Learning Guna on the Radio

When we talk about remote or distance learning, we often think of things like Zoom meetings, recorded lectures or Canvas assignments, but a group of teachers from Panama’s Indigenous Guna community is adding another dimension to the term, broadcasting lessons over the country’s public radio system. According to a report from La Prensa Latina, the lessons are broadcast Monday through Friday and aim to teach the Guna language to young heritage learners up until around the equivalent of third grade.
In the Guna Yala province of Panama, classes are typically taught exclusively in the Guna language (also commonly referred to as Kuna and Dulegaya); however, a recent wave of lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic required a shift to remote learning through the end of June 2021. The teachers settled on radio as a method of remote instruction because many Guna people live in remote areas of the country, where internet and television are inaccessible and radio broadcasts are the only form of easily accessed electronic communication.
Currently, twelve teachers broadcast the Guna lessons on AM and FM radio from Panama’s State Radio and Television System (SERTV) studio in Panama City, the nation’s capital. The lessons are also recorded so that students can find the classes on social media later in the day if they have access to the internet from their homes.
The Guna language is spoken by around 60,000 people in Panama and Colombia and is fairly robust within Panama due to the fact that the people were granted some level of cultural autonomy in the early 1900s after the Tule Revolution. After the Ngäbere language, Guna is the second most widely spoken Indigenous language in Panama.
Still, Spanish is the only officially recognized language at a national level within Panama, and Guna students often must learn Spanish alongside their native language. One teacher told La Prensa Latina that interest in the language is steadily growing within the country and that their program has generated significant engagement on social media. Due to the Guna program’s success, SERTV plans to expand its reach and broadcast classes in other Indigenous languages of the country. Andrew Warner


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