Thursday, November 13, 2008

20% Indian kids have different home and school languages

Peru: 18.5%
India: 19.1%
Paraguay: 63.5%
Phillipines: 79.7%

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.

1 comment:

Saturnalia's Offspring said...

On a personal note to this post, I do agree with mother-tongue medium education helping people overcome language barriers to actually learn something useful. I see language struggles on a daily basis in my school, as many Chinese and Japanese (and other) kids have to slog merely to understand the lecture or text, and only then can they apply it. I feel bad when I see them referring to dictionaries and taking ages to read the page I already finished the questions on. That alone takes up so much time and energy they could be spending doing more learning! Class averages for most subjects fall in the low 70s, and although our system is designed to reflect a student’s overall performance as accurately as possible in the marks, I am certain that if everyone could express themselves freely averages would be a lot higher.
The other day, I leaned over to see what book a friend of mine was reading, since now I’m capable of deciphering Japanese titles. It was nothing less than Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, translated into Japanese. He’s read other books that many other people would quail at, and is a firm fan of Kafka. It occurred to me that the titles we read are translations as well, all from the German, so how does it matter which language we prefer? Unfortunately, his keen intellect isn’t quite reflected in his marks precisely because of the language barrier. I find that a waste, to say the least.
Then again, all these people are studying in an English medium school because they believe that they should be able to work in this language. They want to use a ‘lingua franca’ to broaden their own horizons, to come in contact with all that rich diversity that staying stuck with their own language would prevent them from experiencing. In the end, language is just a way to communicate. Go figure.