The most common misconception is that mother tongue education threatens national unity – the assimilatory idea of one people, one language, one nation.
Policy-makers are influenced by political, social and practical considerations. Questions are raised around resourcing, number of languages, lack of orthographies, teacher training and which subjects should be included.
The role of international donors, relationships with former colonisers and the expectations of parents, are all crucial factors affecting whether or not investment is made in mother tongue education.
It’s beyond our organisational scope to question ideas around national unity, however we notice that mother tongues co-exist with official languages in societies worldwide. This reality seems likely to continue so long as migration continues.
Mother tongue education increases chances of success at school. Parents are more likely to communicate with teachers and engage in their children’s learning. Rural and indigenous communities, as well as girls benefit the most.
Examples of well-planned mother tongue based programmes demonstrate that it is entirely feasible to overcome the practical challenges often highlighted as show-stoppers. Initiatives in Bangladesh, Belize, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Eritrea, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Senegal, Suriname, Thailand and the US attest to the genuine impact of multilingual intercultural education.
These and other compelling examples of bilingual mother tongue based programmes have considerably reduced repetition, dropout and all the associated societal and personal costs that these bring with them. Studies show that the actual costs of introducing bilingual education are limited and are offset by the future costs if these opportunities are not taken.
Yet around the globe at local, regional and national level it is rare to find the political will necessary to apply best practices.