If you can’t understand, how can you learn?

For decades, the importance of mother tongue education has been recognized.  But establishing a language in education policy for a multi-ethnic country can be very challengingDr. Eirini Gouleta, who worked last year with SIL LEAD as a consultant, notes that Policies seem to be altering back and forth from mother tongue to post-colonial language depending on the political landscape and the popular trends among voters in each situation.”

On International Mother Language Day (#IMLD), UNESCO released a policy paper entitled If you don’t understand, how can you learn?  One of the key messages of this paper was that, “Education policies should recognize the importance of mother tongue learning.” In addition to acknowledging that according to “one estimate, as much as 40% of the global population does not have access to education in a language they speak or understand,” the paper also highlights evidence which demonstrates that, “At least six years of mother tongue instruction is needed to reduce learning gaps for minority language speakers.” 

This policy paper provides an excellent and brief rationale for the need for mother-tongue based multilingual education. The bottom line is that students who are not taught in their mother tongue are severely hampered in their educational attainment. When coupled with the poverty and marginalization experienced by many minority language communities, the lack of mother tongue education not only perpetuates but increases the disadvantages faced by indigenous language communities around the world. 

At SIL LEAD, we are passionate about efforts to help narrow the educational divide faced by minority language communities. We concur with Dr. Gouleta, who believes that it “is critical that solid policies in support of mother tongue [education], the issue of instruction and assessment, and the implications for accurately measuring student learning in the mother tongue be specifically addressed and safeguarded by all actors and stakeholders in education development.”  

We at SIL LEAD are committed to providing highly trained and experienced multilingual education specialists who can help guide and develop multilingual education programs and resources for minority language communities.  We are thankful that we can draw on talented individuals like Dr. Gouleta.

Dr. Eirini Gouleta is Associate Professor of Multicultural Special Education at the University of Macedonia, Greece. 

A study coauthored by Barbara Trudell, who has also served as a consultant with SIL LEAD, is also cited in the policy paper.