This month sees the launch of a new special collection on Modern Languages Open that brings together both academics and practitioners working on language and education in the Lusophone world and is bilingual in English and Portuguese, thus maximising opportunities for dissemination and impact and challenging the anglocentricity of academic scholarship.
This special collection stems from two thematic panels on language and education in the Lusophone world which took place in 2019 – one at the University of Santiago de Compostela, and the other at the University of Sheffield.
Here, editor Dr Nicola Bermingham (University of Liverpool) explains the research context and thinking that informs this collection of essays.
This special collection examines the tensions between the linguistic diversity in the Lusophone world and the largely monolingual education systems that remain in place to this day, understanding the education system as a crucial site in which social and linguistic inequalities can be reinforced and challenged.
The school system is often conceived as the cornerstone for the reproduction and fortification of language ideologies and this collection draws attention to just how deeply engrained certain linguistic ideologies are and how education systems can marginalise local languages and local varieties of Portuguese. This marginalisation has important implications for access to and participation in education, and for broader questions of social mobility and social justice. However, the school system also offers the opportunity to construct a different linguistic and social reality by embedding local languages/varieties of Portuguese and local cultures into the curriculum, thus seeing sociocultural values and educational needs as interconnected and symbiotic. This collection, therefore, is in line with much current research that argues for the benefits of multilingual education and L1-based education, and for challenging standard ideologies in education settings. However, we also reflect on how there is often resistance from stakeholders such as policymakers, teachers, and parents to adopting L1-based education or accepting non-standard forms of language in educational contexts. These articles are contributions from both educational practitioners and researchers, in an attempt to bridge the gap between theory and practice and reflect upon why perceptions and practices are an obstacle to new ways of conceiving language in education settings and can even hamper advances already made.
The Lusophone countries with their complex colonial histories and differing rates of Portuguese speakers offer a new way to view issues relating to language and education, especially the importance of viewing such issues in a wider historical and social context. For example, issues such as war, civil strife, and economic breakdowns, have diverted attention away from issues of language and weakened certain management efforts aimed at change. Moreover, any changes have pragmatic and material considerations, which can be substantial and, at times, overwhelming and impossible without financial support. There is also a need for a solid research base to any changes or projects and currently there is a lack of research, and funding, in these areas. Researchers need to be aware of these factors so as not to put forward idealised theoretical solutions, which may be rejected by stakeholders on account of their scope and feasibility, or because they do not provide students with the relevant highly valued linguistic and symbolic capital necessary to compete in the linguistic market.
The gap between theory and practice has been identified as a perennial problem of issues related to language policy and education. Here, too, the Lusophone countries offer a new perspective. As the contributions to this issue highlight, multilingualism is the norm in most educational contexts. Moreover, in both Brazil and Lusophone Africa, the standard language variety is often not consistently used by speakers of high socio-economic status and therefore does not necessarily contribute to national and cultural cohesion. There is also a growing awareness in many Lusophone countries of the challenges that arise from having a standard language for education that can be so far removed from the everyday speech of students. Combine these factors with recent tendencies to view diversity positively and the result is a social situation that is propitious for a transformative or, in the terms of Paulo Freire, an emancipatory approach to education in which speakers are key agents in changing the monoglossic and monolingual education system, based on the principle that their society is a multilingual one/based on a culture of heteroglossia.
Although language cuts across social issues, and is particularly important for academic success, it has not received sufficient attention in development discourses and initiatives. This lack of engagement hinders opportunities for meaningful development to take place. However, in order for such progress to be achieved, it is necessary to foment dialogue between stakeholders across national and disciplinary borders. In this special collection we have tried to bring together a cross-disciplinary perspective that rejects the hegemony of knowledge from the Global North—a perspective that is much needed when examining questions of linguistic inequalities and education in countries located in the Global South.
The collection is edited by:
Dr Nicola Bermingham, University of Liverpool (Editor)
Dr Paul O’Neill, University of Sheffield (Guest Editor)
Professor Alexandre Timbane, Universidade de Integração Internacional da Lusofonia Afro-Brasileira, Malês, Brasil (Guest Editor).