The role of language in adult education and poverty reduction in Botswan
The role of language in adult education and poverty reduction in Botswana Mompoloki Bagwasi, University of Botswana
Introduction Raditloaneng (2002) makes a distinction between economic and non-economic poverty. Economic poverty assumes that a certain amount of income is essential for people to afford basic needs. This type of poverty focuses on material aspects of poverty such as income below the poverty datum line, unemployment and lack of ownership of assets. Non-economic poverty, on the other hand, refers to the deprivation of non-material things, which lead to low self-esteem, loss of identity, minimal participation in civic life, inadequate access to information and education. This paper is of the view that such a classification is only useful in as far as giving the topic of poverty a fair and balanced discussion and coverage, otherwise in reality the two are connected, that is, a deprivation of material aspects leads to low self- esteem and minimal participation in education and little access to information or vice-versa. This paper examines the role of language in reducing poverty in a community by enhancing its self esteem, image, identity, and encouraging participation in education and civic society. It argues that in order for adult education programs to reduce poverty it has to be guided by a language policy that would enable its learners to participate in community activities and access relevant information that can improve their lives.
Importance of language policy in adult education The national language policy currently in place in Botswana, is that Setswana is the national language of the country (Republic of Botswana 1985:8). So, despite the existence of other local languages, Setswana is the only indigenous language that is used as a medium of instruction in government schools, where both adults and children are educated. Adult education is a program that involves adults in formal and non-formal learning activities with the purpose of facilitating the personal, socio-economic, cultural and political development of individuals and their communities. In order to achieve this goal the adult education program needs to seriously consider the language situation of the individuals and communities who are to benefit from it. For example, the program needs to answer these questions: what language or languages do individuals in the adult education program speak, do their languages enable them to participate freely in the economic and social activities of their country, and how can their languages be promoted and developed to meet current needs and standards? The answers to these questions call for an education language policy that would enable adults not only to learn effectively but also to resource and develop their languages to meet present day needs or learn languages that enable them to take active roles in their communities.
Adult education is crucial and better placed to fight poverty than formal education because it is involved in the education of the most productive, experienced and influential sector of a population. Adults are responsible for generating a community’s income, for preserving its resources and for making laws that govern the distribution of income as well as influencing attitudes about what is superior and what is inferior. It is also better placed to fight poverty because according to Rachal (1989:3) adult education responds to particular needs and societal change. One of the needs that adult education should respond to in Botswana is the question of major and minor ethnic groups and their languages that obviously impact on the self-esteem, identity, participation in civic life, access to information and education of the groups involved.
Adult education does not only deal with issues of education involving adults, but it also directly and indirectly influences the education of children because the teaching and learning of children is supervised by the older members of a society and conducted for the benefit of the society’s younger members: a process that some researchers call child socialization
28 (Mesthrie and others 2000:355). Adults socialize children into beliefs, practices and attitudes that are embodied in their languages and cultures. A language policy that promotes certain languages over others would produce teachers and learners who are going to help promote those languages at the expense of others. So, in order to uphold the images and identities of the different communities in Botswana adult education programs need to be guided by a language policy that is sensitive to and promotes the multicultural and multilingual face of
Botswana. This can be achieved by promoting local, national and official languages in Botswana through the adult education programs.
Language is important in any discussion of poverty reduction strategies because it determines who has access to power and economic resources. Tollefson (1991:16) believes that language policy is one mechanism for locating language within social structure so that language determines who has access to political power and economic resources. Language policy is one mechanism by which dominant groups establish hegemony in language use. The dominant language group usually imposes and spreads its will and language even when opposed by others. One way of doing this is through education: formal and adult education where subtractive bilingualism is practiced. Subtractive bilingualism, according to Mesthrie and others (2000:334) is whereby the first language of the learner is removed from the educational environment. This may accompany a language shift in a community from the primary language to another more prestigious language. In parts of Botswana where minority languages such as Sekalaka, Sengologa and others are spoken, Setswana is used in the school environment.
Mesthrie and others (2000:320) argue that language is not only the primary medium of social control and power but it has also grown dramatically in terms of the diversity of functions to which it is applied in modern society. Language functions in politics, news broadcasting, and advertising. It is also a reflection of its speakers’ identity, economic and social class. In fact, language is itself a tool or passport into a particular identity, economic and social class. By following the current national language policy that only recognizes and promotes Setswana and English at the expense of the other languages that exist in the country, the adult language program in Botswana maintains the hegemony and the gap between the poor and the rich, the major and minority groups. In order to redress poverty the adult education program needs to be aware of the social functions of language and strive to produce learners who can use their native languages as resources to advertise, transmit information, teach, and trade. Since adult education is intended to help bridge the gap between adult and formal education it has an excellent opportunity to balance the skewed language policy which favors the dominant language in Botswana and give minority languages a chance to be taught, spoken and developed.
First language and adult education The UNESCO report (reprinted in Fishman 1968) on the use of vernacular languages states that a mother tongue is a person’s natural means of self expression and one of his needs is to develop his power of self expression to the full. The report goes on to argue that non-formal education adult illiterates should make their first steps in literacy through their mother tongue, passing on to a second language if they desire and are able. The practice in Botswana is that illiterates in the adult education program are taught in Setswana even in environments where it is not the native language. Setswana is not the native language for at least 15-20% of the population who mostly live in the less developed parts of the country who are also mostly poor and less educated. An educational program that is in Setswana and English contributes to an assimilation of these groups into Setswana, killing their identities and ignoring the knowledge and experience embodied in their native languages and cultures.
The report by the national commission on education (1977:167) states that government views literacy as a prerequisite to other development efforts. It states that a fully literate population is an important long term objective if Botswana’s other national objectives are to be met. The
29 national literacy program had aimed to enable 250, 00 illiterate men, women, and youth to become literate in Setswana and numeracy over 6 years (1980- 1985). Maruatona and Raditloaneng (1997: 276)), however, state that the department could not complete the eradication of illiteracy in the 6 years as projected. Adult education cannot eradicate illiteracy for as long as it aims to make people literate in Setswana only and there is very little material in other languages. Literacy can be established and maintained if only there is a wider coverage of languages and there is an adequate supply of reading material for adolescents and adults in their native languages for entertainment as well as for study.
Language policies tend to reflect the ideology of the state political infrastructure. This means that the political economy of a particular country usually affects the country’s language policy. For example present day economies are accompanied by linguistic racism which places high status on English and low status on other languages. Heugh (1995:329) argues that language policies are usually arrived at by a top-down process which rarely accommodates the perspective or needs of people from below. At least one language of high status is used to exclude speakers of low status languages. Marginalized groups are always at the disadvantage of the culture and value system of the dominant group.
Since competence in English is a pre-requisite for participation in the national political and economic system, the majority of citizens in Botswana have remained excluded from the political, educational and economical activities of the country. Effectively it is the rural people who suffer the greatest marginalization. The prominence that has been accorded the English language in the national and educational system has rendered the local languages instrumentally valueless. To address this problem adult education has introduced a program known as English as a second language which has already started. The program should however safe guard against following western models which tend to advantage a small elite and disadvantage the majority. This happens where English in some context dominates and the vast majority of people are left out. In an education system where English dominates the majority of learners get little benefit from schooling, either in terms of acquiring the necessary language proficiency or in terms of content. This is because local language which are usually of low status are given little validity in the educational system and consequently knowledge which learners have in these languages is ignored in the schooling system. For the English language program to benefit adult education learners, the curricula needs to make provision for the transfer of knowledge and cognition from, in some instances first language to second language and to English.
Language and participation Stutnabb-Kangas (1988:14) argues that in order to participate in the affairs of one’s community or country one needs to have a linguistic proficiency that will enable them to negotiate and influence. In the same way Mesthrie (2000:355) states that in every society there is useful information which members of a society need to know and skills that they need to acquire in order to meet the responsibilities and obligations of a citizen. Education refers to the teaching and learning activities through which members of a society gain access to this information and to these skills. The only way for this to be effected in multilingual societies is by means of a bilingual education. Adult education should adopt an additive bilingual program in which second and even third languages are added to the learners’ repertoire of language systems whilst sustaining the primary language through the schooling process instead of subtractive bilingualism found in the current educational system whereby the first language is removed from the educational environment of the learner. In Botswana educational system, the first language is replaced by another language perceived to have greater educational importance. The problem with this set up is that it does not validate the knowledge that the learner brings to the learning environment about his/her own community value systems, history and culture. In order to take an active role in their education learners need to be allowed to share this knowledge and use it in their schooling.
Maruatona and Raditloaneng (1997:277) state that extension education in the Botswana context refers to the modes by which the knowledge from the source of discovery is transferred to the appropriate people in the community, to enlarge acceptance and application of the relevant methods and techniques. Extension education seeks to transfer information skills from researchers to the rural communities thus assuming that rural dwellers do not have a knowledge base which needs to be incorporated. Maruatona and Raditloaneng argue that this approach fails to recognize indigenous knowledge and because of that the extension services have less impact. The most important indigenous knowledge that people in rural communities have is knowledge of their environment and surrounding borne from long experience and passed from one generation to another through word of mouth in their languages. It is only by capturing that knowledge in their education can this knowledge be harnessed and incorporated in modern day research. In order to improve the quality of life of the poor and rural people adult education programs should include as one of its components the observation and imitation of the artisans and other skilled persons in the rural communities.
Adult education programs are also believed to have failed to solve socio-economic problems which have persisted and the status of vulnerable groups remains precarious (Fong 1995). The major problem is that the recipients of the extension services remain uninvolved and passive in a one way flow of information from researchers and government to them. The bottom down approach that is practiced neglects community participation and that minimizes extension education’s contribution to the improvement of quality of life in rural Botswana. These participants remain uninvolved because they probably do not have the language to influence and persuade those who have power and also because their languages, experiences and knowledge are down played in the new policies and technologies.
Conclusion and recommendations Adult education has been recognized as an agent for development since it addresses issues of poverty, inequality, underdevelopment, environmental enhancement and sustainable population by providing skills that are needed for the day to day activities of individuals and their communities. Maruatona (1995) states that the adult education programs in Botswana provide illiterates with skills of reading, writing, arithmetic and a few practical skills to enable them to engage in economic activities which would improve their socio-economic status. Extension education is supposed to improve the socio-economic status of the rural people by providing those people with information on most techniques and skill training which could be useful in transforming their lives. This paper argues that in order to do this the program has to be guided by an unbiased language policy that enables it to disseminate information, encourage participation in the education and economy of the communities.
To achieve its goal of disseminating useful information and eradicating poverty the adult education program needs to recognize the different languages that exist in the country and be mindful that Setswana and English are not the only languages through which literacy and education need to be achieved. This paper proposes that in order to reduce poverty the adult education program should be mediated in languages that enable the learners to be confident to participate in the discussions and activities of their education and economy. This involves the teaching of local languages, Setswana and English. By involving the local languages the program would not only reach the poor and marginalized communities but it would also instill the qualities of pride, identity, self esteem, those qualities that are vital in fighting poverty. The adult education program can thus harness the local languages and indigenous knowledge of the minority and poor people and use them to mobilize the poor and minorities who are struggling for the betterment of their conditions. It could mobilize the so called minorities to oppose their status and challenge the hegemony of the majority communities in Botswana.
31 In most parts of the world, education is for the most part the preserve of the few (elites). The choice of which language or dialect to use to teach (medium of instruction) reflects the interests of those elite. In countries in which one of the languages dominate, there is usually an issue about where to place other languages in the education system. As a program that is supposed to bridge the gap between the poor and rich, formal and non formal education and help people cope with political, economic and social changes adult education programs need to respond to language conflicts and inequalities by making provisions for those languages and speakers that are left out in the formal system.
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