[The following is an excerpt from Helen Abadzi’s book, Efficient Learning for the Poor: Insights from the Frontiers of Neuroscience, which I recommend for those involved in MLE.]
For many children, education in another language is more difficult than expected. The deficits in native language development common among the poor may inhibit the rapid acquisition of a second language. Mother tongue instruction is a prerequisite if Education for All is to be achieved, particularly when the official language has complex spelling rules. The official language should be taught to children as early as possible. However, it should become the platform for learning new information only after children know it sufficiently well to process complex sentences and vocabulary. A gradually decreasing percentage of mother-tongue instruction seems to be an effective way to introduce an official language.
Visitors to French-medium primary schools in sub-Saharan Africa are surprised to find out that children may understand little of what they are told and merely repeat verbatim what they hear. Sixth graders in rural areas may read haltingly or in monotone and be unable to answer comprehension questions on simple passages. Why are schooling outcomes so poor?
Many countries have multiple languages and a need to teach in a common language. In countries like Romania or Indonesia, children speaking minority languages must learn the official language of instruction. In many others–including most countries in Africa and the South Pacific–the lingua franca is foreign to everyone (for example, English, French, or Portuguese). The countries with multiple languages have various language-instruction policies. In some countries, students may study in their mother tongues in lower primary grades and then switch to the lingua franca. In others, logistical and political complexities result in the use of the lingua franca for all grades. The latter approach is preferred in much of Africa and impacts some of the world’s poorest countries. Continue reading