Theses Doctoral

National Languages, Multilingual Education, and the Self-proclaimed "Militants" for Change in Senegal

Iwasaki, Erina

Education in Senegal has since Independence in 1960 relied on French, the language of the colonizer and a foreign language for most Senegalese learners. In Senegal, national languages refer to African languages, which are not officially enacted as languages of instruction in formal schooling in comparison to French, the former colonial and current official language. However, in 2015, the Ministry of Education adopted a bilingual education policy based on national (Senegalese) languages. This is due in no small part to the advocacy work of Senegalese national language activists or militants (strong advocates in French, drawing on a political connotation).

This study looks at these self-proclaimed militants’ lived experiences with national languages and education, the extent of their multi-generational work and network, and their influence in shaping the language-in-education policy landscape at what appears to be a moment of “critical juncture” with the adoption of a bilingual education policy within the Ministry of National Education.

A qualitative case study, it draws on in-depth interviews with these militants, historical and policy document analysis, and participant-observations to answer the following question: “How and why have self-proclaimed militants advocated for the use of national languages in the Senegalese educational system since the 1950s, and what are their current contributions at this critical moment in possible language-in-education policy change?”

Situated in a sociocultural framework, this study draws on Walter Mignolo’s (1991) decolonial theory of “border thinking” and Senegalese decolonial authors to amplify the voices, innovations, and contributions of Senegalese bi-/multilingual education researchers, practitioners, and advocates. Decolonizing and delinking knowledge is particularly important in the field of bi-/multilingual education and literacy as research and practice are often exported from the Global North to Global South through international development and aid programs, when in fact, contexts of the Global North would gain more in learning from models of the Global South. In the context of Senegal, the militants’ engagement in bilingual education is an act of self-determination and sovereignty, to move away from inherited and internalized patterns of colonial education and at the same time navigate the dynamics of aid and development in education, in particular, international donor agencies agendas and funding mechanisms.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Comparative and International Education
Thesis Advisors
Limerick, Nicholas
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 27, 2022