If you don’t understand, how can you learn?

Quality education must be given in a language that children understand. However, for millions of persons this rule is not complied with and, according to UNESCO, 40% of the world’s population have no access to education in a language that they speak or understand.  This problem mainly exists in areas with greater linguistic diversity, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

According to the Global Education Monitoring Report, if children speak a language that is not spoken in the classroom, this will obstruct their learning, particularly those who live in poverty.

The recommendations made by UNESCO about this situation include the following:

  • Teach children in a language that they understand. As regards multiethnic communities, at least six years of mother tongue teaching is required to ensure that children who speak another non-dominant language are not left behind. In addition, bilingual and multilingual education programmes should be set up to facilitate the transition to education in the official language.
  • Train teachers so that they can teach in more than one language.
  • Diversify the recruitment of teachers from linguistic and ethnic minorities to provide teaching in schools in their own communities.
  • Provide inclusive didactic materials. Study plans should bear in mind the problems related to inclusion so that students from marginalised backgrounds have the chance to learn. In addition, classroom evaluation tools have to help teachers to identify students at risk of being left behind, and also allow them to monitor their progress and provide them with support.
  • Set up preparatory programmes for schools adapted to the cultural context. In such programmes, locally recruited bilingual teachers play a vital role in helping ethnic minority children and those from isolated communities by preparing them to aid their inclusion in primary schools.