There are a huge number of different languages in most African countries, but typically only one or two of them are recognised as national languages in order to make communication more effective. However, many remote rural and pastoralist groups do not speak the national language, despite it being the language of instruction in their children’s schools. This creates a huge problem for children in these communities because from the first day of school, they are not able to fully understand the content of their lessons. For many children, this lack of understanding will negatively impact on their entire education, leading to poor performance and high rates of drop-out. Without finishing school, the cycle of illiteracy and poverty continues.
There is a solution to this problem. Research shows that teaching students in their mother tongue in the first three or four years of school improves their performance and makes them more likely to complete their education. This has been internationally acknowledged, and many countries now prescribe mother tongue instruction in primary schools. Unfortunately, without teaching materials and teacher training, it is very difficult to provide.
By teaching children in their mother tongue when they start school, students are not only able to learn more quickly but are better prepared to learn the national language or any second language e.g. English. This sets them on course to receive all the benefits that are available to people who complete their education.
We provide the training and develop the learning and teaching materials required, to teach students in their mother tongue. We work to produce early reader books and other materials to support literacy and numeracy that are locally appropriate and culturally relevant. This can range from reading material derived from local stories and poems to material that addresses important social issues such as healthcare.
In supporting local language instruction we work closely with parents in the community, who are often keen to have their children instructed in the national language, seeing this as the language of success. We help parents to understand that local language literacy will better prepare their children for the future, and we also support parents themselves to gain local language literacy, enabling many of them to read and write for the first time in their lives.
Northern Uganda has recently emerged from nearly 30 years of civil conflict and war that has left the region isolated from much of the country, including in the languages spoken. Helping this region to recover and join the rest of the country means providing education that is relevant to these communities. We have developed early childhood education materials and training in five local languages. These are now being used in six districts and reach over 100,000 children and their parents. These tools have also been incorporated into the national teacher training curriculum, and are now available for any teacher seeking to offer instruction in these five languages.
We also provide early childhood education in local language to the Maa-speaking people from Laikipia, Kenya. This project has provided Maa-language materials to 28 primary schools (including a special school for children with disabilities) and 45 kindergartens and we hope to extend this work to other communities in the remote and arid regions of Kenya.
It has been proven that learning in your mother tongue at a young age better prepares you for education success. This is the case even if you wish to become fluent in another language.