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Education Mother Tongue Essay

What is Mother Tongue Education?

Mother tongue education refers to any form of schooling that makes use of the language or languages that children are most familiar with. This is usually the language that children speak at home with their family. The ‘mother tongue’ does not have to be the language spoken by the mother. Children can and often speak more than one or even two languages at home. For example, they may speak one language with their mother, another with their father and a third with their grandparents.

Although there is overwhelming evidence that children learn best in and through their mother tongues, millions of children around the world receive education in a different language. This is usually the dominant language of the country they live in. In the case of former colonies, this may not be the language spoken in the community at all, but the language of the former colonial power, for example English, French, Arabic, Dutch and Spanish. Languages that children may hear for the first time when they enter school.

Bilingual children

Children who speak a different language at home than the language in which they are taught at school will by definition become bilingual or multilingual. The degree to which they become bilingual may vary considerably however and depends on the goal of the school programme.

There are bilingual education programmes that aim at teaching children a second language at no expense to their first language. In such programmes equal importance is given to learning in and through both languages and children learn how to take full advantage of their multilingualism and biliteracy.

The majority of schools however offer education only in and through one language. Children who are not fluent speakers of the school language may be offered some form of language support or no support at all. The latter is also known as ‘sink or swim’. Children lose or leave behind their mother tongues and use only the language of the school.

A third option, increasingly popular, are schools which offer bilingual education and which are aimed at bilingualism, but not in any of the languages spoken by the child at home. For example a child who speaks Somali at home and is enrolled in an English/Dutch bilingual programme.

Rutu’s Mission: Making Mother Tongue Education The Norm

The mission of the Rutu Foundation is to make mother tongue education the norm, rather than the exception.

By this we do not mean that children should be offered education in their mother tongues only. We believe that in today’s globalized world, all children benefit from a multilingual education which offers them an opportunity to become fluent in their mother tongues as well as in the official language of the state, and one or more foreign languages, allowing them to pursue higher education, to communicate easily in more than one language, through different media and to contribute meaningfully to society.

Overwhelming evidence demonstrates that the best way to achieve this is by educating children in and through their mother tongues, alongside a second and/or third language.

Ultimately, mother tongue education is about creating a level playing field, about creating equal opportunities for all, regardless of economic status, ethnic background or geographic location.

Benefits of mother tongue education

There are many benefits associated with an education that takes into account children’s mother tongues:

  • Children learn better and faster in a language they can understand (preventing delays in learning)
  • They enjoy school more, they feel more at home
  • Pupils tend to show increased self-esteem
  • Parents participation is increased. Parents can help with homework and can participate in school activities
  • Studies have reported that when children take advantage of their multilingualism they also enjoy higher socioeconomic status, including higher earnings
  • On average, the schools perform better,reporting less repetition
  • Finally, schools report children stay in school longer

Is there a perfect model?

There is no one model that fits all contexts in which multilingual children are learning and which meets all of their learning needs. Mother tongue based multilingual education can take many forms and each school and each community should determine what works best for them. In general, however, the longer a child is able to learn in and through his or her mother tongue(s) the greater the educational benefits that can be expected.

What about multilingual classrooms?

In classrooms where 10 or more different mother tongues are spoken, a situation that is fast becoming the norm throughout Europe, it would not be practically feasible to provide a full blown bilingual education programme for each student. The best approach here is not to ignore all languages and opt for one language only, as is frequently the case. Rather, translanguaging is a new pedagogic strategy and shows exciting results when all languages are valued, when children are offered opportunities to use their home languages in the classrooms, to make homework assignments in their mother tongue or to collaborate at school with students who speak the same language. We look forward to sharing such best practices with you in the months and years ahead.

Make sure teaching and learning materials are available in the mother tongue.

Materials in the mother tongue (such as lesson plans, primers, or student worksheets) should cover the same content as the regular curriculum and also emphasize developing language skills. Materials should be fun and interactive and draw on locally-relevant content when possible.

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Trainer's Guide for the Multi-Strategy Economy Model

A step-by-step guide to creating mother-tongue primers; also includes instructions on training teachers to use the primers in their classrooms and details on suggested activities for teaching children literacy skills in the mother-tongue.

SIL International, 2002

Guide Elementaire Bilingue

This is an example of a teacher guide developed by ARED for teaching a bilingual curriculum (using French and the local language, Wolof or Pulaar, depending on the region).


Jolly Phonics

This website gives guidance on steps to teach the key components of early literacy including teaching letter sounds, letter formations, blending sounds, identifying sounds in words, and reading tricky words. The site also contains free worksheets. Early literacy concepts are taught with English materials, but practitioners have used them as guides for developing similar materials in the mother-tongue.

Jolly Phonics

Teacher Guide: Weather: English (P1, Term 2)

This is an example of a teacher guide used in the Northern Uganda Literacy Program, which helps students to improve literacy skills through basing instruction in the mother tongue.

Mango TreeUganda

5 Big Ideas of Literacy

This website provides information on the five “big ideas” in teaching beginning reading: phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, accuracy and fluency with text, vocabulary, and comprehension. These concepts are explained with examples and instructional tips in English, but can be applied to other languages when practitioners are developing mother-tongue instructional materials.

University of Oregon

Paul Nation

The research of Paul Nation, Emeritus Professor at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, provides guidance on developing second-language courses and course material.

Victoria University of Wellington

Worlds in the Making

Explore a case study of Worlds in the Making, which is developing and testing tri-lingual primers for students in Punjab, Pakistan.


Northern Uganda Literacy Program

Explore a case study of the Northern Uganda Literacy Program, which works to provide effective and affordable language instruction resources and community support for local language learning in Uganda and creates teaching and learning materials (e.g. primers and readers) in multiple languages.

Mango Tree

Supporting and Assessing Reading and Writing

This is a teacher's guide that provides examples of activities for students to practice reading and writing in local languages and in English, and offers tips on assessment.

Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA)

Make sure students have access to storybooks in the mother tongue.

Children tend to have limited access to reading material in their mother tongue. Implementers should work with publishers and community members to build a collection of storybooks and other reading material to support students in developing literacy skills in the mother tongue.

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StoryWeaver provides free online access to over 1,000 children's books in 32 languages. It also allows students to write their own stories inspired by images they select from a library. Stories can be filtered by reading level so children can read at a level that is right for them.

Pratham, 2015

Worldreader Mobile - Children's Books

Mobile access on basic phones and smart phones to free children's reading content, organized by age. Mostly English books, with some titles in Swahili, Spanish, and French. Also includes parents and teachers sections with read aloud books.


Ensure community cooperation, understanding, and buy-in.

Parents and community members may be resistant to mother-tongue instruction, as fluency in the official language is often seen as enabling upward mobility. Practitioners should clearly communicate the benefits of mother-tongue instruction and involve the community in particular aspects of the program (e.g., design, observation, evaluation).

Mother Tongue-based Education in Northern Uganda

Learn more about LABE’s Mother Tongue-based Education program (MTE). MTE includes families and communities as integral to its approach to mother-tongue education. Activities take place in home learning centers, which serve as multi-purpose learning spaces where educational programs for preschoolers, after-school learning for in-school children, and parenting or family literacy for adults are carried out. The major facilitators for this program are community volunteers known as "parent educators" who are selected by community members and trained by local primary school teachers.

Literacy and Adult Basic EducationUganda

Uganda School Health and Reading Program (SHRP)

Learn about the Uganda School Health and Reading Program (SHRP), which provides support to the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sport in implementing mother tongue instruction for grades 1-3 and invests in teacher training to support teachers who teach in the mother tongue.

Uganda School Health and Reading Program (SHRP)

Northern Uganda Literacy Program

Explore a case study of the Northern Uganda Literacy Program, which works to provide effective and affordable language instruction resources and community support for local language learning in Uganda and creates teaching and learning materials (e.g. primers and readers) in multiple languages.

Mango Tree

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