Publication Date: 2007
Author/Publisher: UNESCO Bangkok
The Asia and Pacific region is characterized by rich ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity. At the same time, however, this diversity makes educating children from different backgrounds a major challenge. At the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000, one of the main agreed goals was “to ensure that by 2015 all children, particularly girls and children from ethnic minorities, have access to complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality”. Another of the goals involved “…improving levels of literacy, particularly among women”. Achieving these goals and making educational opportunities more equitable means dealing explicitly with learners from ethnic/linguistic minorities through affirmative measures. Since effective teaching depends on clear and understandable communication, the language of instruction is at the heart of any learning process. For this reason, mother tongue-based instruction is crucial to providing children with early access to education and to enabling them to participate in learning processes according to their evolving capacities.
Unfortunately, in many countries in this region, the true panorama of languages found in a nation’s population is rarely reflected in their education systems, and large numbers of learners are confronted with either a foreign medium of instruction or a language that is different from their mother tongue. This may be further exacerbated in the case of certain groups who are already in situations of educational risk or stress, such as illiterates, minorities and refugees. It is an obvious yet not generally recognized truism that learning in a language that is not one’s own provides a double set of challenges: not only of learning a new language but also of learning new knowledge contained in that language. In some countries in Asia, bi/multilingual education programmes, through non-formal education, are helping to prepare ethnic/linguistic minority learners for literacy in both mother tongue and national languages.
However, there is a serious lack of recognition and understanding of the role that bi/multilingual education can play in increasing enrolment, retention and achievement in the formal school system. This kit advocates making education systems more responsive to cultural diversity. It provides important insights into the value of mother tongue-based multilingual education, which respects the rights of children and learners and encourages readers to think about the importance of language issues and to investigate them further. It builds on research findings and experiences gained over many years by many organizations and individuals working on mother tongue-based multilingual education. I hope you will find the booklets in this kit useful in advocating and gaining support for mother tongue instruction as a means of improving educational quality as well as saving the world’s may endangered languages.