Language and education
Teaching in the mother tongue is a human right enshrined in both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the ILO Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.
Millions of children worldwide do not attend school, and language barriers are one of several obstacles to children’s schooling.
Education reforms therefore increasingly emphasize the use of the students’ mother tongue as the language of instruction. This entails the integration of multilingual education and the use of the mother tongue in teacher training, and also in the production of teaching materials.
Teaching in the mother tongue or a language that the children know well results in better and more effective learning.
Children need to be taught in their own language for at least the first five to six years of schooling. Foreign languages can then gradually be introduced as the language of instruction.
Ensuring girls’ education
Teaching in the mother tongue is important to ensure that girls have the opportunity for education. Girls are generally less exposed than boys to languages other than the one they use at home. It is therefore more likely that they will drop out of school if the teaching is given in a language they do not know.
The risk of girls being exposed to abuse or exploitation by teachers is also reduced when the student and teacher share the same linguistic background.
Important for minority groups
Many children, especially children from ethnic minority groups, use a different language at home than the language of instruction used at school.
An inability to understand and speak the school’s language of instruction may result in lack of academic progress and non-inclusion of minority students among their peers.
In many cases it ends with these students leaving before completing their schooling. When the teaching is given in the child’s mother tongue, the contact between the school and the parents is frequently also improved.
Basis for other languages
In other words, if children are taught in their mother tongue it does not preclude their learning the official language of the country ‒ rather the reverse.
It also makes children more adept at learning other languages than if the teaching is given in a language that they do not know, as well as being a great advantage for learning other subjects, such as mathematics.