Why Is Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education Important?

By Daniel Marco Siegfried
Co-Founder & Managing Director Programmes

DECEMBER 3, 2020



Child’s Dream works in one of the most ethnically diverse parts of the world. In our four countries we have close to 300 different ethnic groups. Most of these groups have their own language or dialect. According to UNESCO, there are 7,097 living languages in the world and 50% of them are in Asia-Pacific. In South East Asia we have 1,246 languages alone. Many of these languages are endangered because governments only recognise one official language and therefore all instruction at schools is either Thai, Lao, Khmer or Burmese. Most of the ethnic students that come into government primary schools cannot understand the instructions of their teacher.

In turn, most teachers cannot speak the ethnic language and are not trained to teach the official language as a foreign language, making education not only ineffective, but also intimidating for the students.

The result in the short-term is that many students drop out of school and in the long-term many of these children become functionally illiterate, further marginalising them in their adult lives. Child’s Dream addresses this problem by working with two partners that are specialised in mother tongue-based multilingual education.

The Foundation for Applied Linguistics (FAL) is our partner in Thailand. With our support, FAL is working in ethnic areas at six government schools with almost 600 students to train 15 local teachers and develop culturally appropriate materials for Kindergarten to Primary Grade 3. By using their own ethnic language as a bridge, the students not only improve their mother tongue language, but also effectively learn the official language. After only a few years our students’ Thai language ability is higher than the national average.

The Non-Timber Forest Products organisation (NTFP) is our partner in Cambodia. With our support, NTFP has increased literacy and numeracy among Kavet communities, one of the ethnic groups in Cambodia. NTFP has trained 32 non-formal education teachers to deliver their bilingual Kavet curriculum to roughly 300 students.