These are the percentages of primary pupils in schools where school heads reported that for 'most' or 'all' pupils "First language [was] different from language of instruction". The data is from a 2008 Unesco report, A View Inside Primary Schools: A World Education Indicators (WEI) cross-national study (p. 56, Table 3.1).
These percentages have important implications for the global initiative Education for All, especially, its sixth goal, "Improve the quality of education". When so many have to struggle with a non-mother-tongue, what learning can happen?
With language barriers adding to the difficulties of minority and indigenous children, the findings of India's ASER 2007 report are not surprising at all: only 58.3% children in class 5 can read a class 2 level text (p. 32). For some 20% of the 41% who can't read even a class 2 text, the language of instruction must be a formidable challenge. In the Phillipines 80% suffer a non-home-language in the school. Imagine the challenges there in providing "quality education"!
The Unesco report, however, draws a very mild conclusion from the data:
"Schools and teachers needed to take these different linguistic backgrounds into account, not only in the development of language instruction but in other parts of the curriculum to ensure that all pupils had the opportunity to succeed academically."
No! A much stronger recommendation is warranted: ensure mother-tongue medium education. Only then will Unesco and governments have a chance to achieve the relevant Millennium Development Goals.
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