Cultural identity for toddlers
Education Today Newsletter

  Until 1995, education in Papua New Guinea, an island nation in the South Pacific, was in English. As the world's most linguistically diverse nation, with 823 living languages spoken by a population of 5.2 million, there may have been some logistic value in this, but it did little to foster a sense of national and cultural identity. In 1979, parents in Bougainville Island, in North Solomons Province put forward the idea of providing their children with two years of pre-school education in their own language, before the first grade of primary school, which would be in English. The Viles Tok Ples Skul (village language school) was born, later becoming the Tok Ples Pri Skul (vernacular language pre-school). During the 1980s three other provincial governments and four other language communities followed suit. Vernacular language pre-schools sprung up elsewhere over the next decade, but remained informal, with no national curriculum, and with teaching materials prepared by NGOs. The education reforms of 1995 finally led to the development of a national curriculum, encouraging vernacular language teaching in the two years before primary school, with a gradual introduction of English after that. By fifth grade, teaching is 30 per cent in the local language, 70 per cent in English. At the end of 2000, vernacular language pre-schools were teaching in 380 language groups. A similar initiative is just beginning in Vanuatu, also in Melanesia, which has some 106 local languages for a population of just 200,000. And, in New Zealand, Te köhanga reo ("language nest") is a total immersion programme for Maori children from birth to age 6, where they speak Maori and learn within an indigenous cultural context. The programme started in 1982. >From UNESCO Policy Briefs on Early Childhood, October 2002