The Out-of-School Schooling of Literacy

Eve Gregory & Charmian Kenner. Handbook of Early Childhood Literacy. Editor: Nigel Hall, Joanne Larson, Jackie Marsh. Sage Publication. 2003.

Across generations, families have always ensured that young children have access to important cultural practices through formal classes. Such classes have been particularly crucial to the lives of new immigrant families who are anxious both to preserve the language, literacy and religion of their heritage and to give young children extra tuition in the language and literacy of the new country. Out-of-school schooling thus encompasses a range of different ‘community’ classes: religious or liturgical, mother tongue language and literacy classes, and Saturday classes in the host language, often covering a range of subjects across the curriculum. This chapter assesses the value of such classes, in terms of cognitive, linguistic and social benefits accruing to young children in their early years in school. It then goes on to review studies describing a range of community classes in different countries, contrasting them with the learning taking place in mainstream schools.

The Out-of-School Schooling of Literacy

Six-year-old Maruf talks avidly about his Qur’anic class:

Maruf: There are eighty-three children.

AW (researcher): Eighty-three children in your Arabic class! And when do you go to that?

Maruf: Seven o’clock to nine o’clock.

AW: On?

Maruf: A night.

AW: Every night?

Maruf: Monday to Friday.

AW: Monday to Friday! You go for two hours every night! Aren’t you tired?

Maruf: I don’t feel tired.

AW: And are you the youngest then?

Maruf: Yes and I’m on the Qur’an.

AW: You’re on the Qur’an now?

Maruf: I’m on the last one.

Maruf explains that he is reading the last primer before starting the Qur’an. He goes on to explain more about the structure of his classes:

AW: How many teachers are there for eighty-three children?

Maruf: There’s two.

AW: Only two? Who are they?

Maruf: One is the Qur’an you know, all the Qur’an he can say it

without looking.

AW: He can? What’s his name?

Maruf: I don’t know. And one is he can he knows all the meanings.

AW: Does he? Does he tell you the meanings?

Maruf: Yes he does.

AW: So do you just read the Qur’an for two hours? Is that what you do?

Maruf: Yes, but I don’t sometimes, I talk sometimes.

AW: You don’t!

Maruf: I do.

(Gregory and Williams, 2000: 168-9)

The breadth of Maruf s learning reflects that of many young children working in classes established by their local communities throughout the world. This chapter examines existing research studies that describe this ‘out-of-school schooling’ in which young children engage. It deals only with formal classes taking place outside mainstream school hours, not the more informal ways in which families and communities might foster literacy at home. The classes described are often known as ‘community classes,’ which acts as a blanket term to cover mother-tongue (or national standard heritage language) classes, religious or liturgical classes, or supplementary classes or Saturday schools that may be in either the mother tongue or the host language (or a combination of both) and cover a range of curriculum areas. In different sections, the chapter addresses the following questions: what benefits might accrue to children spending many hours, like Maruf in the excerpt above, participating in this learning? How and why were these classes set up by different communities? What is their scope and what particular classes exist, taking the UK as an example? What is the nature of learning taking place? How different is it from mainstream school learning? Finally, how should mainstream teachers conceptualize this learning?

Bilingualism and Biliteracy: A Theoretical Framework

He who knows no other language does not truly know his own. (Goethe quoted by Vygotsky, in John-Steiner, 1985: 368)

Any discussion on mother-tongue classes needs to be situated in the literature relating to the advantages and/or disadvantages of bilingualism and biliteracy as well as that recognizing the inextricable link between language and culture (Vygotsky, 1962; Sapir, 1970). A considerable body of evidence has recently been collected pointing to the advanced development of specific types of linguistic and cognitive skills of bilinguals given certain conditions (summarized in Gregory and Kelly, 1992; Gregory, 1994a). Linguistic skills are expressed in a greater metalinguistic and analytic competence where attention can be focused on isolated components (Feldman and Shen, 1971; Ianco-Worrall, 1972; Ben-Zeev, 1977; Swain and Cummins, 1979; Bain and Yu, 1980; Hakuta, 1986; Arnberg, 1987). Cognitive advantages are most obvious in areas such as conservation of measurement, classification according to shape, colour or size, or manipulating and recognizing visual patterns (Peal and Lambert, 1962; Liedtke and Nelson, 1968; Ben-Zeev, 1977). The crucial question relating to the topic of this chapter is: what are the conditions whereby these advantages accrue?

As early as the1930s, when Western European research was pointing unambiguously to the negative effects of bilingualism (Jesperson, 1923; Saer, 1924; Goodenough, 1926), a very different direction was taken by Vygotsky (1935, trans. 1962).

Vygotsky’s thesis was that bilingualism enabled a child ‘to see his language as one particular system among many, to view its phenomena under more general categories [which] leads to awareness of his linguistic operations’ (1962: 110). It is through gaining control over two languages involving different lexical, syntactic and semantic systems, as well as possibly two different scripts, or, put simply, through learning that there are two ways of saying the same thing, that the individual gains an added analytical awareness, which, argued Vygotsky, contributes to a more conscious understanding of linguistic patterns in general. Later research studies in the West support Vygotsky’s thesis that this awareness is particularly enhanced through literacy learning in two languages (Verhoeven, 1987; Wagner, 1993; Gregory, 1996; Kenner, 1999; 2000 a&b; Rosowsky, 2001). The skills of young children who are becoming biliterate are examined elsewhere (see Kenner and Gregory, in this volume).

The key to gaining access to this consciousness is the effective mastery of two or more languages, whereby learning a second language is ‘added’ to the development of the first (Cummins, 1979; 1992). In contrast, for children learning in ‘subtractive’ contexts, where their first language is ‘submerged’ (Skutnabb-Kangas, 1984) and seen merely as an obstacle to be overcome, no cognitive or linguistic advantages are likely to accrue. Additionally, it is now widely argued that second-language learning runs parallel with first-language competence and that acquisition of a second language is, indeed, dependent upon the level of development in the first language (John-Steiner, 1985). This thesis has been termed the ‘linguistic interdependence principle’ which simply states that first-and second-language skills are interdependent.

A number of research studies also support the view of a common underlying cognitive proficiency across languages (Vygotsky, 1962; Cummins, 1981; Hamers and Blanc, 1989) which states that young children are capable of transferring cognitive functioning in their first language at home and in their community classes to their second language in school (Sneddon, 2000; Gregory, 1998; Kenner, 2000 a&b) as well as vice versa. Problems are likely to arise when no transfer is possible because a child has not acquired a certain cognitive functioning in the first language when beginning a second in school (Skutnabb-Kangas, 1984). A recognition of the principle of additive enrichment and common underlying proficiency would provide strong support for the benefits of community language and literacy classes in young children’s lives. Not only will young children become proficiently bilingual and biliterate, but strong evidence suggests that mother-tongue proficiency will enhance second-language learning and cognitive skills more generally in their mainstream schools.

Community Classes: A Historical Perspective

Aumie (aged 78) tells his childhood memories of Hebrew classes in London’s East End:

We would go five times a week. So you’d come home from school and then by five o’clock, we would be in Hebrew classes until 7, and, as far as I was concerned, by 8 o’clock I was back in the Synagogue choir for rehearsals twice a week You would learn phonetically, the twenty-four letters of the Hebrew alphabet we would learn letter by letter and then build up the words Learning Hebrew phonetically like this we were soon able to read quite quickly. We would read mechanically without understanding the words. (Gregory and Williams, 2000: 89)

There is a long history of community class teaching and learning in Britain; some studies are autobiographical (Rosen, 1999) or recount the memories of older citizens such as Aumie above. By the end of the nineteenth century, we know that 30 to 40 ‘chevras’ or religious associations had been established in the East End of London, which took over pastoral care of the poor as well as religious teaching (Fishman, 1979: 78). An important function of the chevras was to teach Hebrew and to prepare children (mostly boys) for their bar mitzvah. By 1891, there were some 200 of these classes in the East End with 2000 boys on their roll (Gregory and Williams, 2000: 55). The children attended in the morning before school, during their lunch break or after school. Their accommodation was sparse—usually one or two rooms of a small house—and materials consisted largely of religious and sacred texts to be learned. These classes were entirely separate from the mainstream school, although evidence is available that some state schools recognized the religious and cultural practices of their communities through holidays and the school kitchen etc. (Gregory and Williams, 2000).

During the first half of the twentieth century, community classes remained largely invisible to the wider host society. However, in 1976 came the publication of a highly controversial draft Directive from Europe. The draft Directive on the education of migrant children proposed the right of all migrant children in European Union states to tuition in their mother tongue. Although the Directive was almost totally rejected by most LEAs in Britain, it led to the setting up of the National Council for Mother Tongue Teaching (NCMTT), an active body campaigning for the recognition of mother-tongue teaching in mainstream schools. For a short period during the 1980s, following the MOTET (Mother Tongue to English Teaching Project) set up by the DES (Department of Education and Science, 1985), mother tongue teaching even entered mainstream primary classrooms in Bradford (Fitzpatrick, 1987) and Bedford (Tosi, 1984). Although these innovative bilingual education projects provided evidence that young children could operate as well in English in addition to performing better in maths and in their mother tongue than the control group, they were short-lived. Their death knell struck in 1985 with the publication of a major government report, the Swann Report, which stated clearly that the place for mother-tongue teaching lay firmly outside school and within the communities themselves. Any mother-tongue teaching in school should comprise only ‘emergency support’ until competence in English had been achieved. From that time on, community classes have largely retreated underground to become invisible.

Nevertheless, throughout Britain and particularly in London’s East End, community classes have continued to thrive until the present day. The East End Community School set up in 1977 by Mohammed Nurul Hoque and Anwara Begum is one such class in Tower Hamlets. Aiming to teach both English and Bengali language and literature (especially poetry), maths, Arabic, general science, history, geography, singing, needlework, knitting and other crafts and art, it expanded from 13 to 63 students in just 18 months. The school has long hours—from 4.30 to 6.30 p.m. every evening, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, and special activities on Sundays—which bear witness to its popularity. Ros, a 21-year-old graduate from Oxford, tells fondly of her memories of this school:

We were very lucky—although we didn’t think so at the time. We had the East End Community School organised by Nurul Hoque and Anwara Hussein. They are very well known in the community and I think they’ve done wonders for people of my generation. I have fluent Bengali with GCSE grade A and I owe it to them it was incredibly tiring because it was straight after school and we had to go and then we’d miss things like ‘Neighbours’ it was Monday to Friday like 4 till half past 6. We’d have Arabic on Friday and Saturday. It was more Bengali-based, which is why our Bengali is so much better than our Arabic. (Gregory and Williams, 2000: 132)

The Scope of Community Class Attendance in the UK

Maruf s description of his community class opening this chapter came as a surprise to his mainstream class teacher. She was unaware of the importance of Qur’anic class learning in his life, since he does not talk about it in school and, like many community classes, it remains invisible to both the mainstream school and the wider host community. In this section, we trace briefly literature detailing the scope of community classes on three levels: that documenting the number of classes overall in Britain; a closer analysis of provision made by three local education authorities during the 1980s; and studies revealing the scope of community class learning in individual children’s lives.

Recent work provides details of over 2000 community classes or schools in the UK (Kempadoo and Abdelrazak, 1999). As the compilers of this directory themselves admit, even this huge number represents only a fraction of existing provision made by communities for their children’s learning. As well as the more commonly recognized South Asian languages (Bengali, Gujarati, Panjabi, Urdu and Tamil), classes listed include numerous African languages (Tigrini, Yoruba, Swahili, Igbo, Twi, Somali) in addition to Cantonese, Kurdish, Irish, Swedish, Greek, Bosnian, Japanese etc. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where Maruf lives, has 59 classes listed, mostly for Bengali and Arabic, but also covering Somali, Panjabi, Cantonese, Vietnamese and Luganda as well as numerous classes offering a combination of a heritage language alongside English, maths and science. Classes in the London Borough of Brent serve as a fine illustration to the wealth of linguistic and cultural diversity in London, with classes in Albanian, Arabic, Gujarati, Bengali, Bosnian, Croatian, Greek, Hindi, Tamil, Irish, Welsh, Mandarin and Somali.

Although the directory provides an excellent bank of information on the scope of community classes in Britain, it leaves many questions unanswered as to the nature of the provision itself. Precisely this finer detail is given in a study by the Linguistic Minorities Project (LMP) (1985). This team of researchers investigated minority languages in three local education authorities (Bradford, Coventry and Haringey). Working together with the National Council for Mother Tongue Teaching, they not only documented the scope of individual community classes in each area, but provided information on the length of time each class had been in existence, the nature of funding, the take-up of provision as well as the age of pupils and their regularity of attendance. Although the researchers stressed the difficulties in collecting trustworthy evidence, the data collected was impressive, showing many classes to be long-established with a large group of regular attenders in spite of lack of local education authority funding. Their questionnaire also attempted to measure the scope of attendance at different classes. It began to highlight the long hours (between 5 and 14) spent per week by children in Qur’anic classes.

However, the survey conducted by the Linguistic Minorities Project team could not show what these apparently long hours might look like in the lives of individual children. This level of detail has been left to ethnographic studies of the literacy lives of small groups of families and their young children. Although some studies document the home literacies of young bilingual children (Minns, 1990) and others show the extent of attendance of older children at community classes (Sneddon, 2000; Saxena, 2000; Rosowsky, 2001), few studies focus on the formal out-of-school learning of young children in Britain. However, there is convincing evidence from longitudinal studies that children as young as six also spend up to 11 hours per week in mother tongue and religious classes (Gregory, 1994b; 1996; Gregory and Williams, 2000; Rashid and Gregory, 1997; Robertson, 1997). These studies not only reveal the scope of community class learning in young children’s lives, but go on to outline the significant impact such learning might have on their work in mainstream classes. We discuss more closely the nature of this learning in the section following.

Other Worlds of Learning

The class takes place in a neighbour’s front room. About 30 children of all ages line the walls like a human square, seated with their raiel (a beautifully carved wooden stand upon which to place the Qur’an or the initial primers) in front of them. There is a loud hum as they all chant their individual practice piece. Their elderly teacher whom the children affectionately call ‘nanna’ (grandfather) holds a bamboo cane which he uses only lightly as if symbolically. ‘These children need discipline, or they will climb the sky!’ Like many of the children, he (Louthfur) rocks to and fro to the sound of the voices. Children do this because they are encouraged to develop a harmonious voice; they are told Allah listens to his servants and is pleased if time is taken to make the verse sound meaningful. The old man’s wife takes children who have already started the Qur’an into a separate room so she can hear the recitations clearly. She comments, ‘English is important for this life. But Arabic is required for the life hereafter which is eternal! Therefore, it must be given the greatest importance Or else, how can our children know?’ (Rashid, in Gregory, 1996: 41)

During the last two decades of the twentieth century, ethnographic studies began to provide teachers and researchers with entry into the worlds of community classes. Few such studies existed in the UK before 1990, although longitudinal work conducted in Liberia (Scribner and Cole, 1981), Iran (Street, 1984) and Morocco (Wagner et al., 1986) was beginning to indicate the existence of multiple language and literacy practices taking place in both adults’ and young children’s lives. This section examines briefly ethnographic studies inviting outsiders into the community classes of young children in three contexts: African-American children in a north-eastern US state; Samoan American children; and Bangladeshi British children in Spitalfields, East London. We extract patterns of similarity and difference in these studies as well as with mainstream classrooms.

Both Heath (1983) and Anderson and Stokes (1984) stressed the importance of Bible reading in the lives of African-American communities but did not follow the children into their religious classes. Taking up these findings, Zinsser (1986) provides a finely tuned analysis of the classes of four-and five-year-old pre-primary children attending two fundamentalist (evangelical) Sunday schools (termed Bible classes). Teachers in these classes were non-professionals, largely mothers of children attending the Sunday school. Important to members of this church was the belief that the Bible was the actual word of God to be taken literally, word for word, rather than more freely, as in other Protestant churches. Through their Bible classes, argues Zinsser, young children learned and were taught a great deal about literacy. The teaching of Biblical texts itself was highly structured and followed tight routines and rituals. Children learned through listening carefully:

Teacher: Does everybody have their listening ears on today?

(Children place their hands on their ears and turn them as though turning knobs.) (Zinsser, 1986: 60)

By memorization:

Teacher: Every time you have a problem, the Lord can help remind you of memory verses—of verses in the Bible. And that is how you can make the devil run away from you. (1986: 61)

By singing:

  • The B-I-B-L-E
  • Yes, that’s the book for me!
  • I stand alone on the word of God
  • The Bible! (holding Bible aloft) (1986: 62)

And by answering questions directly from the Bible:

Teacher: What have we been learning about?

Children: (chorus) God!

Teacher: God and his son Jesus. (1986: 63)

Crucially, however, children were being taught more than reciting from the Bible and Bible stories. They were becoming familiar with books as a source of important textual material; they were learning about the role of turn taking in learning to read as well as forms of questions and answers and contextualization cues. In a wider sense, they were being taught the importance of the Bible as a source of divine inspiration and knowledge:

Mother: (to daughter) Does David have his Bible?

Daughter: (who is carrying her Bible) He’d better!

Mother: Rachel, go back and look. It was right on top of Mommy’s Bible. (1986: 57)

These Bible classes form a very special type of ‘community class’ in which young children are being ‘schooled,’ not just in literacy particularly and learning more generally, but in becoming worthy and valuable citizens of their community. Mother tongue teaching is not, however, an issue here. This is taken up in different ways in the two ethnographic studies described below.

For the Bangladeshi British community in East London, mother tongue learning is seen as crucial to cultural and identity maintenance. The War of Independence with West Pakistan in 1971 heralded a new beginning for Bangladesh, since victory elevated the language to national status. Pride in Bengali poetry and literature is reflected in the numerous bookshops in Brick Lane (centre of the community in East London). On a more practical level, literacy in Bengali is the means of maintaining contact between children in Britain and their relatives back home. Literacy is also crucial to have access to any form of literature from the heritage country, since the Bangladeshi British community speak Sylheti, a dialect1 of Bengali without a written form.

Unlike the Bible classes in the congregationalist church, Bengali lessons are focused primarily on the learning of language and literacy; sometimes, indeed, they cover other curriculum areas such as maths and history. They are also held in a variety of different premises, ranging from purpose-built schools to families’ living rooms. The particular class referred to below is long established and well organized:

Situated behind Petticoat Lane Market, this Bengali school is funded through the voluntary sector. It comprises two mobile rooms, the walls bare except for a few information posters made by the children. The room I enter has several rows of desks at which children sit quietly—some writing, others practising words under their breath. At the beginning, the teacher sits in front of the room, then starts to walk around. The children who are mumbling are practising the previous day’s work and as the teacher passes around, the voice of the child he is listening to is momentarily amplified so that the teacher can correct if necessary before moving on to the next. Later the children read, some at a fast pace whilst others read with careful deliberation. When the teacher reaches the child I have come to observe, she reads confidently and eloquently and the few mistakes she makes are firmly corrected. Parts that are not understood are explained briefly in Sylheti and the lesson continues in this way to the end. (Rashid, in Gregory, 1997)

The younger children learn by individual tuition whereby teachers follow the pattern of ‘demonstration/practice/test’:

Teacher: K, KO, GO

Nazma: (repeats)

Teacher: Go on, read it.

Nazma: (mutters quietly)

Teacher: Read it loudly.

Nazma: (quietly says the alphabet)

Teacher: Say it again.

Nazma: (repeats the letters)

Teacher: Not like that, like this. (stresses the different inflections of the letters)

Nazma: (quietly repeats)

Teacher: Good. What next?

Nazma: (continues)

Teacher: Which one is ‘Dho’?

Nazma: This one.

Teacher: Then carry on. No, say it like this ‘Pho.’

(Gregory, 1996: 35-6)

Interestingly, the primers used in Bengali classes are mostly imported from Bangladesh, assume a linguistic and cultural familiarity with the text and illustrations by the children, and make no allowances for those who may never have left Britain. The children’s parents are generally comfortable with these, since they may well have used the books for their own literacy learning. Nevertheless, Figure 7.1 shows how strange both illustration and text might be for young Bangladeshi British children.

The text rhymes in Bengali and reads: ‘The day has gone; put the ducks and chickens in the house; give grandmother her medicine. In auntie’s hand there is some rice-pudding; which is very sweet to eat; inside there are different sweet-cakes’ (the Bengali text goes on to name a few). Both illustration and text assume a knowledge not just of the language, but of cultural practices (food etc.), simple village life and the extended family living together and caring for each other. All of these might be unknown in the host country but provide a link with the family’s heritage.

Community classes may well combine religious practices with formal tuition of the heritage language. Where children are already second-or even third-generation immigrants, it is important to realize that this may no longer be the mother tongue. This is the situation described by Duranti et al. (1995) in their detailed analysis of ‘Change and tradition in literacy instruction in a Samoan American community.’ Currently more than 90,000 ethnic Samoans live in California, most born and raised there. Local communities view the setting up of a Samoan church as a priority, an important component of which is the religious school, where, like in a Samoan village, very young children are introduced to the Samoan alphabet and numbers. The study presented draws its data from the Samoan Congregational Church in Los Angeles, a church which, like others in the community, provides daily contact to all generations for the preservation of what Samoan parents and grandparents refer to as the ‘Samoan way of life.’ Crucially, the learning of literacy is set within cultural events such as weddings, funerals and other rites of passage for which special clothes are worn and traditional oratory can be heard. Children sing Christian songs in both languages with traditional Samoan body movements. In this manner, English code interfaces with Samoan expressive gesture, although the church service is almost entirely in Samoan.

In their classes, children aged five and younger are expected to recite and master the very same Pi Tautau (letter, sound, number and word chart) used in pastors’ schools throughout the Samoan islands. At first glance, this is what the children seem to achieve, through the method of word-by-word repetition after the teacher. However, the researchers go on to point out ways in which the learning reveals important discontinuities with its village counterpart. Crucially, unlike mother tongue Samoan speakers, American Samoan children have only rudimentary knowledge of Samoan when they begin learning to read the language. Additionally, some of their teachers might not be fluent in the language themselves. A consequence of this is that some children are able to correct the teacher—a practice that would be unthinkable in Samoa. As a result of this linguistic insecurity by both children and teachers, only the actual Pi Tautau recitation takes place in Samoan. Both the introduction and any explanations are given in English. Thus, whereas in Samoa the Pi Tautau is used only to teach reading, in California it is used to teach the language as well.

Paradoxically, then, reading the Pi Tautau serves a dual function both as an initiator into the traditional religious and linguistic heritage of the Samoan people and as an object of Westernization. In California, the practice is seen as a powerful symbol of Samoan culture; in village Samoa, it would be viewed as predominantly an Anglophile practice. In California, reading the Pi Tautau is seen as part of a wider effort to bolster Samoan identity. Yet its Westernization is revealed through both the objects depicted in the chart (Coca-Cola bottles and ocean liners) and the methods of teaching. Also, the didactic methods customary in Samoa are complemented by an individualized child-centred approach whereby peers help each other. This study, therefore, reveals the syncretism of practices taking place in community classes where children and their families have two ‘homes.’ By the mid twenty-first century, this situation will be common for many children throughout the world. Pi Tautau may, therefore, be indicative of many community classes throughout the world as immigrants blend different worlds, syncretizing new and old identities in their children’s learning.

Although the community classes outlined above take place in different parts of the world and are quite different in the language and culture they are promoting, they share certain key features. First, all implicitly teach not just a language, literacy or religion, but a whole way of life. Importantly, in the last two examples, this way of life cannot directly replicate that of the country of origin, but will syncretize the new and the old. Bangladeshi British teachers need to give children individual attention, whereas they would traditionally engage in whole-class teaching, since classes usually have pupils from a variety of ages and stages. Learning, then, takes place through observation of older classmates. Samoan American teachers use English to explain the text and are also adopting more child-centred approaches. Secondly, all the above studies refer to the classroom as a safe ‘haven’—a meeting-place where ‘members’ share common practices and expectations. Thirdly, teachers in all these classes have high expectations for their pupils, never doubting their ability to succeed. Finally, in all these classes, learning takes place within a very definite and familiar structure, using languages, routines and rituals that have been passed down across generations. Parents will not feel lost and excluded when they enter these classrooms but will immediately feel a part of the learning taking place.


Millions of new urban settlers around the world are determined to preserve their original languages in addition to acquiring the languages of their new countries. In the contemporary world, with greater intensity of people movement and with rapid changes in communication, it has become much easier for people to maintain and develop cultural and family ties across diasporas. That, in turn, is playing an important part in the formation of new global cultures. (Gurnah, 2000: 234)

The argument is gaining ground that people with access to different languages, cultural and religious practices have not just funds of knowledge but a range of choices that are inaccessible to monolinguals. During the last two decades of the twentieth century, recognition was finally given to the importance of indigenous languages in countries colonized or conquered by those more powerful. Initial literacy programmes in indigenous languages have been integrated into mainstream classrooms in Mexico, Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru and New Zealand. In Mexico, initial literacy textbooks have been translated into 36 languages—each reflecting families in traditional dress and engaged in appropriate work practices (SEP, 1993). In New Zealand (Aotearoa in Maori), there has been a resurgence of te reo and nga tikanga (Maori language and culture) (Ministry of Education, 1996). In his work on transnational media and Turkish migrants in Europe, Robbins (2001) argues for the use of satellite TV as providing people with different ‘cultural spaces’ within which they can both think and have experiences. In similar ways, community classes may provide young children with different cultural and linguistic spaces where they can develop cognitive, cultural and linguistic flexibility with which to tackle the world. It is this capacity to operate across cultures, to think across and through different rituals, routines and languages, that should give children confidence to deal with their future worlds.