This paper argues that bilingual education in developing countries represents an encouraging facet of efforts to improve primary schooling both quantitatively in terms of participation and qualitatively in terms of learning processes. Public education in many multilingual nations still involves submersion in the ex-colonial language, which results in highly wasteful and inefficient systems. In contrast, use of the mother tongue in school provides a basis for students to learn subject disciplines and develop literacy skills upon which competency in the second or foreign language can be built. There are both positive and negative tendencies in the practice of bilingual education as exemplified by Guinea-Bissau, Niger and Mozambique in Africa and Bolivia in Latin America. Use of the mother tongue in primary schooling offers a number of documented benefits such as valorising the mother tongue, bridging the gap between home and school cultures, and raising student identity consciousness and self-esteem. Its academic potential is to produce students who are competently bilingual and biliterate. Experiences demonstrate that an important implication for researchers is to more thoroughly investigate quality indicators and less researched aspects such as gender. An implication for educational developers is to promote the use of more established bilingual models and methods.
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