The very notion of quality education for all implies that every child learns in a language that he or she understands. Yet nearly 40% of the world’s population does not have access to education in their mother tongue, especially in areas with large linguistic diversity, such as Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific. This situation has serious consequences for the future of the children involved. On the occasion of International Mother Language Day, we invite you to take a closer look at this issue.
In Cambodia, Laos or Vietnam, cases of school failures involving children who speak minority languages are widespread. Phet’s story illustrates the issue perfectly. This young Laotian mother is from the Khmu ethnic group. “When I started going to primary school, I immediately had difficulties because the teachers used the Lao language that I did not understand and did not speak. And they could not speak my language, Khmu. I was not learning well and I could not keep up, so I stopped going to school soon after I started,” regrets the young woman.
An additional obstacle
In order to stop this injustice, Aide et Action is working with ethnic minorities so that the language barrier is no longer an additional obstacle to education for all. Many of these communities are poor, isolated, and live in areas without basic facilities such as schools and with few job opportunities. All this adds up to making access to education very complicated indeed.
And still, even if the children from these communities are able to go to school, they face an unfavorable environment, not suited to their needs. Courses are taught in a language they do not understand, learning materials are not available in their native language, and the teacher does not speak their language. From the first day already, they experience a major setback and, as a result, they do not acquire basic reading, writing and numeracy skills. Their self-esteem is also affected and their chances of succeeding in school are seriously compromised.
A major challenge
Historically, Aide et Action has been promoting multilingual education as a means of improving learning outcomes and bringing cultural diversity to life. Wherever necessary, we support communities to make their education systems truly inclusive. For this, we train teachers in bilingual education methods, we develop teaching materials adapted to the language of each community and we work in close collaboration with local authorities so that this subject is understood and incorporated by all.
Another initiative is to help communities develop nursery schools so that their toddlers can maximize their development during this important growth phase, but also get used to a school environment and to a different language (which they learn almost effortlessly at such a young age). This process can make the transition to primary school less problematic and improve learning outcomes.
Phet, the young Laotian mother is convinced: “By going to the community pre-school center supported by Aide et Action, my 4-year-old son can avoid language problems when he goes to primary school. At this point, he will have learned enough Lao language to communicate with teachers and friends, follow lessons in class, and possibly have a better chance of attending higher education” she says.
More information on UNESCO’s annual Mother Language Day on 21 February, can be found here.