Link to UN's PFII Release: Subtractive Lg Education Is a Crime Against Humanity

Don Osborn dzo at
Thu May 22 15:09:17 UTC 2008

L2-only or subtractive bilingual education is common in Africa. Sometimes
even where the policy is bilingual, the actual practice is instruction in

On the other hand, an important aspect of this - punishment of young
students for speaking their mother tongue in Africa - is something that I
have found it hard to get more current information on (although admittedly I
haven't been researching the question that assiduously). What one hears are
occasional anecdotes, and then retrospectives of people who have been
through all that when younger.

A question I posed on the Togo-L list regarding punishment for language use
received a reply from one Togolese who asserted that corporal punishment or
humiliation for use of the mother tongue in school was a thing of the past.
However, we also know that corporal punishment is still rife in schools in
the region (a UN/IRIN report a year or two ago cited examples from Togo, but
not with reference to language). So what is the reality?

My guess is that whatever the degree of current abuses related to languages
in the classroom, the situations and interests of various parties conspire
in a way to keep it out of public view:
* Children don't have voice to tell us
* Teachers and administrators aren't likely to discuss their own practices
that might be viewed negatively
* Nor are teachers and administrators likely to expose their colleagues
* Parents are often not in a position where they feel they have powerr to
say anything
* The dominant ideologies that it is for the children's own good to learn in
a certain way with regard to language and to be "corrected" in certain ways
are at the root of the problem
* Observers generally don't notice or perhaps tacitly accept the dominant
* Organizations involved in development or human rights often do not see
language as a priority issue.

Personally, it was an indirect remark in passing by a correspondent about
young kids in a school in Tanzania being too scared of being beaten for
speaking their mother tongue to say anything (class was in Swahili) that
catalyzed my seeking more information.

I also posed the question on H-Africa and got almost no response - a
surprise. I don't think that the question was ill-informed or taboo, but
perhaps the subscribers (which include a lot of kowledgeable and eminent
scholars of Africa, African and otherwise) did not really know anything
about the current situations.

The Togolese respondant I referred to above certainly was being honest from
her perspective, but likely that experience was mainly urban and among elite
groups whose children grow up with some French as well as Ewe/Mina - so the
French-only system doesn't have the same level of drawbacks as perhaps in
other areas or among other demographics.

In any event, I am still hoping for a way to find out more about current use
of punishment for speaking the mother tongue in schools of Africa.

Don Osborn

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-lgpolicy-list at [mailto:owner-lgpolicy-
> list at] On Behalf Of Stan Anonby
> Sent: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 6:34 PM
> To: lgpolicy-list at; ELLADVOC at
> Cc: aguilera at
> Subject: Re: Link to UN's PFII Release: Subtractive Lg Education Is a
> Crime Against Humanity
> Isn't it kind of heavy on past sins? It would be more interesting to me
> if
> it gave examples of language education crimes going on today.
> Stan Anonby
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Teresa McCarty" <Teresa.McCarty at>
> To: <lgpolicy-list at>; <ELLADVOC at>
> Cc: <aguilera at MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU>
> Sent: Monday, May 19, 2008 1:16 PM
> Subject: Link to UN's PFII Release: Subtractive Lg Education Is a Crime
> Against Humanity
> > Colleagues, I am not sure the attachment "stuck" (probably not
> allowed by
> > the listserv, and thanks to Richard Ruiz for calling it to my
> attention).
> > Here is the link to this document:
> >
> >
> >
> > Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
> > Seventh session
> > New York, 21 April -2 May 2008
> > Items 4 and 7 of the provisional agenda
> > *
> >
> > Expert paper 1
> > submitted by Lars Anders-Baer. Prepared in cooperation
> > with Ole Henrik-Magga, Robert Dunbar and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas.
> > Advance Unedited Version
> > United Nations
> > E/C.19/2008/7
> > Economic and Social Council
> > Distr.: General
> > 8 February 2008
> >
> >
> > ----------------------
> >
> > Original message:
> >
> > Please see the attached expert statement commissioned by the UN's
> > Permanent
> > Forum on Indigenous Issues.   It's a very strong statement, basically
> > arguing that subtractive education for Indigenous peoples is
> tantamount to
> > a
> > crime against humanity and should be sanctioned as such under
> > international
> > law.  Although the focus is Indigenous peoples, there are clear
> extensions
> > to other minoritized groups.
> >
> > Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, who is one of the coauthors, has urged that
> this
> > document be distributed widely.  It will be interesting and important
> to
> > see
> > how the PFII and UN Human Rights Council respond to it.
> >
> > Teresa L. McCarty, Ph.D.
> > Alice Wiley Snell Professor of Education Policy Studies
> > Arizona State University
> > Mary Lou Fulton College of Education
> > Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
> > Farmer Building 120 - PO Box 872411
> > Tempe, AZ 85287-2411
> > PH: 480.965.6357  FAX: 480.965-1880
> > Teresa.McCarty at
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >

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