Agora-SHS Ateliers gouvernance et recherche Appliquée
Nouméa, Thursday 11 July 2024

Sciences Sociales Nouvelle Calédonie Sciences Humaines

Seminar objectives

Since 2006, New Caledonia has been progressively extending the teaching of Kanak languages and culture throughout primary schools. New Caledonian programmes also envisage an introduction to the languages of the Asia-Pacific region. In February 2010, the country launched the “Great Debate on the Future of the New Caledonian School”, in which one of the questions is the recognition of student diversity. This seminar will provide a double insight into the place of Oceanian languages and of early bilingualism in the educational context.

Firstly, participants will be presented with an interim assessment of the research programme “École plurilingue Outremer” ( This research-action, which began in 2009 and should be completed in 2011, is financed by the French Research Agency and its objective is to evaluate the teaching programmes in languages of origin in primary schools in New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Guyana. The psycholinguistic results obtained after two sessions of evaluation, as well as the first results from the sociolinguistic surveys, will be presented by the researchers of the programme, whose principal co-ordinator is Isabelle Nocus, lecturer in Developmental Psycholinguistics at the University of Nantes.

Secondly, the seminar will allow the experiences of the French collectivities of the Pacific to be compared with those of the Anglophone communities of the region, who are confronted with the same questions. Can the multilingual experience be shared throughout Oceania? Are there common lessons emerging that might be useful for seminar participants? The bilingual programmes of New Caledonia and French Polynesia, a special feature of which is their association with evaluation methods based on the two complementary perspectives of psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics, can offer useful lessons to their neighbours. Reciprocally, the diversity of programmes and the experience acquired by the other countries of the region can shed light on the New Caledonian and French Polynesian situations. Particularly the bilingual programmes of New Zealand, with the various situations of bilingual teaching English / Maori, English / Samoan, English / Tongan.

The cases of the Samoan and Tongan languages in their own native land also are quite importants: the local Polynesian language is the everyday language of communication in the majority of families, while English is compulsory for those who intend to enter higher education (overseas or in the country), and for those who remain in the country but aspire to highly qualified jobs. Here it is not a question of defending the local language which may be under threat, but rather of seeing ways in which, by not focusing exclusively on local social and cultural life, the teaching of the local language might also enable the teaching of English to benefit from progress made by students in their own language.

Other than the cases of Samoa and Tonga, the general question of conflict between, or, conversely, the value added in the teaching of the local language(s) and the teaching of international languages concerns all of the countries of the Pacific. Vanuatu, for exemple, has some of the highest levels of linguistic diversity in proportion to the number of inhabitants. It will be extremely valuable to hear of its experience, as it will be extremely valuable for this country to hear of the experiences in French Polynesia and New Caledonia, which have more than one single regional language; with the difference, however, that in French Polynesia, Tahitian is pre-eminent in relation to the other local languages, making French Polynesia closer to the cases of Samoa and Tonga, while in New Caledonia, the linguistic diversity is clearly more marked. Finally, it is desirable for examples concerning the Aboriginal communities of Australia to be included in this dialogue, even if the situation there is different again (large geographic and linguistic dispersion, little usage of local languages for administrative life and writing, etc).

An important emphasis will thus be given to the comparative dimension and to exchange. The communities of the Pacific, rich in their double anchorage (Oceanian and Western), have the opportunity today to forge a regional space which respects the diversity of languages and cultures. A space where, to paraphrase the Noumea Accord, Oceanian languages are, with French and English, the languages of education and culture.

This is the reason why this seminar will coincide with the Forum de la Francophonie, to illustrate a dynamic of openness to the world that seeks to reconcile the Francophone space with linguistic diversity and its preservation. It will also be about reflecting upon the teaching of French within a coherent and finalised plurilingual project, and articulated with the teaching of languages of origin and English.

In the end, it is important to remember that the question of plurilingualism transcends (ethno)linguistic and pedagogical frameworks: opening the school to diverse cultural references modifies the educational space, allowing it to be thought of not only as a space of transmission, but also a space of civilisation, in the sense used by Lévi-Strauss, that is, as a space for the co-existence of cultures.

This way a project for society is also developed, the foundations of which were laid in the Matignon and Noumea Accords.

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