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Vernacular literacy development in Vanuatu: Comparative case studies

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Title:Vernacular literacy development in Vanuatu: Comparative case studies
Authors:Franjieh, Michael
Johnson, Kay
Contributors:Franjieh, Michael (speaker)
Johnson, Kay (speaker)
Date Issued:12 Mar 2015
Description:Vanuatu, with over a hundred vernacular languages, is the most linguistically diverse country in the world. The high amount of languages poses a unique challenge to the implementation of vernacular language education.

Vernacular literacy development has been highlighted by the Vanuatu government as a key area of education for improvement, after consideration of its failure to meet country literacy targets of the UN- driven MDGs (Millenium Development Goals) and the low attendance rates of children in kindergartens (Hayden & Hadley 2013). Given this national context and the body of research which show the benefits of developing literacy in a first language (Ball 2011), vernacular literacy in Vanuatu has long been enshrined in policy, however its implementation has met with a number of hurdles.

In this presentation we will compare two small-scale linguist driven projects aimed to develop vernacular literacy and numeracy in early childhood education in Vanuatu, one on the North Ambrym language (Ambrym Island) and one on the Ske language (Pentecost Island). In so doing we will consider what linguists and language documenters can contribute to vernacular language education.

These two projects have commonalities in that they have both introduced community-driven orthography development, teacher training, vernacular curriculum component development, and a range of literacy materials covering different aspects of traditional ecological knowledge. Yet, there are differences: the North Ambrym project is an in-situ programme (based in Ambrym) and the Ske project is ex-situ (based in the capital, Port Vila).

Furthermore, we will compare our short time-frame projects (6-7 months) to the recently started large (5 years) Australian and New Zealand government funded national education project (VESP 2012) that seeks to improve early childhood education across a number of key areas, including school refurbishment, teaching quality, improving access to education and, more importantly for this presentation, to implement vernacular literacy education across a number of language communities simultaneously.

We will look at the problems faced by both project types, such as funding, project length, and project leader expertise and argue that a mix of the two project types would result in a more effective delivery of vernacular literacy education.


Vanuatu Education Sector Program. 2012. Australian Government. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Ball, J. 2011. Enhancing learning of children from diverse language backgrounds: mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual education in the early years. Paris. UNESCO

Hayden, J and F. Hadley. April 2013. Vanuatu Baseline Survey. Macquarie University.
Rights:Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections: 4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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