UNESCO IICBA promotes equity and inclusivity through mother tongue-based multilingual education

No child should have to sit in a classroom where they do not understand what is being said. Research shows students develop stronger cognition and literacy when they are taught in their first tongue. In Africa, however, many students have to study in a language they do not understand.

This #InternationalMotherLanguageDay, UNESCO IICBA launched a teachers’ guide to support African teachers and teacher educators in implementing mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB MLE). In a webinar on February 24, 2021 UNESCO IICBA displayed the guide to a group of approximately 45 participants from around the world, and appreciated the crucial role teachers play in “fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society” – the theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day.

The webinar featured a dynamic discussion between speakers, academics, and practitioners. Participants asked keen questions and displayed as much passion as the speakers themselves. The speakers included UNESCO IICBA Director Yumiko Yokozeki; Ann Therese Ndong Jatta, the Director of UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa; Moges Yigezu, Associate Professor of Linguistics at Addis Ababa University; Saip Sy, a Program Specialist from the UNESCO Office in Mali and Binyam Sisay, a Program Officer also at UNESCO IICBA. The session was moderated by Saliou Sall, the Senior Program Coordinator of UNESCO IICBA and Maryann Dreas-Shaikha, a consultant at UNESCO IICBA, moderated the question-and-answer session. The speakers delved into the benefits and complexities of implementing MTB MLE in Africa.
“Mother tongue-based multilingual education is an important strategy to prevent these challenges and reduce the risk of student dropout…[and] protect children’s rights to education, especially for girls and disadvantaged-language speakers,” said Director Yumiko Yokozeki. The language of instruction should not be a resource for learning, not a barrier to learning. The many mother tongues spoken throughout Africa need to be envisioned as educational resources for children.”

Click here for recording of the webinar

The publication Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education in Africa: A Guide for Teachers is divided into six chapters: 1.) an introduction to the language-of-instruction challenge; 2.) defining and exploring mother tongue-based multilingual education; 3.) the teacher’s role; 4.) teaching and assessment ideas; 5.) the role of families and communities; and 6.) African experiences in mother tongue-based multilingual education. Each chapter is supplemented with reflection questions to encourage teachers and teacher educators to consider the effects of implementing the concepts in their own contexts.
The guide will be made available on UNESCO IICBA’s website shortly.