Ba Beneen Yoon Senegal!
There was no better way to dive deeper into the issues of language and social justice in education than to spend two weeks in the heart of Senegal, studying and learning from professionals in the field of educational development in West Africa and locals who have experienced first hand the struggle of preserving their culture and identity that is so strongly tied to their national language.
Our class explored the wide spectrum of educational programs from informal to formal schooling and programs being implemented by the USAID. Many of our guest speakers were in favor of transitioning the country to Bilingual education, where students would learn in the national language, i.e Wolof, Pulaar, Madinka, Saafi, etc. in order to better learn French, the official language of Senegal.
This particular battle between national languages in the formal school system is complex within this post colonial society where literacy is of major concern. Literacy is key to development and I could see the passion the organizations such as ARED and Tostan had for their mission to improve knowledge of human rights, literacy, and language preservation. However, I could also see the belief that has infiltrated the Senegalese thought about their culture and its significance within society. As we visited multiple schools sites I heard from more than one teacher that they deal with parents often that want their children to learn French because that is the language that equals success. This baffled and saddened me.
What I realized to be most important is the connection between culture and language. and the need of a paradigm shift around these two concepts. I have learned about colonialism, language and culture all in separate contexts but Senegal is where it all came together. There is a complicated mix that makes it difficult to problem solve but from my short experience in the country there are many individuals that are working hard to find solutions. It seems that great strides are being made. But as I reflect on the experience I still have lingering questions such as, where do the formal and informal schooling worlds intersect? Would a combination of the two be more effective? And lastly how can we use education and literacy to tackle other important issues?