An estimated 221 million school-age children speak languages not used as the primary medium of instruction in the formal school system. Students who do not first gain the skill to read and write in their mother tongue language have difficulty learning another language, such as a national language or the language of instruction in their school. They are more likely to drop out of school because their teachers and families do not know how, or have the resources, to help them. With the rise of technology, there is a growing number of initiatives aimed at giving these students—and teachers—access to the resources they need to be literate in the language they express and understand.
Access is one of the key barriers to mother tongue instruction around the world. Teachers need access to training as well as instruction and reading materials to teach students in their mother tongue. Students need access to appropriate, engaging reading materials in their mother tongue.
A number of projects focusing on mother tongue instruction and reading materials are being funded by All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development, a partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision and the Australian Government. More than half of the grants awarded in All Children Reading’s last round of competition are incorporating mother tongue instruction and reading materials in their projects as part of the initiatives focus on promoting the creation and delivery of reading materials in languages children express and understand. These projects are getting noticed for their importance in helping children learn to read. Here are some examples:
- The Agora Center at The University of Jyväskylä and their partner, the University of Zambia, created the GraphoGame™ Teacher Training Service (GG-TTS) to serve this need. Teachers are trained to use GraphoGame™ as a part of their literacy lessons to assist struggling students in learning basic letters and sounds in their mother-tongue, ciNyanja. Through the Teacher Training Service website, teachers can access material via mobile phones to study information on the implementation of GraphoGame™ in their classrooms and practice correct literacy instruction techniques. The unique aspect of GraphoGame™ is it can adjust the difficulty level based on the child’s assessed ability level.
- Community and family members play a significant role in helping children learn to read in their mother tongue. In Zambia, Creative Associates International is mobilizing community members to help author early grade reading materials, including their favorite local stories and folktales. More than 60 stories have been crowdsourced to be sent weekly via SMS for children to read, followed by comprehension questions that families can use to engage with their children.
- Bloom software, sourced through All Children Reading’s Enabling Writers prize competition, is empowering local authors, teachers and communities to write and print early grade leveled books in their own language or adapt from books created in other languages. The software, developed by SIL International, guides users through an easy-to-use template for producing simple books for early learners. As books are created, students can have resources to practice reading in their own language.
Once teachers have the materials they need to teach students, and families have resources to help their children, students can thrive. Research has found that children who had access to instruction in their mother tongue were significantly more likely to enroll in and attend school. With a community of people rallying around them, students will see the importance of learning to read, will be able to better communicate with their community, and will have an easier time learning a second language.
On this International Mother Language Day, we thank the innovators, organizations, entrepreneurs, and educators who are working alongside us to increase reading outcomes for early grade learners in developing countries.