Literacy and national languages in Africa: New activities of ADEA

The International Mother Language Day, celebrated each year on 21 February, is an opportunity to promote linguistic and cultural diversity as well as multilingualism. What actions are planned to promote literacy and national languages in Africa? The ADEA Inter-Country Quality Node on Literacy and National Languages (ICQN-LNL) provides an overview of the situation.

Kinyarwanda learning materials at Jean de la Mennais kindergarten in Burera district, rural Rwanda in February 2016. CREDIT: GPE/Alexandra Humme

This is the second blog post published in 2019 as part of the collaboration between the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

International Mother Language Day, proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999, is observed each year on February 21 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. This initiative has not only enhanced awareness of linguistic issues, but has also mobilized partners and resources to support the implementation of strategies and policies that advance linguistic diversity and multiculturalism around the world.

Language is fundamental to communication in all its forms and it is through the vehicle of communication that human society can change and develop. The use, or non-use, of certain languages today can open or close the doors of society in many regions across the globe.

What actions are planned to promote literacy and national languages in Africa?

The ADEA Inter-Country Quality Node on Literacy and National Languages (ICQN-LNL) has planned a number of new actions that are closely aligned with the objectives of the ADEA Strategic Plan (2018-2022), which is in turn fully consistent with the UN 2030 goals, particularly SDG 4 on education, as well as with the African Union's Agenda 2063 and the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 (CESA 16-25).

These actions are based in particular on Pillar 1 of the ADEA Strategic Plan: "Continental Education Platform."

It should be noted that the principal activities planned over the short term attest to the undeniable importance of mother language as a vehicle for broad-based communication and as a formative factor in African educational systems, and reflect its power to promote mutual understanding and the integration of peoples.

A linguistic policy that promotes mother languages

This activity has been developed in response to country demands for a harmonized approach to the use of local languages as a means of improving learning outcomes and promoting culture. Indeed, would it be possible to affirm African identity and promote the African Renaissance (Sub-Theme 3 of the 2017 ADEA Triennale) while disavowing mother language, which is the very vehicle through which culture and this African identity are to be advanced?

Against this backdrop, few countries have managed to develop a linguistic policy that promotes the effective use of African languages in educational systems or in administration and other walks of life.

In this regard, we recall that the ICQN-LNL held in Cotonou, Benin, in August 2017 on "multilingualism" highlighted the principal obstacles, which are mainly technical, policy based, and financial.

The ICQN-LNL will help countries act collectively to achieve the harmonious and effective integration of African languages and culture in education, through the training in 2019 of some 30 senior staff members of ministries of education in the methodology for developing a linguistic policy.

This initiative will provide each participating country with a reliable toolkit that will highlight the available options and mechanisms for the progressive promotion and mastery of languages in a multilingual context, with special emphasis on linguistic minorities.

Trans-border mother languages: a contributing factor to social cohesion and African integration

Students from Kisiwandui School in Zanzibar, Tanzania, during a lesson in April 2017. CREDIT: GPE/Chantal Rigaud

The aim of the ADEA ICQN LNL and its partners, under this project, is to help advance people-to-people exchanges, promote a culture of peace, and enhance the sub-regional integration of peoples, by implementing literacy training in trans-border maternal languages as well as sensitization programs and other concerted development activities, within the framework of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The vision is to strengthen and improve the quality of leadership and the management of African educational systems, on a sustainable basis, through knowledge-sharing and the exchange of best practices in literacy programs conducted in mother languages.

This type of literacy training will be imparted in the trans-border mother languages that have been validated by the target populations.

The added value provided by this type of literacy program stems from the fact that it is not confined to the mere acquisition of instrumental knowledge (i.e., reading, writing, numeracy), but goes beyond this to incorporate the positive elements of African culture and the values that play a decisive role in consolidating the African cultural renaissance and pan-African ideals.

These ideals are factors that can promote continental integration and help ensure that "borders no longer represent places of separation and disconnectedness, but points of contact and togetherness" within ECOWAS and across Africa as a whole.

This vision is consistent with the objectives of the African Union as they relate to the promotion of peace, the integration of peoples, and harmony. The implementation strategy provides for the multi-stage training of stakeholders. Indeed, specialists in national language literacy will receive pedagogical training on approaches to literacy in trans-border areas. This will enable them to apply their training in their respective countries, in the context of peaceful cohabitation and the reduction of violent extremism.

The geographical scope of this action will be scaled up progressively across the entire ECOWAS space, and then rolled out at the wider African level. It will assign priority to young people between the ages of 12 and 16, and to adults. In the first phase, the pilot project will cover the following borders: Benin-Burkina Faso; Niger-Mali-Burkina Faso, with special emphasis on the Jula, Fulfulde, Gulmacema, and Hausa languages.

Integration of information technology in literacy programs in mother languages

A teacher reading high during a lesson at Anosisoa Public School in Madagascar. CREDIT: GPE/Carine Durand

Based on country demand and the support of the technical and financial partners, emphasis will also be placed over the next few years on innovation in the use of mother languages in education.

The technical preparations for such an initiative have been under way since 2017 and have promoted synergies between the ICQNs-LNL and the Didier Drogba Foundation, through the ADEA Secretariat.

Specifically, the implementation of this activity will facilitate the pedagogical training of trainers from countries requesting assistance on approaches to digital literacy (laptops and tablets) using mother languages.

The ICQN-LNL hopes that the introduction of distance learning (e-learning), using information and communication technology in education (ICT-E) and other vehicles, such as community radios, will help ensure that the educational development of certain specific, often marginalized groups is not neglected, including nomads and mobile populations, and contribute to the social integration of these groups.

Such a strategy is indeed timely for a number of regions, particularly the Sahel, where the security challenges are particularly significant at present. Nevertheless, this context should not be used by countries as a pretext to throw in the towel on the great cause of education; hence, this alternative that will promote the continuity of education in emergency situations.

A firm commitment and the strong support of partners are key to success

This overview of new ICQN-LNL approaches illustrates the firm commitment of ADEA to contribute to the edification of new African societies that are knowledge-based and respect sustainable development principles.

Nevertheless, these actions will not be successful without the strong support of the technical and financial partners, as providers of funding.

Furthermore, these activities will need to be implemented in a dynamic partnership with other ADEA Inter-Country Quality Nodes that address complementary themes (education for peace, non-formal education, teaching and learning, books and educational materials, early childhood development, technical and vocational skills development, higher education and scientific research).