Bridging languages in education
International awareness of the importance of Education for All has grown. Yet, the only schooling available in many non-dominant language communities uses a language students do not understand or speak to teach concepts that have very little to do with their way of life.
While there are many factors involved in low educational achievement, it is clear that students who cannot understand what their teacher is saying quickly become discouraged. Members of non-dominant language communities have higher dropout and failure rates and lower literacy rates and have less success finding and keeping paid employment.
Using dominant languages in education has also led to the growing loss of the world's languages and cultures. Current estimates are that at least 50 percent of the world's almost 7,000 languages are endangered.
This article presents a framework for turning a monolingual system into a bilingual or trilingual one: mother tongue-based multilingual education (MLE).
MLE programmes acknowledge the right of all learners to education in a language they speak and understand. Learners begin school in their home language and then add the official language of instruction, building fluency and competency in both languages for communication and learning. MLE programmes have three general goals:
In MLE programmes learners begin school in the language they know best and use that language for initial literacy. Then the new language is added - first listening and speaking, then reading and writing. As learners gain confidence in using the official language for everyday communication, they also learn the vocabulary and grammatical constructions for more abstract academic concepts.
We can identify five phases in bridging between languages in MLE. See Figure 1.
In schools with L1 teachers who are not fluent in the official school language, the language education component of primary level MLE might look like Figure 2 below.
Strong, sustained programmes require supportive language and education policies that:
Manual for Developing Literacy and Adult Education Programmes in Minority Language Communities, UNESCO: Bangkok, by Susan Malone, 2004
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