Africa In Our Lives: Yaya Diatta

Yaya Diatta is a graduate student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the School of Education at UW-Madison. His research interests are language policy and planning in multilingual countries. Yaya is currently exploring the case of Senegal, a west African country and former French colony, and investigating the potential consideration of local languages in the educational system regarding linguistic human rights as well as translanguaging pedagogy.

What’s your background? What brings you to UW-Madison? 

Before UW-Madison, I taught English as a foreign language for 6 years in Senegal at high school level, a multilingual country in West Africa and a former French colony. In Senegal, I graduated from Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar with two masters: (2008) Master of Arts (English/Literature) from the school of arts and humanities, and (2010) master’s in education (English as a Second Language) from the school of education and teacher training. Then, in 2016, I moved to Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. After two years of acclimatization, I made up my mind to pursue doctoral studies in education to fulfill my dream to become a Teacher Educator as well as a Policymaker in language education. In my quest for a suitable institution, I found UW Madison as the ideal institution due to its outstanding scholars and the rich programs offered across the campus and the school of education. Currently, I am affiliated with the school of education as a graduate student in world language education in the department of Curriculum and Instruction.

Tell us about your research. 

In the Department of Curriculum and Instruction as a graduate student, my research interests are at the intersection of language education, social justice, and translanguaging. For my doctoral research, I am interested in the use of local languages in classroom activities in Senegal, a former French colony where the local language languages are not part of the school curricula. My research project seeks to explore the ways the postcolonial theory and translanguaging pedagogy could inform language education in Senegal.

Tell us about your experiences supporting African immigrants in the public school systems.

As a graduate student at UW-Madison, since 2019 I have volunteered several times to provide support to immigrant students from Senegal across Madison Metropolitan School District. The support goes from understanding instruction and helping newcomers better navigate their new schools drawing on language and cultural perspectives. For this year, my work was more centered at La Follette High School with a good number of students from Senegal who have a language barrier. All in all, my support to these immigrant students consists of facilitating their academic and social integration in Madison.

What are some of the challenges and successes in the work that you do? 

Though school districts offer interesting opportunities for successful learning experiences to the school population without any discrimination, there are some challenges in supporting immigrant students. The challenges are related to dealing with kids who freshly arrive in Madison without any prior experience of schooling like the US system or the French schooling system prevailing in Senegal. They attended religious school based on memorization contrary to the skills acquisition they encounter in the US schooling system. Language barrier (English) and learning system constitute the main challenges. Kids have never been exposed to the language of instruction/English. My support is oral/written explanation of instructions in their native language/Wolof even if they don’t have any formal training in it. As for successful moments during my work with immigrant kids go to seeing students’ growth till graduation with their peers. Overall, the support is about accompanying the newcomers in their new journey while facilitating their social and academic integration in the communities.

How can the ASP community support the work you do?

In terms of recommendations to better support immigrant students and the community in general, ASP should stay connected to the school community. This collaboration will allow the school expresses the needs of immigrant kids to ASP which on its side have potential students willing to help with different needs through volunteerism or hourly contract. ASP can contact the different international/resident students with various backgrounds across campus who can support various schools based on the needs that are expressed.