The peaceful societies in the past, like most rural, small-scale groups, transmitted their values to children using traditional instructional approaches such as teaching by example. Increasingly today, these societies see the need for their children to participate in the more formal, state-run schools so they can continue to fit in to the larger states in which they live. However, these societies also want to preserve their own values and to retain their differences from the larger societies, though they may have a hard time maintaining the strength of their own cultures in the face of homogenizing by the school systems.
Two stories in the news this week touch on these issues. Eight South Dakota Hutterite colonies have collaborated with the public school district in Chester, SD, to establish a cyber network, which is bringing the flexibility and collaborative possibilities of computer networking into the Hutterite colony schools. Six teachers in Chester teach courses via the new cyber school to 75 Hutterite students in the eight colonies, and there is a waiting list for enrollments for next year.
The Hutterites benefit by having the flexibility of fitting in their school work around the demands of farm work. Care of farm animals can’t wait on school schedules, the Hutterites maintain. The teachers apparently also value the new possibilities. Maren Fisher said the 26 students she is teaching appreciate the opportunity. “It’s just amazing,” she indicated.
The colony representative and the school district worked for two years to develop the new system so it would meet the needs and objectives of the Hutterites. The closed network allows the students to communicate with one another and with the teachers via e-mail, but it permits the students to access only websites that are linked to the cyber school. It blocks them from accessing what the Hutterites consider to be potentially harmful websites.
On the other side of the world, in Malaysia, a Member of Parliament has questioned why the national government is allocating less money this year for instruction in three of the nation’s most important ethnic languages—Kadazandusun, Iban, and Semai.
The MP, Datuk Wilfred Madius Tangau, who is also Secretary General of the ethnic organization United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (UPKO), questioned why the allocation last year for teaching these major languages, 289,325.88 Malaysia Ringgits ($US76,559.56), was dropped to RM212,552.30 ($US56,232.61) in this year’s budget. He argues that the Education Ministry should take a more proactive stance in promoting the ethnic languages of the major ethnic groups.
The response from the Education Ministry indicated that Iban, a major language of Sarawak, is currently taught at 504 schools to 55,087 students; Kadazandusun, a language family in Sabah, is taught in 288 schools to 19,783 pupils; and Semai, the language of the Orang Asli group of Peninsular Malaysia featured in this website, is taught in 21 schools to 1,461 students. Kadazandusun and Iban are much larger societies than the Semai, so it is noteworthy that the MP from Sabah included Semai among the three major ethnic languages of the country he champions.
Cultural preservation is important to both the Hutterites and the Semai. The Hutterites instruct their children in their own German-language schools in the colonies well before they start taking classes in the state (or provincial) English-language schools in order to ensure that their culture is preserved. The children associate their own culture with their own language, and they see English as the language and culture of the outsiders who teach in the non-Hutterite schools. The perception of danger by the colonies in South Dakota from giving their children open access to the Internet is not surprising. The Malaysian MP apparently also has the cultural preservation of minority ethnic peoples such as the Semai in mind with his moves in parliament.