The Kulu Language Institute’s curriculum is based on a simple pedagogical principle–move from what students know to what they do not know. This approach represented a radical departure from conventional schooling in Solomon Islands where young children are expected to learn in English, a language they do not understand.
A striking feature of the Kulu teaching materials is the way it stretches the meaning of ordinary words in the language to describe the structure of the language. When he began writing materials, Zobule used familiar English terms like ‘consonant,’ ‘vowel,’ ‘noun,’ and ‘verb.’ Tengana and others teaching in Saevuke village pushed Zobule to come up with terms that people who had very little English and had not gone to school could understand. Together, they came up with ovovele rereko (‘woman sound’) for consonant and ovovele koburu (‘child letter’) for vowel. Together in the consonant-vowel syllables that are characteristic of this letter, they become a tamatina leta (‘mother-and-child letter’). Dipthongs that bring two vowels together are koburu tamatasi (‘children [who are] siblings’), who sit down side by side as one would sit together in a canoe. By playing on an intuitive understanding of family relationships, such terms convey relationships between vowels and consonants in Luqa and Kubokota.
Such an approach runs through the materials, especially the book that most students agree is the most challenging of the corpus, Book 2, “The structure of words,” with sixty-four lessons across more than 200 pages. To take just one example, the text categorizes a range of verbal prefixes and suffixes as “gila,” which could be translated as beacon, marker, or sign. Gila take many forms, but one of the most important is a beacon on the sea that marks a hazard like a submerged reef. Like such a beacon, the linguistic particles called gila direct the action of the sentence in particular directions.
The Kulu classes contribute to the development of a new kind of vernacular literature. The books with titles translated as “Reading Luqa language” and “Reading Kubokota language” are centered on texts that previous generations of students have written as their final assignment for the classes. These texts include folk tales, moral instruction, instructions for tasks, letters, humourous stories, and reports. Student read and analyse these texts along with a “food for thought” section written by Zobule at the end of each chapter. These “food for thought” sections reflect on the concepts covered in the chapter and often on the importance of language more generally. They are popular with students, who read them over and over long after they have completed the class.
Since 2018, the Kulu school has also offered two courses in English grammar. Affirming the principle of moving from familiar to unfamiliar, only students who have finished the courses in Luqa grammar are allowed to enroll in English.
Read more about the Institute’s Qiloe campus here.