Brandon Darr and Philina Ng
07 Sep 2023

Literacy in multiple languages promotes inclusive societies

Literacy is essential in today's world, where having foundational skills in reading and writing are a gateway to accessing various forms of information, knowledge and opportunities to thrive in any society. Alarmingly, there are more than 700 million illiterate adults, and this number is at risk of increasing due to low literacy levels in primary schools. At present, 70% of children in low- and middle-income countries globally are unable to read and understand a simple text by the age of 10. This statistic, commonly referred to as ‘learning poverty,' suggests that future generations are at real risk of not acquiring knowledge from written content throughout their education and, thus not being able to acquire one of the basic skills to function in their community. Current projections point to learning poverty becoming an increasing problem, especially in conflict settings where often everyone does not speak the same language. This barrier to becoming literate is compounded exponentially in contexts where learners do not speak or understand the language of instruction in their learning environments. Vulnerable and marginalized learners, such as those from indigenous and ethnolinguistic minority backgrounds, are even more likely to be affected. It is estimated that nearly 37% of children in low- and middle-income countries speak a language different from the language of instruction used in their classrooms. School is the best starting place for multilingual learning The education setting is therefore a primary site where foundational literacy skills can be developed in learners systematically by using the languages they know best. This process begins with an understanding that becoming literate relies on learners comprehending that oral language can be represented in texts by written symbols. Research has shown that reading skills can transfer from a child's first language (L1) to their second language (L2). A study in South Africa found that reading skills not only transferred best from a child's first language (here, Setswana) to their second language, (English), but also lead to improved reading skills in both languages. Employing and empowering indigenous and ethnic minority teachers can also level the playing field for learners from the same language communities. An evaluation from 2018 showed that some indigenous teachers in Cambodia have begun experimenting with ‘translanguaging,' a pedagogical concept that describes harnessing all of a learner's linguistic resources for teaching and learning and applying the same type of teaching strategies for reading activities in both L1 and L2 languages. Translanguaging helped maximize lesson time for more reading and learning practices and strengthened student comprehension of new concepts in their L2 when supported by the use of their L1. As a result, prioritizing L1 literacy development before introducing L2 enables learners from indigenous and ethnolinguistic minority communities to develop a strong foundation for subsequent L2 literacy. Languages of instruction to foster inclusion and understanding Displaced learners, such as refugee children, may face a similar language barrier when they join a new host community which in turn may impact their social cohesion. Resettlement of displaced people in new communities within or outside their country of origin brings forth new challenges and opportunities for linguistic and cultural diversity. Schools and teachers in the host communities need effective, linguistically inclusive approaches that use these displaced children's home language and culture as stepping stones to support both their foundational literacy development and integration to the host community's education system. The Patani Malay-Thai Multilingual Education Program in Thailand is a strong example of how creating a space for improving multiple literacies can work toward fostering social cohesion, all the while allowing for multiple languages to have a place in the classroom. The program was initially developed to address the low literacy rate of Patani Malay-speaking learners in Thai, the national language. Not only did the program improve learners' literacy results by using their L1 (Patani Malay) before transitioning to their L2 (Thai), it also worked closely with communities to develop better perceptions around their own identities, involving them in decisions regarding their language, script and education. Encouraging all children to become literate in multiple languages in this manner can help promote linguistically inclusive and therefore peaceful societies in the long term. But for this to come about in a sustainable manner, seeing through a systemic change in all areas of education is paramount. While no country has yet to reach this goal, plenty of related pilot initiatives simultaneously focusing on different components of education have demonstrated positive results and potential in Asia and the Pacific. Many such initiatives will be shared at the 7th International Conference on Language and Education, which will be held in Bangkok, Thailand on October 4-6, 2023. The conference will bring together policy makers, researchers, practitioners and development actors to share views, good practices and experiences, and to engage in dialogue on how communities and countries can work towards quality education for linguistically vulnerable and marginalized learners. The conference will entail over 100 presentations and discussion panels covering themes such as foundational learning and literacy, translanguaging and multilingual pedagogies, materials for multilingual learners and multilingual education in crises and emergencies, among others. These conference panels and presentations, together with the examples described above, can serve as strong, promising practices of L1-based literacy development to address learning poverty and current high illiteracy rates that disproportionately impact linguistically marginalized learners. While illiterate adolescents and adults require immediate literacy interventions to enable their full access and participation in their communities, such transformation of building foundational literacy through education is also necessary if we hope to successfully foster sustainable and peaceful societies now and for the future, both in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. The article originally appeared in the Education for All Blog, of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), at


MLE BLOG: Teaching multilingual classrooms in India: a need for learning from indigenous teaching practices

Radhika Gholkar 10 Aug 2023

This article is written for the Multilingual Education Blog, coordinated through the Asia-Pacific Multilingual Education Working Group. India is a diverse and linguistically rich country, home to over 19,500 spoken languages, of which 121 are spoken by 10,000 or more people. Multilingualism is thus at the heart of the Indian existence and experience. India's classrooms are no exception. The country's teachers—arguably the key enablers of any successful education system—must be equipped with pedagogical skills that will enable them to leverage the diverse linguistic and cultural identities, meaning-making processes and lived experiences characterising any multilingual classroom. At the same time, indigenous multilingual teachers already have their own linguistic experiences and everyday realities that can inform their pedagogical practices. Such practices are likely to be the most successful in this teaching context; therefore, if teaching and learning are to flourish, the inherent pedagogical practices of indigenous teachers should come to inform teacher professional development and training. As a background, education policies in India have emphasised the importance of both teaching in and learning regional languages through different iterations of the ‘three-language formula' policy. In previous iterations, this policy proposed that two Indian languages and English were to be utilized in school education. However, a study in 2011 calculated that only 31 languages were being used as mediums of instruction across the country, a figure representing a notable reduction from over 67 languages used by Indian educators in the 1970s. (Source: British Council) Lack of adequate teacher professional development and a general dearth of high-quality bilingual teaching and learning materials may have doubly hampered India's implementation of the ‘three language formula'. More recently, the latest National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) outlines an updated formula which allows states and regions to choose languages of instruction as long as at least two are Indian in origin. In its acknowledgement of the need for good quality bilingual materials and the need for teachers to be adequately skilled, the NEP takes an important step towards closing the implementation gap and highlighting the importance of indigenous languages. Learners need strong foundational skills to be able to succeed, and in this regard, there is widespread evidence about the effectiveness of mother tongue instruction (MTI) in learners' early years. However, in multilingual contexts, questions such as ‘whose mother tongue' can be a challenging one for a teacher. Furthermore, teaching an additional language such as English could pose a challenge. In the ‘English language teaching, learning and assessment in India' report, one teacher identified the challenge of having to support learners who speak a particular language at home that differs from the official language of instruction at school. Such learners find it difficult to transition to English. Situations like these require teachers to have expert training and support if they are to make effective use of classroom methodologies. Consequently, there is a need for a clear professional development pathway to enable teachers to incorporate multilingual teaching approaches in their pedagogies. (Source: British Council) While there is a recognised need for teacher professional development, teachers in India have been responding to these challenges with their own intuitive understanding of what works. Recent studies have found that multilingual practices are adopted almost without exception - ‘knowingly or unknowingly'. Findings in the Multilingualism and Multiliteracy (MultiLiLa) project have demonstrated this. The project aimed to identify whether children who learn through a language differing from their home languages demonstrate different levels of learning outcomes than those children whose home and school languages are the same. While the MultiLiLa project found that using children's own languages in the classroom improves their learning, and that teachers need training in using multilingual approaches to teach concepts and to support children in learning new languages, language mixing, also referred to as translanguaging, was a common practice both in English medium and regional-language medium schools. For example, findings have indicated that even in Hindi-medium schools in Delhi, 62.5 per cent of teachers mixed languages; in EMI schools, 77.1 per cent did so. A recent survey by Macmillan Education India highlighted how teachers of English as a subject demonstrated significant awareness of using multilingual approaches in the classroom and stressed the need for focussed training of teachers to enable them to ‘integrate multilingual methods when preparing, organising, and structuring lessons.' Identifying and examining these 'bottom up' multilingual practices and understanding the existing evidence base are essential to building good practice into policy implementation. Such an approach will ‘legitimise' teachers' own intuitive approaches and help build upon what's already working. A Community of Practice (CoP) approach that has ‘groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly' could be a model for teachers to give voice to these practices through sharing, examining and learning together. (Source: British Council) A teachers' CoP will enable indigenous practices to emerge such as those illustrated above, as well as provide a platform for practitioners and researchers to reflect upon and examine them. A review of six international projects—including those in India where CoPs were implemented in the form of Teacher Activity Groups (TAGs)—found that teachers responded positively to such meetings, in part because these were not imposed ‘top down', and activities were situated in what teachers already do in their classrooms. Teachers also reported enhanced student learning experiences. CoPs would therefore seem to harbour a potential for teachers dealing with multilingual classrooms in India. Further research is needed that will focus on capturing and recording these practices, and be informed by them, thus taking a similar ‘bottom up' approach of investigation. In conclusion, along with more consistently emphasizing the incorporation of local languages in teaching and learning processes, education policies could also consider outlining a clear roadmap for supporting indigenous teachers in their exploring the opportunities and navigating the complexities of multilingual classrooms more effectively. Foremost implied in this support system should be the development of a CoP ecosystem which is teacher led, continuous, and sustainable, alongside other training and development initiatives. This article is written by Radhika Gholkar, Head - Academic English Programmes, British Council India. British Council is a member of the Asia-Pacific Multilingual Education Working Group and a member of the Steering Committee for the 7th International Conference on Language and Education, 4-6 October, 2023, in Bangkok, Thailand.


DepEd: Mother tongue-based multilingual pedagogy crucial

Claudeth Mocon-Ciriaco 19 Jul 2023

An official of the Department of Education (DepEd) reiterated last Monday the importance of Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE), especially to learners from Kindergarten to Grade 3. According to Dr. Rosalina J. Villaneza, chief education program specialist at the Teaching and Learning Division of the Bureau of Learning Delivery, the purpose of a multilingual education program is to develop appropriate cognitive and reasoning skills enabling children to operate equally in different languages—starting with the mother tongue. Villaneza made a presentation before the Committee on Basic Education's third public hearing on the implementation of the MTB-MLE program under the K to 12 Law (Republic Act 10533). "Learners begin their education in they understand best—their mother tongue—and develop a strong foundation in their mother language before adding additional languages,” Villaneza stressed. "And remember we are talking about 5 years old, 6 years old, 7-, 8-year-old kids [here]. This is not about us; this is about young children who are just developing their foundational skills and of course the reasoning skills. These are two major reasons why I was convinced [on the importance of the implementation of mother tongue] back then,” Villaneza said recalling that the same reasons were presented to lawmakers 10 years ago when the program was proposed back then. Complications SENATOR Sherwin T. Gatchalian, however, cited complications in the implementation of mother tongue-based education—the diversity of languages in many communities. Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate Committee on Basic Education, urged the DepEd to listen to teachers amid ongoing efforts to review the implementation of the MTB-MLE program. "Listen to our teachers, our supervisors, superintendents, and principals. They're our soldiers on the ground. Let's listen to them,” the lawmaker said. Gatchalian cited his observations were based on his consultations with teachers in Pangasinan, Davao, Cebu and Metro Manila. While the MTB-MLE recognizes 19 languages as media of instruction, the 2020 Philippine Statistics Authority's Census of Population records as many as 245 languages used nationwide. The lawmaker observed that some teachers who are not fluent in the mother tongue are asked to use it as the medium of instruction. He also cited teachers' reports that Grade 4 learners have difficulty when they start learning Math and Science using English as the medium of instruction, four years after learning those subjects in their mother tongue. Gatchalian added that in multilingual school settings, the MTB-MLE policy may discriminate against learners who do not speak the regional language chosen as the medium of instruction. He, likewise, noted a 2019 study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) on the MTB-MLE, which pointed out that schools tend to use regional languages that are not necessarily the same ones that learners use at home. The study added that surveyed schools assumed that learners have only one first language when learners, in fact, have several first languages. The semi-government think tank also pointed out that among the 16,827 schools it surveyed, less than 10 percent are doing the four activities needed to implement the MTB-MLE: writing big books on language, literature, and culture; documentation of the orthography of the language; documentation of grammar; and, documentation of a dictionary of the language. "We have implemented the MTB-MLE since 2013, it's about time that we come up with an assessment whether it's effective or not, and how it affects learner outcomes,” Gatchalian said. Disagreement GATCHALIAN disagreed with comments by Villaneza when she revealed that she was asked back then: "Are we ready?” to which she responded: "When in the history of the Philippines [have we been] ready of anything?” "Kahit gaano pa po kaganda ang preparation natin hindi po talaga tayo maging ready [No matter how good our preparation is, we can never be ready],” she said. Villaneza said that the second question to her before was: Do we have enough resources? "When in the history of the Philippines have we had enough resources]?” Villaneza lamented. To this, Gatchalian told her: "I do believe that in any endeavor we have to be ready. That's why the Philippines is probably not progressing because [of the] mentality that ‘We can never be ready, we can never have enough materials…' I think that is a bad mentality.” But Villaneza said, "If you believe in what I have presented, if we join forces together…but this is the right thing to do. Let us do it now because if not now, when? Our learners cannot wait.” This article was first published on the Business Mirror website. Link: Author: Claudeth Mocon-Ciriaco Length: 5 minutes read


DepEd admits 'lack of focus' on comprehension skills development in mother tongue-based teaching

CNN Philippines 19 Jul 2023

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 4) — Amid debates over the effectiveness of mother tongue-based multilingual learning, the Department of Education (DepEd) has admitted that the program's implementation has become rife with problems. According to DepEd Chief Education Program Specialist Dr. Rosalina Villaneza, there is a mismatch between the language used by teachers as a medium of instruction and the language children use in their everyday lives. Villaneza said teachers who use their mother tongue usually focus their efforts on making the students understand the lesson rather than prioritizing the students' comprehension skill development. "Magfo-focus (sana) ang teacher sa pag-develop ng comprehension skills—sequencing of events, noting details—hindi po umaabot doon ang mga teacher kasi their effort is to really make the learners understand (the lesson), hindi na nila nafo-focus ang development ng comprehension skills," she explained. [Translation: They are supposed to focus on developing comprehension skills—sequencing of events, noting details—but the teachers do not reach that point because their effort is to really make the learners understand the lesson, so they can't focus on the development of comprehension skills.] Basic Education Committee chairman Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said the implementation of the mother tongue program seems like an "experiment'. He noted that previous studies on the effectiveness of mother tongue-based learning were done in monolingual countries, where most of the population speak one language. He pointed out that Filipinos are multilingual. "We became the de facto experiment for mother tongue in a multilingual setting and that experiment is creating a lot of confusion, negative feedback from teachers," he said. For example, Cordillera Region officials said that their teachers are able to use mother tongue to teach reading but not in other subjects, a DepEd official said. "If you tell us to teach using the mother tongue in other subject areas, it would be very difficult because just composing one story will take much of their time and resources," DepEd CAR Education Program Supervisor Rosita Agnasi said. Some lawmakers want to suspend mother tongue-based learning until the lack of learning materials is addressed. READ: Language advocacy group warns vs suspension of mother tongue-based education Gatchalian said he wants more input from various stakeholders to be able to come up with an informed recommendation. He also asked DepEd to present a clearer strategic plan for the program's implementation. CNN Philippines correspondent AC Nicholls contributed to this report. This article was first published on the CNN Philippines website. Link: Author: CNN Philippines Staff Published Jul 4, 2023, 4:58:15 AM Length: 3 minutes read


Education secretaries discuss importance of teaching in mother tongue

Express News Service Pune 19 Jul 2023

The first day of the two-day special conference held in the run-up to the G20 Education Working Group Meeting saw education secretaries of Maharashtra, Assam, Jharkhand and Gujarat share their experience in teaching foundational literacy and numeracy in a multi-lingual set-up. Teaching in mother tongue is one of the main stay of the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020. The policy promotes teaching of basic literacy and numeracy in mother tongue whenever possible. In Jharkhand, state Education Secretary Ravi Kumar said languages such as Santhali, Bengali and Odia are widely spoken in the state and that the state has started imparting education in 12 languages. "It is important to teach students in their mother tongue, otherwise the disconnect between the student, teacher and parents hampers their learning,” he said.Thus, in an English medium school, a child whose parents are not familiar with the language taught in schools would not be able to understand the progress of their ward. A child will find it difficult to grasp what is being taught in school if it is not in the mother tongue, a language that he/she would use to converse with parents at home. In the third academic year of the implementation of NEP, Ravi Kumar said there has been a dip in dropout rates and increased learning among school students. Assam's education secretary also spoke about the experience of preparing books and teaching children in their mother tongue. This article was first published on the Indian Express. Link: Author: Express News Service Pune | June 18, 2023 02:53 IST Length: 2 minutes read

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