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Laura Moros

Bilingual Education in Colombia: Towards an


Integrated Perspective
Anne-Marie de Meja

Summary:
The concept of what is considered to be bilingualism in Colombia has been
somewhat distorted and this has caused society to undervalue the use and
knowledge of native languages. Colombia is a country with different languages
spoken in the many indigenous communities that live in it. Despite this, only
few people know how to speak these native languages, and the rest of society
doesnt see any value in doing so. For Colombians, a person is considered to be
bilingual when they speak Spanish (the official language) and an international
language like English, French or German, among others. This paper seeks to
study what bilingualism really is; and by doing so, try to give value to the
native languages that are being lost because of the low status that has been
given to them.

When speaking about bilingual education in Colombia, English usually


has the priority and has been given the highest status. As a result of
this, most bilingual schools teach their content in Spanish and English.
Because bilingualism is seen as the use of international languages, a
whole new category has been created for education that is given in
native languages; this is known as ethno-education. Despite the fact that
in 1994 a law was created to establish ethno-education for minority
communities, very few people take this type of educational program and
due to this the status it receives is very low. The use of an indigenous
language is not very frequent so it does not create opportunities of
economical or work advancement and growth; unlike English. The fact
that the use of these languages offers no benefit to Colombians, has led
to the loss of identity and culture along with the disappearance of
several languages.

Bilingual education in Colombia has been concentrated in the big and


most important cities of the country, while ethno-education is
concentrated in minority communities. This has caused a significant
effect on the quality of the education that is received and the resources
that teachers and students have access to. Bilingual schools in the
country are usually affordable only to people who live in upper middle
class and upper class. These schools have qualified teachers (native
teachers in some cases), excellent campuses and many resources,
making the learning process easier for the student as well as the
teacher. On the other hand, ethno-education, which is left to the minority
communities, have to face many difficulties because of the lack of
attention that it receives. The number of teachers that are qualified to
teach in a native language is very limited and it is not increasing with
the passing of time. The schools are government funded, so the
investment is extremely limited when compared to the private bilingual
schools in the big cities. Also, one of the greatest problems that they
face is that the available resources to teach in native languages is very
limited. Not many text books have been translated or kept up to date. All
this makes it very challenging for the teachers who decide to invest time
and effort into learning the native languages in order to teach the
children in the communities.

In conclusion, even though bilingualism is being able to use two different


languages (no matter what these may be), Colombians consider people
who speak international languages as true bilinguals. This has caused
people to lower the status of ethno-education and increase the status of
those who speak a language like English, French and German. As a result
of this, international languages are the ones that give people growth
opportunities and this has created a necessity in society to learn these
and not see any sort of value in native languages.