Visualizing language, development, education & ICT connections

A few years ago, I came across the following “model of development communication with regard to language(s) and education” by Ekkehard Wolff, a professor emeritus and former Chair of African Studies at the University of Leipzig. It was presented in a 2006 working document entitled “Optimizing Learning and Education in Africa – the Language Factor: A Stock-taking Research on Mother Tongue and Bilingual Education in Sub-Saharan Africa” (later revised and published in 2011 as “Optimising Learning, Education and Publishing in Africa: The Language Factor“).*

What first struck me was that this simple triangular model portraying the relative strength of links among development, language, and education captures the essence of the situation as regards African languages in development and education programming in Africa.

Secondly, the model could easily reflect development communication – or extension work – in a mostly monolingual country, where almost everyone speaks a single tongue as their first language (“L1”), and those who don’t mostly have that same language as an “L2.” Language is not a factor that needs particular attention beyond the appropriate use of the common tongue.

Third, it is significant, though not surprising, that this came in discussion of education. The field of education tends to give more attention to issues relating to language and languages, for instance in research and policy recommendations on mother-tongue based/multilingual education, than does the field of development studies. (For a more complete discussion, see Prof. Dr. Wolff’s chapter 1 in the last version of the above-cited document).

And finally, it also occurred to me that one could readily extend this model in a third dimension by adding another factor: information and communications technology (ICT). ICT after all is (1) a more or less established dimension of development assistance (per ICT4D), (2) a feature of some projects to assist education, and also (3) the focus of a range of language technology and localization efforts. So the connections of ICT with all three are natural.

Expanding the model

The expanded model with four factors – language, development, technology, and ICT – is a triangular pyramid or tetrahedron that allows us to visualize six related pairs of factors and characterize their relative weight in development communication (programming, extension, etc.).

These six pairs with comments (those on the first three are Wolff’s) are:

  • Development ↔ Education: “Widely accepted on a priori groun ds, but with little understanding of exact nature of relationship”
  • Education ↔ Language: “Little understood outside expert circles, particularly in terms of MoI [medium of instruction] vs. SoI [subject of instruction]”
  • Language ↔ Development: “Largely ignored”
  • Development ↔ ICT: Established in development thinking and practice as ICT4D
  • Education ↔ ICT: Established connection, often as part of ICT4D or as local-level projects
  • Language ↔ ICT: Linkage well established for major languages as “localization” (“L10n”), but not as well supported in terms of policy or technology, for less-resourced languages

This model also facilitates visualization of other dynamics beyond the language-development-education triangle introduced by Wolff, each of which which involve ICT. Specifically:

  • Links among language-development-ICT (is L10n part of ICT4D projects? do L10n projects address development needs?)
  • Links among language-education -ICT (does use of ICT in education projects include localized content or interfaces?)
  • Links among development-education-ICT (how are ICT4D and ICT4E linked?)

Language belongs in the picture

Overall, any such model incorporating language among the dynamics of development helps expand thinking about development and learning processes. Communication is fundamental to development and education, and one of the principal uses of ICT, and language is fundamental to communication.

Why has language been so neglected in this regard (particularly in Africa)? That is another discussion. In the meantime, Prof. Dr. Wolff’s chapter (referenced above) is highly recommended as an analysis of the state of affairs and disciplinary divides involved.

* Hassana Alidou, et al. 2006. Optimizing Learning and Education in Africa – the Language Factor: A Stock-taking Research on Mother Tongue and Bilingual Education in Sub-Saharan Africa. Paris: Association for the Development of Education in Africa. (NB- This document carries the note that it is a draft and not for dissemination, however it is widely available on the web and has been cited in at least two published books.)
Adama Ouane and Christine Glanz, eds. 2011. Optimising Learning, Education and Publishing in Africa: The Language Factor A Review and Analysis of Theory and Practice in Mother-Tongue and Bilingual Education in sub-Saharan Africa. Hamburg: UIL & Tunis: ADEA.