3 examples of mother tongue education
Read how Madagascar, Rwanda and Zambia, with support from GPE, are promoting learning in mother tongue to promote better learning.
February 21, 2017 by GPE Secretariat
4 minutes read
Masindray community school, Madagascar. Credit: GPE/Carine Durand

Today, we celebrate International Mother Language Day. Wherever possible, GPE supports mother tongue education as part of providing a quality education. Let’s have a look at three countries where GPE provides support.

In Madagascar, distributing textbooks in Malagasy and French

The two students on the photo above attend the Masindray community school in Analavory Commune, Madagascar. They proudly show us their new textbook. It’s in Malagasy, their mother tongue.

Last September, the school received 54 textbooks thanks to a GPE-funded program. It’s not enough, but it’s a good start toward reaching the goal of 1 textbook for every two students that the program supports, compared to 1 textbook for up to 30 students in the lower grades in 2015.

In Madagascar, children learn to read in Malagasy and learn other subjects in this language until grade 3, after which they switch to French, the country’s second official language. From grade 4, French is used as the language of instruction and Malagasy is a subject until high school.

Ensuring that children can learn initially in a language they understand makes a huge difference in their schooling achievement.

In Rwanda, children start learning in their mother tongue

Jean de la Mennais preschool in Rwanda. Credit:  GPE/Alexandra Humme

Jean de la Mennais preschool in Rwanda.

Credit: GPE/Alexandra Humme

These two boys at the Jean de la Mennais preschool in Rwanda’s Burera district are enjoying looking at picture books. They don’t know how to read yet, but Kinyarwanda, their mother tongue, is the language in which they will learn.

Teaching reading, writing, math and critical thinking in the language that the child speaks and understands is one of the most effective ways to reduce school failure and drop out in the early grades.

Zambia: going back to local languages

With support from a US$35.2 million GPE grant, the local authorities in Zambia’s Chavuma district have reintroduced Luvale, one of the local languages, into the school system from grades 1 to 4. Parents and grandparents are enthusiastic because they say it will strengthen the links between generations.

Schools like Sanjogo Primary School challenge students to learn to read in both Luvale and English. Since implementing the program, authorities have noticed a significant increase in test scores in literacy and numeracy in the lower grades from the previous two years.

The review covered only a sample of schools, but it is encouraging to see more children in early grades able to read and count in both their mother tongue and English. 

Learn more about GPE’s work in Madagascar, Rwanda and Zambia

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The use of mother tongue has always been a great area of interest to me partly because of my personal early learning experience. I believe that the wisdom of rethinking mother tongue policy as foundation of learning and literacy cannot be emphasized enough. In the last 40 years of my work with learners whose first language is not English, I have had first hand experience about how literacy in first language enhances learning and attributes to self-confidence in young learners. There are now plenty of research data to support the importance of mother tongue in learning and anybody who tries to disregard this fact may unintentionally be impeding education of young children.

In reply to by Dr. John Wathu…

I would like to briefly describe the situation related to the subject in India, which is a multi-lingual country with 22 languages officially recognized by the government. In the last few decades, English has gained importance as being a global language, a language that many believe opens doors to bright careers for them. The main victim of this trend has been Education in India, where the dominance of English Medium is increasing. If we look at the metro cities, many reputed vernacular medium schools are shifting to English as medium of instruction.

Central Board of Secondary Education, which is a central board of Indian Government, provides curriculum only in English. Amid such an environment, many parents are left with no option but to educate their child in a language he/she does not speak at home. The effect of all this is disastrous for the children,

However, a limited percentage of parents still believe in mother tongue education and enroll their kids in such schools. In the absence of political support, even such schools are struggling to survive.

Your organisation, being a global body working for this cause, is highly respectable. It will be great if your organisation can do something about it by either communicating with public at large or applicable government bodies or schools in India. If you can, it will have a positive impact on the future of millions.

Am working on a sports programme to support local children in remote areas in kenya (Marsabit County, Laisamis constituency areas of Sarima, Loiyangalani, South Horr and Mt. Kulal about 800 km from Nairobi). These are remote areas that children are learning under difficult circumstances.

We have introduced a race (Wind Road race ) that will bring together the communities living around and slowly use the race to get children who have completed lower primary and those joining secondary education go to boarding school and access quality education. That way slowly the communities will value education more that what they see as only way on living (livestock, early marriage).

Any way we can have GPE as part of this journey will be great. We have an Olympic champion supporting this.

Education in mother tongue is the best idea.

Great work.. Education in mother tongue should always be very special to all students and it can be very easy to remember for future. In mother language children has special confidence to speak infront of others. And it is much beneficial in education.

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