Mother Tongue Literacy Matters: the Role of Papiamento in Advanced Bilingual Reading Education in the Dutch Caribbean

Wednesday 12 June 2024, 4:30 pm
PhD candidate
M. van der Elst-Koeiman
Prof. dr. L.T.W. Verhoeven, Prof. dr. P.C.J. Segers, Prof. dr. R. Severing (University of Curaçao)

In this PhD thesis, the author investigates the variation in the bilingual reading development of children in the later years of primary education on the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. On these islands, most children have as their mother tongue the Spanish-Portuguese-based creole language Papiamentu, while Dutch, the colonial language and the children's second language (L2), is dominant within the school system. Since the introduction of Papiamentu in the early 21st century, there has been little research into its effects on reading development.

The results of this PhD thesis highlight the importance of the mother tongue in the development of bilingual reading instruction. Regarding differences in proficiency between L1 Papiamentu and L2 Dutch, pupils generally showed higher language and comprehension skills in L1 Papiamentu compared to L2 Dutch, while also having more positive attitudes towards L1 compared to L2. The initial language of literacy was found to be relevant for reading comprehension in L2. This research study also records the impact of various cognitive-linguistic factors on bilingual reading development. Finally, the study demonstrates transfer between L1 Papiamentu and L2 Dutch reading skills.

Melissa van der Elst-Koeiman (Curaçao, 1993) completed her pre-university education at the Peter Stuyvesant College in Willemstad, Curaçao, in 2011. She then left for the Netherlands to study Sociology at the University of Amsterdam. Her interest in social inequality led her to choose the ‘Education, stratification, and lifetime’ specialisation within her Bachelor's programme. After obtaining her Bachelor's degree in Sociology, Melissa continued her studies with a Master's degree in Sociology, with a thesis on first generation highly-educated citizens in the Netherlands. She also completed a Master’s degree in Educational Science, conducting research on the implementation of bilingual education in primary education in Curaçao. In 2017, Melissa began working on her PhD project, studying the bilingual reading development of children from Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao in the later years of primary education. Since September 2023, Melissa has worked as a Project Leader for Language Policy at Scholengemeenschap Bonaire (Bonaire School Community).