International Translation Day, which falls on 30 September 2019, is an important day to remember how language plays a vital role in the quality of education a child receives.
Being born into an ethnic minority group or linguistic minority group can seriously affect a child’s chance of being in school and what they learn while there. Language and ethnicity are intrinsically linked and the language a child speaks at home is typically a fundamental element of their personal identity. Sadly, this can also be a source of disadvantage at school because in the countries where we work in Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, children are taught and take official tests in languages they do not speak.
Tu NGUYEN, our Country Director in Vietnam, recently took to the stage at The Inclusion, Mobility and Multilingual Education Conference organised by UNESCO in Bangkok, to share our experiences in mainstreaming Mong language (a native, ethnic language) in schools in Lai Chau in north west Vietnam which is home to a majority of Mong minority groups.
“While Vietnam Education Law of 2009 (revised in June 2019) stipulates that Vietnamese should be the official language in teaching and learning, the government has accepted flexibility in supplemental education taught in local languages during extracurricular lessons” explained Tu. This flexibility has led to ethnic-minority children, who cannot speak Vietnamese, to access education.
However, in a recent survey conducted by Aide et Action, Tu concluded that:
- No supplemental materials were available for teachers and students
- Teachers could not speak the same language as the ethnic minority children they are teaching
- There were different scripts for one local language
Aide et Action, with the financial support from the European Commission (EC), worked in Lai Chau with the ethnic minority Mong community to improve the language barrier between teachers and children. This was done by developing and implementing a set of Viet-Mong bilingual supplemental materials designed for Mong children aged 5-8 years.
The materials covered five topics based on the needs of children and relate to children’s daily life such as gender equality, life skills, personal safety, children’s rights and local culture. The materials included a set of DVD’s with illustrations and local stories narrated in the Mong language. These materials have been integrated into the extracurricular classes, with the support from parents who can speak both Vietnamese and Mong language.
Our approach and the use of bilingual materials have been replicated into other districts in the same province and other projects in the neighboring province. Children are now enjoying going to school where they have the chance to learn and play using their mother tongue as well as Vietnamese.
In Cambodia, the remoteness of the northeastern provinces of Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri, Steung Treng, Kratie and Preah Vihear coupled with language barriers and entrenched poverty lead to problems among ethnic minority children to attend and remain in school. To increase the volume, quality and availability of native language learning content for teachers, ethnic minority students, and the ethnic minority community we set the following objectives:
- To support access to ethnic minority children (400 out-of-school children and 2400 in-schoolchildren from ethnic minority groups) to complete primary education cycle
- To support primary school teachers, particularly multilingual educators, to improve their teaching methodology for ethnic minority students
- To promote ownership among key school and community level stakeholders in ethnic minority communities for the integration and utilization of the Khmer LEARN e-library platform, especially by girls
Today, we’re pleased to report that our objectives were met and that our award-winning e-library platform facilitated over 150 books to be translated in different ethnic minority languages including Pnong, Kreung, Tumpoun and Kavet. In total, 1,962 ethnic minority children (of whom 46% were female), 46 teachers, 3,049 community members and 100,000 Cambodian citizens benefited from ICT-based reading and learning solutions. Using ICT-based solutions provided beneficiaries with free access to content written in their mother tongue. Teachers reported that school attendance was up as were visits to the library where children were enjoying learning in their own language.
We believe that for ethnic minority children to access quality education, there needs to be learning materials available in a language the children understand. Students learn in language, therefore if their language is weak, so too is their learning. While we know language and education policies may be difficult to implement, even more so where there is more than one language group in the same classroom or where educators are not proficient in the local languages, multilingual approaches or innovative technology can offer solutions and hope.