural heritage and to always represent our culture, everywhere we go. And if it is possible to master the third language, which is English, well then, that´s great too.”
(Besigo, personal communication, March 2019)


Education for female empowerment

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states in article 26, paragraph 2:

“Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms…”

Worldwide, twice as many girls as boys do not attend school, and twice as many women as men are illiterate (Girls´ Education: A Lifeline to Development, 1996). Girls are still being denied education in many areas around the globe and they must often overcome significant hurdles to stay in school. Increased access to education has been recognized as central to female empowerment (Department for International Development, 2005).

Creating educational opportunities for women has far reaching impacts and is crucial for human development. This is not only because offering girls an education has been found to be one of the most powerful ways to enable women to lead the kind of life they wish to lead (Kabeer, 1999) but as the World Bank (2017) has stated, educating girls is a strategic development priority; women who are better educated generally participate more in the labour market, have higher incomes, marry at an older age, have fewer children and most importantly their children are better educated and get better health care. These factors combined strengthen the economy and help raise households, communities and nations out of poverty (Lei, Johnston & Cox, 2017).

Mother tongue education is recognized as a key area for improving education for all children across the globe

Currently, there around 50-75 million children who are not enrolled in school. Mother tongue education has been shown to be the optimal way to facilitate learning throughout elementary school (UNESCO, 2008a). Simply put, children learn best in a language they understand. They receive better immediate and long-term benefits for their intellectual and personal well-being than when they are forced to learn in a secondary language. When girls, especially from rural areas in developing countries, have better access to studies in their own language they tend to stay in school longer and do not repeat grades as often (Benson, 2005; Hovens, 2002; UNESCO Bangkok, 2005). However, mother tongue education does not receive the attention it should and is most often side-lined in educational policies despite diverse initiatives that are developing tools, models and different resources to facilitate learning programs in the mother tongue (UNESCO, 2008b).

Indigenous girls

Mother tongue education has a special significance for indigenous girls and women. The year 2019 has been dubbed the International Year of Indigenous Languages in efforts to safeguard, celebrate and increase the understanding of the importance of languages for historically marginalized indigenous peoples. As a direct result from colonization, Indigenous and Aboriginal peoples around the world have been disadvantaged and now comprise about 15 percent of the world´s poor (World Bank, 2016). Indigenous peoples present approximately five percent of the world´s population (U.N., 2010) but are typically excluded from educational systems and marginalized from society. This applies especially to Indigenous women and girls (U.N., 2017).

All women experience disadvantages, in varying degrees, due to gender stereotypes and expectations. Indigenous girls, however, face multiple disadvantages compounded by factors such as gender roles, poverty, and discrimination. This has meant that historically, and indeed up until today, Indigenous girls receive the least amount of schooling – a situation that is heightened when schools expect them to learn in a language that is not a part of their environment. Girls tend also to be given fewer opportunities to speak in class and are expected to do less well than boys (Nussbaum, 2003). For Indigenous girls to succeed, they need to be in an educational environment that honours their language and their culture (e.g., Antone, 2003; Gamlin, 2003; van der Wey, 2001).

Culturally safe learning environments

Despite the increased knowledge and research emphasizing the importance of mother tongue education, educational systems continue and often insist on teaching exclusively in one, or occasionally few, privileged languages thereby denying students culturally safe environments. ‘Cultural safety’ refers to practices that allow people from diverse backgrounds to feel safe, where there is shared respect and where there is no denial of one’s individual´s identity (Ramsden, 1990). Culturally safe practices require schools to embrace student´s cultural and linguistic backgrounds (Eckermann, Dowd and Chong, 2010). However, children are often banned from speaking their own languages in school (Arnold, Bartlett, Gowani, & Merali, 2006). This means that globally schools are denying students their fundamental human right to speak their own languages and hindering their identity development. This is then compounded for girls when intersecting factors of discrimination and exclusion build up together and force them out of the educational system.

Mother Tongue Education as a powerful tool for embracing cultural and linguistic diversity

It is every individual´s right to embrace all of who they are and not be forced to reject aspects of their culture, including their mother tongue. Most people agree on the harms of cultural imperialism and want to celebrate diversity. Mother tongue education is a powerful tool to embrace the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of all individuals and facilitate towards cultural safety. All children will benefit significantly from its implementation and it will also facilitate more gender equitable societies as more girls will finish their schooling and enter new and diverse arenas within society. It is necessary then that mother tongue education be made a priority for school children across the globe and a priority in educational policies, with a special focus on indigenous girls during this Year of Indigenous Languages. Besigo’s story shows what is possible when girls are educated and are able to maintain their mother tongue. But Besigo is exceptional. Education policies should not focus on the exceptionally gifted or brave but should provide quality education for all girls (and boys). And that means education in which their mother languages occupy a center place.

I joined the Rutu Foundation, because I believe that the only way we can move forward as a society is to embrace everyone´s cultural heritage, and language is at the centre of our cultural identity. When we deny, especially young people, access to their own languages – a surprisingly common practice in schools across Europe and the globe – we deny them the opportunity to fully realize themselves. Something that is made especially difficult for girls and women who are faced with barriers and discrimination in all areas of their lives.

And let it be known once more that until woman and man recognize and realize equality, social and political progress here or anywhere will not be possible. For the world of humanity consists of two parts or members: one is woman; the other is man. Until these two members are equal in strength, the oneness of humanity cannot be established, and the happiness and felicity of mankind will not be a reality.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 76)


The Rutu Foundation is committed to making mother tongue education part of mainstream education everywhere. Join us.

References

Abdul-Baha. (2007). The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by Abdul-Baha During His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Bahai Pub. Trust.

Antone, E. (2003). Culturally Framing Aboriginal Literacy and Learning. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 27(1), 7-15.

Arnold, C., Bartlett, K., Gowani, S., & Merali, R. (2006). Is everybody ready? Readiness, transition and continuity: Reflections and moving forward. Background paper for EFA Global Monitoring Report 2007.

Benson, Carol (2005). Girls, educational equity and mother tongue. Bangkok: UNESCO.

Cortina, R. (2017). How to Improve Quality Education for Indigenous Children in Latin America in Indigenous Education Policy, Equity & Intercultural Understanding in Latin America, 3-25.

Department for International Development. (2005). Girls´ Education: Towards a Better Future for All.

Eckermann, A. K., Dowd, T., & Chong, E. (2010). Binan Goonj: bridging cultures in Aboriginal health. Elsevier Australia.

Gamlin, P. (2003). Transformation and Aboriginal Literacy. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 27(1), 2-6.

Girls´ Education: A Lifeline to Development. (1996). Fifty Years of Children. Retrieved from:

Hovens, M. (2002). Bilingual education in West Africa: Does it work? International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 5 (5), 249-266.

Kabeer, N. 1999. “Resources, Agency, Achievements: Reflections on the Measurement of Women’s Empowerment”. Development and Change 30 (3): 435–464. .

Lei, P., Johnston, B. & Cox, R. (2017). Safer, Healthier, Wealthier: How G20 investments in girls´ education improve our world.

Nussbaum, M. (2003) “Women’s Education: A global challenge,” in Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 29:2, pp. 325-355.

Ramsden, I. (1990). Whakaruruhau: Cultural Safety in nursing education in Aotearoa. A report for Maori health and nursing. Ministry of Education. New Zealand.

UNESCO (2005) Advocacy brief on mother tongue-based teaching and education for girls. Bangkok: UNESCO.

UNESCO (2008a). Mother Tongue Matters: Local Language as a Key to Effective Learning. Paris: UNESCO.

UNESCO (2008b). Mother tongue instruction in early childhood education: A selected bibliography. Paris: UNESCO.

United Nations (1948) Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

United Nations. State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Van der Way, D. (2001). Exploring multiple serendipitous experiences in a first nations setting as the impetus for meaningful literacy development. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 25(1), 51-69.

World Bank. (2016). Partnering with Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Minorities Through Community-Driven Development. (May 11, 2016).

by Danielle Nijboer and Ellen-Rose Kambel Tuesday, 30 October 2018 –  We gathered with experts, researchers, professionals and many multilinguals at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam. It was the second evening in a series on Education Inequality and Multilingual Education organised by the Rutu Foundation, Multilingual Parents Amsterdam and Rethink Amsterdam. Emotions…

How bilingualism affected my school career

Jahk

|Lees Jahkini’s verhaal in het Nederlands|

Let me introduce myself. My name is Jahkini and I am currently enrolled in a bilingual education programme at my high school. Furthermore, I am an active member of the student council and I also work at an Ethiopian restaurant. My mother is from a small town in the Netherlands and speaks Dutch. My father, on the other hand, was born in what is formerly known as British Guyana. In Guyana they speak English. The Guyanese version of English is comparable to Jamaican English, as they both sometimes grammatically differ from standard English. At home I speak English with my father and Dutch with my mother.

Continue Reading

Opleving van de inheemse Negrito cultuur in de Filipijnen De inheemse volkeren met een jagers- en verzamelaarsachtergrond op de Filipijnen, waaronder de Agta, Aeta, Ati, Ata en Batak, worden gezamenlijk aangeduid als Negrito. Zij vertegenwoordigen de oudste beschaving in het land, die meer dan 40.000 jaar teruggaat. Jenne de Beer, lid van…

Continue Reading

The indigenous peoples with a hunter gatherer background of the Philippines, among which the Agta, Aeta, Ati, Ata and Batak, are collectively referred to as Negritos. They represent the most ancient civilization in the country, going back more than 40,000 years in time. Rutu advisory board member and ethno-ecologist Jenne de Beer,…

Continue Reading

De succesvolle herleving van de Negrito cultuur op de Filipijnen De Agta, Ata en Aeta (ook wel Negrito-volken genoemd) zijn de oudste bewoners van de Filipijnse archipel. Hun geschiedenis gaat tenminste 40.000 jaar terug. Deze jagers en verzamelaars hebben een heel eigen cultuur en ‘way of life’ met een sterke oriëntatie op…

Continue Reading

Je taal is je identiteit

Tijdens de jaarlijkse Internationale Dag van de Moedertaal op 21 februari wordt wereldwijd het belang van de moedertaal benoemd en gevierd. ‘Jouw taal is jouw identiteit’, zo begon voormalig schoolhoofd Greta Pané haar toespraak tijdens de viering in Galibi. ‘Probeer je taal te behouden.’ In Galibi verzamelden de inheemse inwoners van het dorp…

On the occasion of the third anniversary of the Rutu Foundation in March 2014, we made a special ‘Know your Roots' Black Heritage Tour through the Amsterdam canals. Alexandra Luke, first-year student at the Amsterdam University College reports.

alex_cvOn a Sunday afternoon in April, our group of twelve met at the National Monument at Dam Square, where our guide Jennifer began the tour. The semicircle behind the monument, she explained, contains urns with soil from each of the Dutch provinces: a mark of respect for the soldiers who lost their lives in World War II. Soldiers of the colonies of Suriname and the Dutch Antilles, who also fought and died for the Netherlands, were not included in this mark of respect.

So began a journey of discovery and rediscovery for all of us: we travelled back in time learning about Amsterdam’s history from the 16th century onwards, from a perspective that is sadly often ignored in our classrooms and textbooks. As we passed by historic buildings and landmarks, Jennifer helped us fill in the blanks: the Dutch Empire was great, but at what human cost did this greatness come? What are the clues, in the carvings on buildings and paintings in galleries, that reveal the role of the African diaspora, whose voice has been suppressed for so long?

Rather than a three-hour monologue from the guide, this tour was an interactive experience for the whole group. Rutu’s founder Ellen-Rose Kambel was able to share her personal connection to the city’s history, as we passed the building where a wealthy Dutch family had once kept her ancestors as slaves.

There is a philosophy behind the tour that the Rutu Foundation shares: there are some things in history that we would rather forget, but no matter how we view the past, it will always play a role in shaping our future. The Black Heritage Tour, like Rutu, encourages us not to let that past hinder us, but to use it to empower us. We cannot undo what has happened, but we can pave a future that learns from mistakes made and embraces our roots.

Amsterdam’s Black Heritage Tour is the brainchild of History enthusiast Jennifer Tosch, whose journey towards discovering her own roots led to her discovery of the roots of the city of Amsterdam. http://www.blackheritagetours.com/. Pictures of the tour, made by Kevin P. Roberson, you will find here.

 

black heritage tour 30 mrt 2014

Rutu Foundation presents:

Know your Roots: Black Heritage Tour of Amsterdam

 

Join us this Sunday 30 March 2014, as we celebrate Rutu's  third anniversary in preserving traditional education, knowledge, language and culture among indigenous peoples and minorities worldwide, with a special Black Heritage Tour of Amsterdam.
 
We explore the African presence from the 17th century in Amsterdam and reveal the 'hidden history' still visible on national landmarks, canal houses and museums.
 
The Tour includes:
  • 30 minute walking tour around the Dam Square area
  • 2 hour guided boat tour
  • Museum entry and 30 minute tour of special exhibit
  • Refreshments served on board the boat
  • Rutu Foundation Special Price: €35/per person.[The Regular Price: €52,50]. Guests may pay by bank transfer or debit/credit card.
Date: Sunday 30 March 2014
Time: 13.00 hours
Duration: 3 hours
 
Make your reservation at info@blackheritagetours.com.

 

black heritage tour 30 mrt 2014

Rutu Foundation presents:

Know your Roots: Black Heritage Tour of Amsterdam

 

Join us this Sunday 30 March 2014, as we celebrate Rutu’s  third anniversary in preserving traditional education, knowledge, language and culture among indigenous peoples and minorities worldwide, with a special Black Heritage Tour of Amsterdam.
We explore the African presence from the 17th century in Amsterdam and reveal the ‘hidden history’ still visible on national landmarks, canal houses and museums.
The Tour includes:
  • 30 minute walking tour around the Dam Square area
  • 2 hour guided boat tour
  • Museum entry and 30 minute tour of special exhibit
  • Refreshments served on board the boat
  • Rutu Foundation Special Price: €35/per person.[The Regular Price: €52,50]. Guests may pay by bank transfer or debit/credit card.
Date: Sunday 30 March 2014
Time: 13.00 hours
Duration: 3 hours
Make your reservation at info@blackheritagetours.com.