Ethnic Identity and Education in the "New Nepal:" An Ethnographically-oriented Study of Limbu "Mother Tongue" Schooling

Hakala, Ingrid, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Hoffman, Diane, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the intersection of the ascendent janajati [‘indigenous nationalities,’ ethnic communities] movement with “mother tongue” educational policy and planning in the context of post-conflict, democratizing Nepal. The process of inquiry was centered upon the supplementary Limbu-language primary-level program of Anipaan, developed and promoted by the indigenous people’s organization advocating on behalf the Limbu ethnic community, the Kirat Yakthung Chumlung (KYC), and integrated into local government-run schools. Within a conceptual framework provided by processualist theories of ethnic identity and anthropological approaches to the study of “educational policy as practice,” this study addressed research questions relating to the decision- and meaning-making processes and perspectives of individuals associated with the Anipaan program, ranging from ethnic activists to local educators, students, and community members. The methodology of ethnography oriented the research design, involving multiple sites of research, sets of participants, and methods (interviews, observations, participant observations, and document analyses). For members of the KYC and affiliated Limbu activists, the policy of the Anipaan program held both symbolic and practical importance. The Limbu language program represented a valuable avenue by which the organization, as advocates for the greater Limbu community, engaged in addressing significant political, cultural, and social matters and debates. As such, support of “mother tongue”-based educational policy related to the KYC’s explicit aims of promoting upliftment of ethnic persons and redressing past and current “problems;” implicitly, the program also provided an important discursive context for the re-assertion of Limbu ethno-nationalism and an opportunity to authoritatively define the nature of Limbu ethnic identity itself through production of the curriculum’s pedagogical texts. When integrated into the curriculum of one particular government school in far eastern Nepal, Anipaan lessons led to an ambiguous, contextually-defined set of outcomes and meanings for those implementing and experiencing it, simultaneously promoting and marginalizing Limbu language in practice. Local individuals participated in and responded to the practice of Anipaan by drawing upon their own interconnected meanings and understandings of education and schooling, place, language, aspiration, and identity.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Nepal, ethnic identity, education, policy
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