The Asia-Pacific region is characterised by rich ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity, and children who have an opportunity to learn through their mother tongue or home language have the best chance of understanding what is taught, making the connection between the spoken and written word and participating in their own learning. Yet, many children must struggle to learn through a foreign language or language variety that is not their own.
This advocacy brief examines the issues surrounding marginalisation, language and girls; explores obstacles to girls education and strategies to address them, and looks at the benefits of mother tongue-based teaching and education for girls. It provides examples of how mother tongue-based learning can break down barriers to education for girls, including:
- more girls enrol in school when they can learn in a language that is familiar to them
- use of the home language in school increases parent participation and influence
- teachers from the same linguistic and cultural communities as their students are less likely to exploit female students
- girls in bilingual classes stay in school longer
- girls learn better and can demonstrate their learning in the mother tongue
- bilingual teachers treat girls more fairly in the learning process
- more women may become teachers and, thus, role models for girls.
The paper also provides some suggested strategies for bringing the home language into schools:
- authorise oral use of the mother tongue in the classroom, especially where it has traditionally been prohibited
- organise teacher placement so that teachers are placed in communities whose languages they share
- use the mother tongue for preschool teaching, adult literacy, and other nonformal education
- provide in-service training for teachers in first and second language development
- add the study of mother tongue as a discipline to the curriculum
- work with teachers and communities to operationalise local curriculum components of school programmes.
The paper concludes by stating that the use of the mother tongue for teaching and learning does not in itself equalise opportunities for female learners, but there are clear indications that it improves conditions for all learners, and especially girls. Designing a school system that recognises the language, culture and competence of the learner is an important step towards providing Education for All (EFA).