Multilingual Education in Primary Schools
According to the 2001 Census, 52% of Nepalis speak a language other than Nepali as their mother tongue. Almost all government schools in Nepal teach exclusively in the national Nepali language, which means that over half of students are forced to learn a new language at the same time as learning academic material. This puts native speakers of languages other than Nepali at a disadvantage compared to their Nepali-speaking peers, causing lower their academic achievement, making them feel unwelcome in school, and perpetuating exclusion of minority language speakers.
Mother tongue-based multilingual education seeks to address this by beginning education in a child-friendly environment: one that is comfortable physically, has local teachers who can smooth children’s transition to school, and uses the language that children speak at home. Multilingual education recognizes the importance of other languages in a child’s education, and introduces Nepali and English as subjects when students are proficient enough in those languages to learn in them. Evidence from around the world tells us that students learn academic material and other languages most successfully when they begin school in the language they speak most comfortably.
As with our other projects, we approach this topic by building the capacity of communities and teachers. We raise awareness about the advantages of mother tongue-based education, according to the most recent research about languages and education, and the constitutional right of all Nepalis to receive basic education in their mother tongue. We network with School Management Committees, District Education Offices and local NGOs to ensure that our work is community-based and sustainable. We train teachers in techniques for teaching literacy effectively in both the students’ mother tongues and other languages, and work on developing teaching-learning materials in the students’ own language.
Four schools we work with have begun using student’s first languages in the classroom. Two schools use Limbu language in Panchthar District and two use Dangaura Tharu language in Dang District. Teachers in these schools report that students feel more comfortable in class, participate more actively, and come to class more regularly than they did when class was conducted entirely in Nepali. In Class 2 evaluations in one of the schools in Dang District, Tharu-speaking students using a Tharu-language test paper performed as well as Nepali-speaking students using a Nepali-language test paper. In past years Tharu speakers had not performed as well as their Nepali-speaking peers. We look forward to continued evidence of academic success as these students learn in the medium of their mother tongue.