21 February is International Mother Language Day. Theodora Hawksley describes the development of the Quality Bilingual Education Programme for Wapichan Children in Guyana and explains the significance of indigenous Amerindian children being taught in their own language for the first time.
“The path chosen by the communities of the South Rupununi, in collaboration with the Jesuits, is not an easy one. At times, it has been an uphill struggle to convince the Ministry of Education that mother tongue bilingual education is something that will benefit Amerindian children, and prepare them adequately for life. It has also been a struggle to convince them that the Resource Team, most of whom have little formal education, have the knowledge and skills to design a school curriculum. Even having finally secured government permission to start the bilingual programme, significant challenges remain. My work as part of the bilingual programme was to write a report on the state of education in South Rupununi, so that we have a good picture of all of the factors affecting children’s attainment in school. Language and curriculum have a role to play, but we also encountered the effects of poverty, hunger, poor health and the sheer struggle parents face in providing for their families through subsistence farming, hunting and fishing. As we travelled around the villages interviewing parents, teachers and community members, I was moved over and over again by the resilience and dignity of the people with whom we spoke, and their quiet determination that their children would have better lives.”