Sachin Sardana, Co- Founder & COO and Ajay Kumar Rathore, Co-Founder & CEO - Dhurina

How can using regional language be of any advantage in teaching? A lot of research has been done on the effects of the language of instruction and how it enhances or degrades the quality of education. Using mother tongue or any regional language while teaching helps students connect with the educators and gives them a sense of comfort, motivates them to participate and they feel understood and heard. Not only does it do wonders for the students, but also encourages the families to get familiar and engage in their children’s learning on a deeper level.

Using a language that the students know, helps amplify the learning process and makes it more effective. Classroom research on language and learning indicates strong links between language of instruction and the interactive, participatory, or learner- centered nature of the classroom. Fewer children are seen dropping out of mother tongue classes (Laitin, Ramachandran and Walter, 2015) understanding of what is being taught and what they are expected to do themselves, helps to improve children’s motivation to continue attending school. Parental understanding of the curriculum and ability to help the child with his or her homework are also considerably high.

The effects of using regional language on cognitive learning

The positive effects of using a familiar language of instruction include the ready construction of schemes for learning and the available resources and prior knowledge and an interest in learning new content. Using a language that the learner doesn’t have a good grasp on hinders the process, they spend an unnecessary amount of time understanding just the basics of the new language.

As Trudell quotes, pointing out a group of people-

“Look outside”

“Those adults are talking in their mother tongue, and the child is actively participating in the discussion. But if you bring him to a meeting that has a different language, he will act like he doesn’t know his right from his left. You can even see it in your own child, when he comes home from a day in English school, he is in shock and you can see it!”

If put simply, it is probably the most important thing to make sure that the methods that are in use are effective. No use of teaching if there is no learning!

Learner centered teaching is not learner centered if the language is not understandable

The learner-centered pedagogical model, shaped by Northern scholars (John Dewey and Carl Roger) that got popularized in the twentieth century by educators such as Maria Montessori, has made its way into educational policy. They argue that if the language is something new to the students, then the policy of teaching is flawed:

This approach relies heavily on critical thinking and dialogue, students and teachers need not only adequate space for discussions but also the linguistic skills as in the mode of teaching to express complex ideas and to ask critical questions. Thus, the learner centered model places significantly higher linguistic demands on teachers and students than teacher-centered approaches do.

The model also at some level gives the students and their families a safe space to express themselves and to understand what they are being taught and makes it better for the learner to convey if they face any problems and thus providing them the opportunity to be open to learning new things.

Using a local language as the mode of teaching is not as easy it may sound, it comes with several conditions-

  1. It requires that the language is suitable for teaching and has a level of written development.

Reading interventions in long-developed languages worldwide relies largely on accurate assumptions about the stability of the writing systems, availability of appropriate texts, adequacy of resources and curriculum, teacher’s capacity and literacy ability in the language of instruction, as well as the adequacy and appropriateness of available reading procedures.

The design and implementation of effective programmes must include-

  • Orthography review;
  • Vocabulary development in the target languages for teaching unfamiliar content;
  • Curriculum review at national and local levels
  • Materials development in the target language (nearly every local language medium intervention includes this);
  • Teacher’s capacity development for local language- medium pedagogy (e.g., Save the Children’s Literacy Boost)

Given the significant investment required to carry out these tasks, it is perhaps not surprising that governments and NGOs alike often decide to avoid formalized mother tongue-based pedagogy. This avoidance is, however, tantamount to burying one’s head in the sand, since the language and culture barriers to successful nationwide learning achievement do not go away. Still, it has become clear in the last decade that serious engagement in local language-medium learning is a complex and time-consuming effort.

  1. Reading assessment data is useful, but it must be clarified carefully

The data generated by these assessments, particularly the most common baseline        assessments, are indicating some important realities about language and reading. Of greatest importance is finding that children in primary school classrooms are not generally learning to read and write as measured by the criteria used in the assessments. These are focused primarily on the attainment of specific reading skills.

Even in cases where the students are taught in the local language, the rest of the curriculum content is generally conveyed through non-local language materials. Where the curriculum allocates space for teaching in the mother tongue, the necessary teacher training and mother tongue materials are generally absent. As a result, any reading skills acquired by them is at least as likely to be in the international language as in the local language. Moreover, this affects their oral fluency in the international language and reduces his or her reading skills to lower level skills such as letter identification and word memorization, rather than to vocabulary building or comprehension. The students have to put so much effort in understanding the basics of the other language that they can barely focus on learning something new.

Although, it has been observed over the years that using the mother tongue or some regional language is one of the best ways to impart education, the government as well as the schools are hesitant to adopt and invest in the practice. It is a big challenge to get the students to familiarize with the models that are being used and is definitely a barrier.

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