In a world where nearly 40% of the population lack access to education in their own language, the 2016 documentary film titled Colours of the Alphabet asks: “Does the future have to be in English?”
The mother tongue of most of the students in the classroom is Soli, but Soli is not a common language in Zambia, and teachers usually do not know it. Before children begin learning to read, write, and count, they must master official English. Confusing situations arise, showing how many important things may easily be lost in translation. There are some 70 languages in Zambia, so the vast majority of pupils have the same problem.
“Their struggle to learn was both surprisingly universal and absurdly anachronistic. Not learning in their mother tongue represents a huge obstacle for the vast majority of them, as it does for millions of others around the world,” says movie director Alastair Cole.
Following three primary school children in their first year of state education, Alastair Cole’s feature film debut is an inspiring, bittersweet story about how communication, national identity, and language are critical to the development of our children – with multi-coloured subtitles to reflect the multilingual reality in the classroom.
The movie was screened at this year’s One World Festival in Prague. “I hope our film will help people to understand the importance of mother-tongue education and remind people of the shared ambitions of parents across the world for their children,” he adds.
It is estimated that education in non-mother tongues is an issue that affects 2.3 billion people across the world – and while there are laughs along the way, Cole’s film brilliantly explores the real issues this causes children in learning about the world around them.
“Colours of the Alphabet takes audiences on a journey to an Africa rarely seen on the big or small screen, where Zambian parents have exactly the same ambitions as British parents, but where their children innocently struggle to make sense of an education system that forces them to learn through English,” says Nick Higgins, producer of the movie.
The movie had its world premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival 2016, and following a sellout launch received considerable praise from the public and press alike for its lyrical beauty and profound message. The Glasgow Film Festival reviewed it as a “bittersweet documentary about language, communication, and national identity.”
“We think the film will highlight a serious global problem, and we relish the prospect of using it to bring about a real, tangible change in the lives of the children who feature in it,” Higgins adds.
Colours of the Alphabet was developed with support from Creative Scotland’s lottery fund, the INTERDOC, and the European Documentary Network’s Twelve for the Future development programmes, and Berlinale Talents.