29th February 2020
  • 9:11 pm Through the Eyes of Ides Ofune – Women Shouldn’t Have to Choose Between Motherhood and Higher Education
  • 10:24 am Job Opportunity – Science Adviser
  • 4:56 pm Mosquito sterilization offers new opportunity to control diseases
  • 4:24 pm Togo partners with Dangote cement to transform phosphate into fertiliser
  • 3:25 pm Follow the Money wins Council of Europe Democracy Award
  • 3:17 pm Can we really afford not to be interested in Politics? Watch how to encourage politics in the family

Quality education should be delivered in the language spoken at home, according to a UNESCO policy paper. International and regional learning assessments confirm that when home and school languages differ there is an adverse impact on test scores. In the world today, this standard is not met thereby limiting ability to develop foundations for learning. For children, being taught in a language other than their own can negatively impact their learning. Their parents may lack literacy skills which can then reinforce gaps in learning opportunities. Students from poor households who speak a different language at home are the worst affected. In a study in Guatemala in 2006, among minority poor students who speak a different language at home, only 38% learned the basics in mathematics while 77% of rich students who speak Spanish reached that level.

Using the home language as language of instruction has a positive impact on learning across all levels. Mother tongue based bilingual (or multilingual) education approaches, in which a child’s mother tongue is taught alongside the introduction of a second language, can improve performance in the second language as well as in other subjects. An evaluation of Mali’s Pédagogie Convergente programme, showed that children starting school with mother tongue instruction ended up with better mastery of the official language, French. Furthermore, a research by Bühmann and Trudell (2008) demonstrates that children who began their schooling in the language they spoke at home scored 32% higher on French proficiency tests at the end of primary school than those in French-only programmes.

The benefits of bilingual/multilingual programmes extend beyond cognitive skills to enhanced self-confidence and self-esteem. Teaching in mother tongue encourages learners to be active and become involved in the subject matter being taught. Language both reflects the culture of one’s community as well as an individual’s ethnic identity. The language(s) one learns and speaks often create a sense of personal identity and group attachment. Recent evidence now claims that at least six years of mother tongue instruction – increasing to eight years in less well-resourced conditions – is needed to sustain improved learning in later grades for minority language speakers and reduce learning gaps.

A study in Cameroon, between 2007 and 2012, showed that when a local language (Kom) was used as a medium of instruction in 12 schools for grades 1 to 3, learners showed a marked advantage in achievement in reading and comprehension compared with children taught only in English.  The research also pointed out that Kom educated children scored twice as high on mathematics tests at the end of grade 3. Yet, these learning gains were not sustained when the students switched to English-only instruction in grade 4. The reason for this decreased gain was attributed to the early exit from a mother tongue environment. Evaluations from a six Year Primary Project in Ife, Nigeria, that used Yoruba as the medium of instruction for the six years of primary education, found out that students who switched to English after six years of mother tongue instruction performed better in English and in other subjects compared with those who did so after only three years.

International Mother’s Day, Let’s Teach in Our Mother Tongue

It should also be pointed out that language of instruction policies may be difficult to implement though, particularly when there is more than one language group in the same classroom and teachers are not proficient in one or several of the local languages. For mother tongue based bilingual (or multilingual) education approaches to be effective, governments need to recruit teachers from minority language groups. They also need to be trained in one or two languages in order to understand the needs of learners in that category. In addition, open license educational resources and new technology can make learning materials more widely available.