Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mexico: A Model In Eliminating Illiteracy Says U.N.

Mexico Recognized By U.N. For Bi-Lingual Programs Helping To Eliminate Illiteracy Among Indigenous Cultures

By Edward V. Byrne for The Yucatán Times
September 7, 2011
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A Mexican federal government program which teaches illiterate indigenous peoples to read and write –in their native languages as well as in Spanish– was recognized yesterday as a model for such by the United Nations.

According to the U.N. almost 800 million people worldwide are illiterate, the majority of them women.  In Mexico, with a population of 112 million, some 5.3 million people are unable to read and write.  The problem is complicated by the fact that in 17 of its 32 states, Mexico has about 7 million people who speak one or more indigenous languages.  Most of them live in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Quintana Roo and Yucatán, and speak various dialects of Maya and Náhuatl.  Experts at Mexico’s National Geographic and Statistical Institute say that over 350 indigenous languages or dialects are used in the country.  In some cases their speakers know little – or no – Spanish.

In its official recognition announced September 6, the U.N.’s Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) said “these types of programs are effective in educating indigenous peoples so that they can exercise all of their rights and take advantage of all opportunities offered by their society.”  In its award the UNESCO jury added that Mexico’s approach to illiteracy is a “valuable example of how multicultural and linguistically plural nations can confront the challenge of creating greater social cohesion within their borders.”

The Mexican National Institute for the Education of Adults says that about 5,000 bilingual teachers and tutors are working in states with the heaviest indigenous population to implement the illiteracy eradication program.  They use textbooks in 42 languages, which contain not only standard language instructional materials but content focused on the history, customs and traditions of the country’s various ethnic communities.  In a report entitled Human Development of Indigenous Peoples prepared last year, the Mexican government found that linguistic barriers often contribute to endemic social and economic inequality in such groups.  Many educational experts believe that teaching young learners in their native tongue rather than in a country’s official language is directly linked to academic success, particularly during the elementary school years.

Other nations recognized yesterday by UNESCO for achievements in dealing with illiteracy are Burundi, Congo and the United States.  The extent of illiteracy remaining in the U.S. is unclear, although some studies conducted within the past decade put it at only about 3%.  But a report this year by the U.S. National Institute for Literacy concluded that 47% of tested adults in Detroit, Michigan were "functionally illiterate,” even though half of them held a high school diploma.

Aug. 23, 2013 - 2,900 first and second graders in Chemax, Yucatán will learn how to read and write in their birth language, Mayan, while they master the same in Spanish. The state hopes to establish a model for bilingual education at the primary school level. Enseñan a escribir en maya.

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