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Review of  Rethinking Bilingual Education in Postcolonial Contexts

Reviewer: Lorena Cordova
Book Title: Rethinking Bilingual Education in Postcolonial Contexts
Book Author: Feliciano Chimbutane
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Anthropological Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 23.1774

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AUTHOR: Chimbutane, Feliciano
TITLE: Rethinking Bilingual Education in Postcolonial Contexts
SERIES TITLE: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2011

Lorena Cordova, Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología
Social, Mexico City

“Rethinking Bilingual Education in Postcolonial Contexts” is the result of an
ethnographic study of discursive practices around Bilingual Education (BE) in
Mozambique. The main objective is to analyze how BE in discourse reveals the
values and proposals of BE, and how these local practices are closely related to
institutional and social discourses. The research was carried out within a new
paradigmatic context for language-in-education policy in Mozambique, with the
gradual transition from a monolingual educational system (Portuguese Language)
towards a bilingual program (Portuguese-African Languages). Feliciano Chimbutane
aims to diagnose and contribute empirically to understanding how bilingual
policy was developed and implemented in this country.

From a practical standpoint, the author investigates two levels of impact on BE,
first, the ‘Micro Level’ aims through the study of discursive practices to have
an impact on educational planning and implementation, as well as helping
teachers to reflect on their linguistic interactions with students and their
teaching techniques. Second, the ‘Macro-Level’ helps teachers and planners
identify and direct their attention to factors that prevent the insertion of
local resources (linguistic and cultural) for the development of BE. From a
theoretical perspective, Chimbutane contributes to the debate on the value of BE
from different perspectives (economic, political, pedagogical, etc.) from an
ethnographic construct. This aids in understanding the role of BE in social and
cultural transformation, and changes in speakers’ perceptions of the value of
their language and social practices. The book is organized into eight chapters:

In the “Introduction”, Chimbutane offers methodological and theoretical
justifications for an ethnographic perspective on language as cultural practice.
According to the author, this captures the discursive nature of social and
political factors impacting education. These investigations are conducted in a
society where Portuguese is spoken, but where most people speak only one or more
African languages (AL). The author also develops a conceptual perspective
related to “linguistic ethnography” (Rampton et. al., 2004; Creese, 2008).
Parallel to linguistic ethnography, Chimbutane uses Heller’s (2007) critical and
interpretive perspectives on bilingualism. With this combination, the author
tries to show the relationship between communicative behavior, language
ideologies and social order. The last section treats fieldwork methods, data
types, and different levels of discourse analysis used in the investigation,
such as the interactional, institutional and social levels.

Chapter two, ‘Language and Education’, presents the relationship between
language and education. First, Chimbutane treats the ideology of language policy
decisions in multilingual contexts, determined by a linguistic choice that
depends on the socio-economic and political power, in this case, local
ideologies about the Changana and Chope languages. Second, a conceptual and
political level of BE is analyzed, dealing with psychological, cultural, social
and educational advantages, indicating that BE constrains not only educational,
but also political, cultural, and socioeconomic aspects. The virtues of BE are
mentioned as well because of the debates it has led to about national unity and
socioeconomic mobility (migration).

Subsequently, Chimbutane provides an overview of BE in sub-Saharan Africa. This
section treats the experimental stage of BE in Africa, due to the inefficiency
of monolingual education in European languages; despite some success stories,
these have not been replicated or expanded to other experiences. Language
policies are not guided by research findings but pragmatic concerns, and
institutions and planners reproduce the hegemony of European languages in
African higher education. In the last part, the author discusses how much social
structure is reflected in school curricula, as well as canonical patterns in
classroom discourse (teacher’s right and authority to make questions, obligation
of students to respond, etc.).

The third chapter, ‘Mozambique: historical, Sociolinguistic and Educational
Context’, consists of a critical review of discourse and language policies with
monolingual features. For example, at the peak of Portuguese presence in the
country (1891-1942), authoritarianism, racial stratification and social
injustice were intensified by the Separate Legal System. He also mentions
language ideologies that permeated the formation of the Independent Mozambique
period in 1975 until recovery after the devastating Civil War in the early 80’s,
in October 1992. The author gives Mozambique’s sociolinguistic profile, from
demographics to the degree of intelligibility between Bantu languages spoken in
the area. For example, in 2007 the majority of Mozambicans led their lives in
some Bantu language (85.3%). For the rural population, Portuguese is considered
a second language or foreign language, and only 2.2% of the population reported
speaking Portuguese.

In the next section, the author analyzes Mozambique’s socio-historical language
policies. For example, during the colonial period, Christian groups, especially
Protestants, developed written materials and grammars in AL, giving them greater
social and symbolic value. Currently, in rural areas, Catholic and Protestant
churches (Anglican, Episcopal Zion and Evangelical) make greater use of these
written materials. Regardless of religious ideologies, these groups have been
playing a role in developing AL.

Chimbutane also refers to two phases of language policies in nation building
(after the Civil War in 1980). The first phase, the one-language-one-state
vision, “was constructed as a practical and politically correct choice” (p.22).
Colonial languages (Portuguese) are considered official and neutral languages
for national unity. Multilingualism was designed as a resource to promote
tribalism and regionalism. The second phase in the early 90’s, leading to
institutionalization of multilingualism and multiculturalism, is justification
for promoting an alternative ideology of language policy and national identity
based on the recognition and promotion of African cultures and languages. In
2003 this recognition was authenticated by the introduction of BE. In this
sense, Chimbutane undertakes a critical analysis of a “transitional bilingual
programme” (p.52).

The author also analyzes the limitations of this program in terms of human
resources for BE and teaching-learning materials. The lack of materials and
teacher training shows that BE is still in a diglossic relationship with respect
to monolingual programs in Portuguese. The author raises two main questions,
which not only constrain the African context but most globally endangered
languages: how to teach these languages (African or threatened), and, moreover
how to teach through them.

In chapter four, “The Research Sites: Communities, Schools and Classrooms”,
Chimbutane makes the description of characteristics of communities, schools and
classrooms in which he conducted the research. In the first section the author
describes the two communities in the research study, Gwambeni and Bikwani. Both
communities are located in Gaza Province. These communities speak a variety of
Bantu languages, but Changana and Chope are the languages with which people
identify. Changana, also known as Tsonga, is the most expanded language. The
economy of both communities is characterized by subsistence farming, informal
trade and mass migration. Working in the mines of South Africa is a dream. With
migration to the mines, the rates of HIV/AIDS and orphaned children have been
increasing, especially in Gwambeni. The residents of Bikwani migrate to Maputo
City (Mozambique) and South Africa, usually with their whole families. Gwambeni,
known in the area as Chope, shows significant lexical influence from Changana,
so it is identified as a transition zone and the speakers recognize certain
types of linguistic hybridization. For Bikwani, intense contact with South
Africa has not only expanded the linguistic repertoire to include Zulu and Xhosa
element, but also in their attitudes in the Changana spoken with such South
African loanwords.

In the second section, Chimbutane describes the two schools in which the
research was conducted. In 2007, 30% of children attended the bilingual program
in Gwambeni, while in Bikwani, 15% went to it. Both “communities of practice”
(Wenger, 1998) are embedded in orality and the face-to-face exchange of
knowledge. “Orality is the main channel for exchange of knowledge” (p. 67), not
only for classroom teaching but for teacher training. BE has no printed
materials, and most existing materials are in Changana. However in the case of
Chope at the community and religious levels, Changana or South African printed
materials (Tswa “XiTswa”) are used for preaching. With regard to bilingual
classes, the author notes that in Gwambeni, where the bilingual program is in
Chope, Changana is the language of teaching. Portuguese has the highest status
followed by Changana, and finally Chope. Portuguese is the language in rural
schools in Mozambique. Children come to school without knowing Portuguese,
leading to limited achievement. Teachers are speakers of local languages with
some training in BE. However, most have been trained within ideologies and
practices of monolingual education. For this reason teachers often have negative
ideologies toward BE.

In chapter five, “Interaction and Pedagogy in Bilingual Classrooms”, Chimbutane
analyzes and contrasts the interactional and pedagogical practices that take
place in AL as a first language (L1), and in Portuguese as a second language
(L2) in the classroom. He discusses political, theoretical and practical aspects
of BE. For example, in the first section, the author analyzes interaction and
pedagogy in L1 and L1-Medium Subject Classes. Students participating in this
type of interaction show greater motivation to participate, answer and question
(a kind of defiance toward authority or the experience of teachers) to teachers
(cf. Hornberger, 2006). Also there is greater anticipation of responses and
increased communication skills to explain complex issues (e.g. HIV/AIDS
prevention). With respect to interaction and pedagogy in L2 and L2-Medium
Subject Classes, the author observed less interaction by students and greater
safetalk strategies and codeswitching. In such interactions active pupils
disappear and the conventional ritual of class in Portuguese appears (reading,
answer-writing and correcting in a group). There is “the language separation
police adopted in bilingual programme” (p.87).

In the last section, the author discusses two topics: 1) Interaction and
pedagogy, and 2) the relation between policy, theory and classroom practice. To
the first issue, the author draws attention to three points: the necessity of
understanding educational tools to expand and benefit learning in L1, to know
how knowledge is acquired in the classroom context, and analyze what the silence
of students means. Regarding the second, the author discusses two policy issues:
language separation and transition from L1 to L2 as medium the instruction in
grade 4. To the first, Chimbutane refers to “translinguaging” practices (p. 101)
and the merit the transitional bilingual programme has, unlike the
Portuguese-monolingual system. However there are students who come with
deficiencies in Portuguese and with regard to the academic demands of the fourth

In chapter six, “Socio-cultural Impact of Bilingual Education”, the author
explores how the introduction of BE is contributing to change from various
perspectives. First, from the perspective of ethnolinguistic identity and
maintenance, to know how BE is contributing “to the construction of a distinct
local cultural identity in the two areas” (p. 107). From the perspective of
literacy practices in communities, the author treats the functions of literacy
in LA and the impact of BE on the way in which literacy is practiced and valued,
along with language awareness and development. For example, parents are learning
new words in their native languages from their children, with private records,
technical words, etc. Subsequently, from the perspective of “knowledge
capitalizing”, Chimbutane describes how BE facilitates the incorporation of
culturally relevant topics into school as well as proposals for curriculum
training from sociopolitical shifts. For example, parents are seen as
intellectual resources, especially when materials are in AL.

The latter part of the chapter turns to BE and sociocultural transformation.
First, the author refers to the legitimation of marginalized cultural practices.
Second, the author describes aspects of BE related to language maintenance and
language development. The sociolinguistic vitality and BE in the two areas allow
a positive affirmation of local identities. Also, BE and sociocultural
transformation are contributing to the development of languages in regard to the
generation and use of new genres and registers, and to the review and/or
standardization of spellings through the involvement and agency of teachers and

Chapter seven, “Bilingual Education and Socio-ecomomic Mobility”, covers
socioeconomic values attributed to BE, on the one hand the allocation of values
to different spaces and Portuguese, and on the other the emergence of new
markets for the AL. For example, the author describes how social actors create
Portuguese hegemony in the workplace. Portuguese belongs to the formal labor
market and the AL belong to the informal economy. However, these languages make
links among communities members and are targets of mediation between local and
formal sectors. In this sense, a differential distribution of languages reflects
a separatist ideology of language policies, but also recognizes the emergent
markets in LA and new professional areas.

The last chapter, ‘Conclusion’, summarizes the findings. The main focus is the
purpose and value of BE, including certain aspects of the socioeconomic value BE
for education in legal and pedagogic terms. The last analytic section deals with
BE research, BE police and practice in Mozambique. “The analysis offered here
calls for the need for adaptation when importing models of BE to new
socio-political contexts” (p.167). “What is urgently needed is a joint corpus
planning effort involving different stakeholders (including the government,
non-governmental organizations working in the education working in the education
sector, and local communities) aimed at resourcing African languages for
educational purposes” (p.168). Finally the author concludes: “this book has a
merit of being one of the first empirical studies documenting the initial phase
of large-scale implementation of bilingual education in Mozambique, a phase
where institutional actors as well local citizens are still working out
strategies for implementing this form of educational provision” (p.170).

This book provides a good record of how the policies and ideologies around AL
have changed or endured within discursive practices in BE. “Mozambique is often
perceived as a democratic success and is, in regional terms, largely successful;
being seen as politically stable and attaining macro-economic goals of growth
(Bertelsen, 2003:1)”. This process of pacification and new multiculturalist
policies has been fundamental to the constitutional recognition of AL. However,
access to human and financial resources is necessary for the proper promotion
and development of BE. In this sense, the postcolonial context in which BE is
being developed in Mozambique is a clear example that, despite constitutional
change with regard to the promotion of AL, the social, economic and political
dynamics remain through the reproduction of colonial or monolingual dynamics
(cf. Stroud, 2007; Comaroff and Comaroff, 2009).

The book shows how BE in Mozambique, as in the Americas and other continents,
has two meanings. With respect to BE where is present AL is still negatively
assessed due to the difficulties that people have accessing, in this case, the
Portuguese labor market. On the other hand, where Portuguese only converges with
other colonial languages like French, English, German, etc., BE has a positive
evaluation because this education and these languages can expand the development
possibilities in students’ life quality. This type of social bilingualism is
determined by economic policies rather than cognitive values of being bilingual
(cf. King and Haboud, 2002; Heller, 2007).

Chimbutane makes a valuable contribution not only to understanding the situation
of AL but also to ethnographic studies of bilingualism that conceive of a
language as social practice, However, although Chimbutane’s work is based on
ethnographic studies of bilingualism to perform their interpretations,
ethnographic review is not always evident in the text. That is, there is no
methodological reinterpretation around ethnographic studies of discursive
practices, only a critique of discourses and practices connected with BE.

Throughout, the text shows the weaknesses of BE and its implementation, but
Chimbutane also shows how orality and “face-to-face of knowledge exchange” (p.
67) are still part of the daily practices of ‘rural Mozambique’. In this sense
there is some lack of alternative proposals, since it is not clear what
unconventional or non-dependent ways school systems and literacy might have to
strengthen local practices, how these practices are useful to confront
postcolonial pressures and how a colonial school system can help reduce
conditions of postcoloniality for speakers of AL. That is, there is no clear
reflection on how to transfer practices and cultural knowledge to writing. It is
also necessary to gain insight into how to make bilingualism in Mozambiquean and
South African languages into resources for the construction of multilingual
materials that enhance the available economic and human resources.

Chimbutane’s greatest success is demonstrating the social, political and
educational importance of ALs as a mean of instruction and not just as a
curricular theme. Chimbutane helps us confirm that the omission of ALs in school
reinforces certain postcolonial practices and, therefore, reduces the agency and
learning of students. The book itself is a political and research statement
showing both what has not yet managed to get into Mozambique BE and also the
gradual change that has been generated around ideologies and language policies
in favor of AL.

Bertelsen, Bjørn Enge. 2003. “The traditional Lion is Dead. The Ambivalent
Presence of Tradition and the Relation between Politics and Violence in
Mozambique”. Lusotopie 2003: 263-281.

Comaroff, Jean & Comaroff, John L. 2009. Dixit: Violencia y ley en la
poscolonia: una reflexión sobre las complicidades Norte-Sur. Buenos Aires y
Madrid: Katz Barpal Editores [en coedición con el Centro de Cultura
Contemporánea de Barcelona].

Creese, Angela. 2008. “Linguistic Ethnography”. K. A. King and N. H. Hornberger
(eds.), Encyclopedia of Language and Education, 2nd Edition, Volume 10: Research
Methods in Language and Education. pp. 229–241. Springer Science+Business Media

Heller, Monica. 2007. “Bilingualism as ideology and practice”. Heller, Monica
(ed.) Bilingualism: A social approach. pp. 1-23. Hounmills, Basingstoke:
Palgrave Macmillan.

Hornberger, Nancy. 2006. “Voice and biliteracy in indigenous language
revitalization: Contentious educational practices in Quechua, Guarani, and Maori
contexts”. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education 5(4): 277-292.

King, Kendall & Haboud, Marleen. 2002. “Language Planning and Policy in
Ecuador”. Current Issues in Language Planning Vol. 3, No. 4. pp. 359-424.

Rampton, B., K. Tusting, J. Maybin, et. al. 2004. Linguistic ethnography in the
UK: A discussion paper. At

Stroud, Christopher. 2007. “Bilingualism: colonialism and postcolonialism”.
Heller, Monica (ed.) Bilingualism: A social approach. pp. 25-49. Hounmills,
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wenger, Etienne. 1998. Communities of practice. Learning, meaning, and identity.
New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lorena Cordova is a PhD Student in Anthropology at the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Mexico City, Mexico. She is working on her doctoral thesis on language revitalization, in particular how to create strategies and educational materials for children in order to promote revitalization of the Chuj Maya language in Mexico.

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