Specialists in teaching Bay Islands language and culture attended a three-day workshop in Coxen Hole February 6-8 to prepare for the beginning of the public school year.
The workshops have been held every year since the mid 1990s, when Honduras began to move away from its Spanish-only approach to public education and to appreciate the cultural and linguistic heritage of its indigenous and afro-descended minorities. The shift was in large part driven by the 1989 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO 169), which Honduras ratified in 1995.
Previously, teaching English in Honduran public schools was forbidden under the policy of castellanización (compelling minorities to assimilate into the Spanish-speaking mainstream), explained Natelee Forbes, bilingual intercultural education promoter for the Native Bay Islanders Professionals and Labourers Association (NABIPLA). She said English-speaking Bay Islanders who wanted to preserve their heritage were forced to organize instruction in private homes outside regular school hours. Those who could afford to sent their children to private schools to be taught in English.
A 1997 decree passed by the Honduran Congress institutionalized bilingual intercultural education (EIB by the Spanish acronym) in areas with ethnic and linguistic minorities. Roatan then began placing EIB instructors, paid by the Municipal Government, in its public schools. However, with normally only one such specialist per school, students in each grade typically receive only 45 minutes of EIB instruction a day.
Diane Bennett, who teaches at Arnaldo Auld Public School in Gravel Bay and is also director of the Lanford Johnson School in Pensacola, has been with the EIB program from the beginning and judged it to be “a success so far” at encouraging children to learn English and maintain their culture.
“We want parents to know their children can get a good bilingual education in the public schools,” she said.
Forbes added that the EIB curriculum goes well beyond language instruction.
“It’s an inclusive curriculum,” said Forbes. “It’s about what we can do to have a better life for ourselves.”
Hector Nolasco, the Ministry of Education’s district director for Roatan, said the EIB program also aimed to “keep students more motivated.” Motivation is key to reducing Roatan’s high drop-out rate.
Bennett estimated 30-40 percent of elementary school-aged children on Roatan are not attending classes. She said many students show up for the first day of classes in February, but if you come back in June many of them are no longer there. After sixth grade, when Honduran children are no longer legally required to attend school, she said, 70-80 percent drop out.
“We look around today and we see parents not involving our kids in education,” said Bennett. As a result, she said, many islanders feel “left out” of things and excluded from the best jobs. But she said that was “because we don’t prepare ourselves.”