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An international project to produce ICT-supported educational materials in American indigenous languages

The project is to be developed by the UPM’s School of Computing and applied by Mexico’s Instituto Politécnica Nacional

2 February 2009. The Validation and Business Applications Group at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid’s School of Computing and Mexico’s Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN) have set up the CONEDUC project. CONEDUC is designed to produce ICT-supported educational contents in indigenous languages.

As part of the project, which will last from January to November 2009, computational linguistics technologies developed at the UPM’s School of Computing are to be used to produce educational materials capable of supporting the education of indigenous populations in their native languages. A team in Mexico is to be trained, to which knowledge and systems developed at the UPM are to be transferred.

The UPM’s School of Computing Spanish research team led by Jesús Cardeñosa is the Spanish language representative of the United Nations University UNL programme in support of multilinguism on the Internet. It has developed transferable technologies and methods for these purposes over recent years.

The plan is to transfer the technology to develop and adapt the UNL system components to the idiosyncrasies of the Spanish language in Mexico. This technology transfer should bring minority languages onboard the UNL programme. Although of no commercial interest, these languages are spoken by large sectors of the Mexican population and block their access to education.

At the end of the project, which has an €18,200 budget, the Mexican partner will have:

• A lexical database transferred from the UPM’s School of Computing. This will be the building block for creating and maintaining standard format indigenous language dictionaries.

• A seed dictionary of universal words (lexical resources) supporting the creation of resources in indigenous languages and Mexican Spanish.

• A human team thoroughly trained in both the methods and the process and technologies and able to permanently support the follow-on activities.

• A set of quick reference technical documents on the above methods.

• UNL technology content editor software (under a UPM School of Computing use licence)

• Indigenous languages content generator software (under a UPM School of Computing use licence)

Unesco Chair

This project works toward the global objectives of the UNESCO chair (TECLIN). Still in the process of being set up, TECLIN is coordinated by the UPM’s School of Computing and partnered by IPN. Its objectives are to improve the educational conditions of indigenous child populations by creating contents in their native languages.

A number of experiences back this approach. In Canada, for example, absenteeism among the Indian or Inuit communities was reduced to zero by merely using their mother tongue in schools. Also educational attainment increased to the point where members of their communities entered higher education as bilingual students.