[lg policy] Why It's Better For Kids To Be Schooled In Their Mother Tongue

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Apr 18 15:29:55 UTC 2016


Why It's Better For Kids To Be Schooled In Their Mother Tongue
Posted: 16/04/2016 08:13 IST Updated: 16/04/2016 08:13 IST
[image: INDIA SCHOOLS]

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I recently visited a primary school in Tirur, Malappuram district, Kerala.
The language of instruction was English. The teacher had great enthusiasm,
but the children didn't quite share it and seemed to be restless and
distracted. To get to the bottom of this, I decided to have an informal
chat with one of the students, Atul. When I asked him what he had learned
in class, he was stumped. He didn't know what the teacher was even talking
about. It wasn't because he was slow or the subject matter was
interesting--it was simply that the lessons were taught in an alien
language in which he was not fluent.

This is not an isolated case, but a common occurrence in schools across
India and elsewhere in South Asia. If students cannot understand the
language of instruction, how are they expected to learn? The onus of
answering that question is on policymakers.

Being taught in a language other than their own can negatively impact
children's learning.

Education is about learning and understanding. It's not about the language
of instruction. Realizing this truth would help governments create a better
education eco-system that is capable of surmounting cultural and social
inequalities. A new policy paper
<http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002437/243713E.pdf>released for
International Mother Language Day on 21 February by the UNESCO Global
Monitoring Report (GMR) presents a detailed picture of the learning gap
issue. The paper argues that being taught in a language other than their
own can negatively impact children's learning.

UNESCO GMR director Aaron Benavot shared with me some serious concerns and
relevant suggestions based on the paper. "The core finding of the policy
paper is that as much as 40% of the global population does not have access
to education in a language they speak or understand. Evidence shows that
speaking a language that is not spoken in the classroom frequently holds
back a child's learning, especially for those living in poverty," Benavot
noted.

Interestingly, learning improves in countries that have invested in
bilingual programmes.

The paper shows that children--but, obviously!--learn better when they can
understand the language of instruction. "You only need look at some
international and regional learning assessments and country examples to see
the evidence. In many Western African school systems, French continues to
be the main language of instruction, so the vast majority of children are
taught from the early grades in a language with which they have limited
familiarity. This seriously hampers their chances of learning. In Côte
d'Ivoire, 55% of grade 5 students who speak the test language at home
learned the basics in reading in 2008, compared with only 25% of the 8 out
of 10 students who speak another language," Benavot added.

Interestingly, learning improves in countries that have invested in
bilingual programmes. Take the case of Guatemala where students in
bilingual schools have lower repetition and dropout rates. They also have
higher scores in all subject areas. Children in Ethiopia who participated
in bilingual programmes for eight years improved their learning in subjects
across the curriculum.

[image: 2016-04-10-1460263241-5368335-Benavot.jpg]
<http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2016-04-10-1460263241-5368335-Benavot.jpg>
*Aaron Benavot*

"After analyzing various countries' experiences we can see that at least
six years of mother tongue instruction is needed to reduce learning gaps
for minority language speakers. It is therefore vital for education
policies to recognise the importance of mother tongue learning,'' suggested
Benavot.

The UNESCO paper recognises that bilingual education is not an easy policy
to implement. It is expensive, and creates challenges within the education
system, notably in areas of teacher recruitment, curriculum development and
the provision of teaching materials. But, according to the GMR director, it
is a vital investment.

The fault lines of violent conflict have often followed the contours of
group-based inequality exacerbated by language policies in education.

The paper also looks at the imposition of single dominant languages as the
language of instruction in schools as a frequent source of grievances
linked to wider issues of social and cultural inequality. The fault lines
of violent conflict have often followed the contours of group-based
inequality exacerbated by language policies in education.

Benavot highlights the examples of Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh to
explain this. "In Nepal, the imposition of Nepali as the language of
instruction fed into the broader set of grievances among non-Nepali
speaking castes and ethnic minorities that drove the civil war."

The report also cites the example of Pakistan:

"In Pakistan, the post-independence government adopted Urdu as the national
language and the language of instruction in schools. This became a source
of alienation in a country that was home to six major linguistic groups and
fifty-eight smaller ones. The failure to recognize Bengali, spoken by the
vast majority of the population in East Pakistan, was one of the major
sources of conflict within the new country, leading to student riots in
1952. The riots gave birth to the Bengali Language Movement, a precursor to
the movement that fought for the secession of East Pakistan and the
creation of a new country, Bangladesh.
Both countries have continued to face language-related political
challenges. In Bangladesh, where Bengali is the national language,
non-Bengali speaking tribal groups in the Chittagong Hill Tracts have cited
a perceived injustice over language as a factor that justifies their
secession demands. In Pakistan, the continued use of Urdu as the language
of instruction in government schools, even though it is spoken at home by
less than 8% of the population, has also contributed to political tensions."

It is important to invest in bilingual education for at least six years in
countries where there are many minority languages.

Language is a symbol that reflects the culture of one's community and
ethnic identity. Learning and speaking in one's own mother tongue can
create a sense of personal identity and group attachment. While it
strengthens an ethnic group's sense of belonging and social ties, it can
also turn into a basis for their marginalization. It would be disastrous if
the governments give space for the latter outcome to happen.

UNESCO and Benavot hope that the findings of the new paper will show
ministers of education how important it is to invest in bilingual education
for at least six years in countries where there are many minority languages
so that children's learning does not suffer.

http://www.huffingtonpost.in/dipin-damodharan/why-schools-need-to-inves_b_9653096.html


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