Local perspectives on mother-tongue education in Nepal
By Naomi Fillmore The United Nations General Assembly declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages. The declaration aims to raise awareness of the crucial role languages play in people’s daily lives, including in early learning, as well as promoting and protecting indigenous languages and improving the lives of those who speak them. Access to education ‘in and about indigenous languages’ is a major objective of the international year.
Despite the now-overwhelming consensus in the literature that learning occurs best in the language a child speaks most fluently, many indigenous groups globally are still fighting for their right to linguistically-inclusive education to be upheld (including recently renewed calls in Australia).
In Nepal, Adivasi Janajati is a broad term for ‘indigenous nationalities’, and covers a diverse range of caste, ethnic and language groups in Nepal. The most recent census reported a total of 126 ethnic groups and 123 languages, but this number likely underestimates the true scale of the country’s multilingualism. With less than half of the population speaking the national language of Nepali as their mother tongue, and with literacy rates among the lowest worldwide, the issue of language in education is a pressing one for Nepal’s Adivasi Janajati and other linguistic minorities.
The Maoist Insurgency of 1996-2000 capitalised on the dissatisfaction with monocratic rule and policies of linguistic assimilation, suppression, and neglect that characterised the 19th and 20th centuries, garnering the support of many Indigenous and minority groups. The democratic government established in the wake of the Insurgency period promised to better represent the nation’s cultural and linguistic diversity. Though not without its issues, the new Constitution ratified in 2015 – for the most part – comes good on this promise. Among several new provisions for cultural, religious, and linguistic rights, the 2015 Constitution mandates that all children have …read more