07 SES 03 B, Language and Multilingualism
In this presentation, I share initial findings from an ongoing research project on the reshaping and reimagining of kindergarten space in Estonia to promote expanded language learning opportunities and integration. Drawing on Soviet post-colonial theories (Annus, 2018; Silova, et al., 2017), I consider the pliability of pre-primary space and policy in Estonia. I propose that a process“room making” is underway in Estonia in which a distinctive space--both materially and discursively—is created to advance particular language policies and practices. Room making is deliberate and necessitates sharing—be it coerced, mandated or voluntary—in order to transform previously designated space from the Soviet to the current era.
A new national initiative in Estonia to develop and support voluntary two-way immersion (TWI), rolled out in the 2015-2016, showcases the ways schools, even at the pre-primary level, can be reimagined as spaces that intentionally bring together segregated populations and expand learning opportunities in new ways. This immersion effort allowed for several local governments to restructure and fund public pre-primary education to create Estonian-Russian TWI kindergarten classes (serving children ages 3-6). It is clear that TWI, also known as dual-language education, offers unique integrative potential by putting both languages spoken in children’s homes on an equal footing in the service of full bilingualism, multicultural learning, and social cohesion. But we still know very little about how certain groups and communities come to propose it, adopt it, and promote it. In addition, how do kindergarten directors and teachers reimagine these pre-primary institutions all of which were founded in the Soviet era as places to promote new language-learning ends? The potential of TWI for broader adoption, both in Estonia and beyond, is rooted as much in the proven effectiveness of its methods as the policy landscapes that make settings conducive, or unreceptive, to adopting TWI.
This presentation illuminates the ways key policy actors—government officials, kindergarten directors, teachers, and parents--undertake TWI and participate in it, and sheds light on the general policy conditions and societal circumstances that allow it to flourish. I will share initial findings from an ongoing research project that aims to advance the growing understandings of space both as a socio-cultural process of schooling (Horton and Kraftl, 2014) and as a key aspect of language policy. Central to this research is the concept, I develop and label, “room making”—the distinctive space created both materially and discursively to advance particular language policies and practices. Room making is deliberate and necessitates sharing—be it coerced, mandated or voluntary—in order to transform previously occupied or designated space. The material aspect of the room-making concept draws attention to the acting on and acting in physical environments like kindergartens. The discursive part of this concept underscores the ways policy actors bend, adapt, and reshape existing language policies to craft more inclusive ones. Both material and discursive room-making necessitates imagination, power-sharing, and adaptability among those initiating the change and those who become part of the change.
This multi-sited ethnographic project was carried out from January-July 2018 in Estonia. I adopted a vertical-case study approach to the research, which considers the ways various “social sites and social actors” are connected across locations (Bartlett & Vavrus, 2014, p. 132). Using this approach, I conducted research in four cities—Pärnu, Tapa, Tallinn & Tartu--and in multiple institutions in each locations (e.g., the TWI kindergarten, local government offices, National Ministry of Education, and the government-funded immersion office, Innove). At each of the sites, I conducted semi-structured interviews with administrators (especially the kindergarten director and curriculum coordinator), and teachers (both the Russian-language and the Estonian-language educators and the classroom assistant). All interviews were carried out in the language of choice of the interviewee (i.e., Estonian, Russian or English); I served as the PI and had the requisite research experience and language skills to conduct all interviews. I also interviewed key local and national government officials directly involved in the development, diffusion, and support for pre-primary TWI in Estonia including the kindergarten immersion coordinator at Innove, the Minister of Education, and city government officials. In addition to these interviews, I observed and took field notes at all faculty meetings, teacher-parent meetings, teacher planning meetings, and monthly celebrations (e.g., regular assemblies and class parties). In the course of my observations, I was particularly attentive to administrators’ and teachers’ language choices, the interaction between the Estonian- and Russian-speaking parents, and the way TWI played out in dynamic, multilingual pre-primary settings. Finally, in each of the cities, I used the local archives and historical collections housed at the city (and county) libraries and kindergartens to investigate the development of the pre-kindergarten-12th grade network, the history of the community, and local political and social forces leading to the support for TWI. Throughout my field research, I coded data (i.e., interview transcriptions, my fieldnotes, and archival documents) and looked for site-specific and common meanings for participation in TWI. Key to my analysis wasa thorough description of each of the four TWI sites and attention to patterns that arise in the data. I member checked my tentative conclusions with key policy actors in each site through individual and group contact.
The research suggests powerful shifts in pre-primary schooling across the country largely connected with the reimagining and reconfiguring of space from the Soviet to the current E.U-era in Estonia. I focus on the ways the transformation of kindergarten space particularly over the last couple years of the TWI-program development intends to distribute language-learning opportunities across the Russian- and Estonian-speaking populations more equitably and effectively. I highlight a selection of findings from each level clustered around themes of cooperation (internationally); choice, competition, change, and continuity (city-level); inclusiveness and respect (school-level); and transformation and distinction (classroom-level). Critical spatial consciousness helps to reveal several points. First, children are locked into certain limited language-learning opportunities and inequalities based on the space they occupy in the country, the city, and the kindergarten Second, educational equity, in terms of access to language-learning possibilities, is constituted by historic and contemporary opportunities and constraints outside as well as inside the educational system. That said, Soviet-era resources--architecture, teacher multilingualism, schedules—can be redirected for new policies. Third, policy makers need to recognize the need for extra attention and resources to support the fragile ecologies of TWI. They won’t develop or be sustained naturally. Both sustained and transformed ecologies require deliberate, intentional policy support.
Annus, E. (2018) Soviet postcolonial studies: a view from the Baltic borderlands. London: Routledge. Bartlett, L., & Vavrus, F. (2014). Transversing the vertical case study: a methodological approach to studies of educational policy as practice. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 45(2), 131-147. Horton, J. & Kraftl, P. (2014). Cultural geographies: an introduction. Abingdon, UK: Routledge. Silova, I., Millei, Z. & Piattoeva, N. (2017) Interrupting the coloniality of knowledge and being in comparative education: post-socialist and post-colonial dialogues after the Cold War. Comparative Education Review, 61(S1) (May 2017 Supplement), S74-S102.
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