Thursday, January 5, 2017

MTME needed beyond early grades

In his fortnightly column, Anurag Behar has just published 'The focus for education in 2017' - a comprehensive 'cheat-sheet' of 'approaches and issues, which will be worked upon and fought about, this year and next'. The list of 25 issues range from the high-minded (constitutional values) to the everyday (inadequate water in schools).

About mother-tongue education, he says:
21. Mother tongue is the most effective medium of education in early grades. However, given the reality of the social capital of English, all children must have the opportunity to learn the language.
In fact, mother-tongue medium (MTM) education is most effective not just in early grades. It is most effective throughout the schooling years. Several studies show that length of time spent in mother-tongue (L1) schooling is the best predictor of academic performance. This includes performance in the second language (L2). In the world's largest longitudinal study of minority education (over 210 000 students), Thomas and Collier (2002: 7) conclude that 'the strongest predictor of L2 student achievement is the amount of formal L1 schooling. The more L1 grade-level schooling, the higher L2 achievement'. Early-exit to a dominant language does not yield good outcomes. What is needed is a mother-tongue based multilingual education (MTME).

Regarding this study and another, Skutnabb-Kangas and Dunbar (2010: 96) note, 'The length of MTM education was... more important than any other factor (and many were included) in predicting the educational success of bilingual students. It was also much more important than socio-economic status.' We've blogged earlier about their excellent overview of education of indigenous peoples, tribals and minorities. In the context of this post, see especially Chapter 8, 'What forms of education would be consistent with law and research?' (and section 8.1.3 therein).

Earlier in their monograph, Skutnabb-Kangas and Dunbar also cite Kathleen Heugh's study (2000) in South Africa (which we've blogged about too) which shows that even under the racist policies of apartheid,
secondary school pass rate rose, with 8 years of MTM, to 83.7% by 1976 and the English language as a subject pass rate rose to over 78%. When after the Soweto uprising MTM education went down to only 4 years, with an earlier transition to English-medium, the secondary school pass rate declined to 44% by 1992, with a parallel decline in English language proficiency. (p. 53)
A final pair of examples for this post are from Assam and Odisha in India, from the work by Ajit Mohanty and his colleagues. In a well-controlled study, Bodo children learning in Bodo-medium outperformed Bodos studying in the regional language Assamese. In Odisha, Kui-speaking tribal Kond children in Kui-Odia bilingual programmes 'in their later grades (i.e. the high school grades) were found to perform in Odia language tasks at the same level as the Odia-only monolingual children'. (Skutnabb-Kangas and Dunbar, pp. 97, and 70-71)

So, a more accurate phrasing of Behar's point would be:
21. Mother tongue is the most effective medium of education. Given India's multilingual reality and the social capital of English, all children must have the opportunity to get a mother-tongue based multilingual education.

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