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Africa: Lessons From Africa Prove the Incredible Value of Mother Tongue Learning

Heugh, Kathleen

Publisher:  Allafrica
Date Written:  27/02/2017
Year Published:  2017  
Resource Type:  Article

Using case studies of educational systems in Africa, Heugh defends the use of mother-tongue education in multilingual countries, whereby vernacular languages are used in primary schools to introduce official languages.



African research has made a valuable contribution to the framing of 2017's International Mother Language Day theme: "Towards sustainable futures through multilingual education".

This makes sense; after all, it was in Africa that the first sustained research about mother-tongue education in multilingual countries began 100 years ago. The continent was also the site of UNESCO's early interest in multilingualism in education. In 1953 the global body produced a report that explored the use of vernacular languages in education. It included a "continental survey" of Africa's identified vernacular languages and how they were being used in teaching and learning during the early primary school years.

The report's recommendations were based on available understanding of the relationship between language and learning at the time. It was believed then that after three years of mother-tongue medium education children could successfully switch over and use an international language -- such as English or French -- for learning in schools.

Many African countries, mostly former French and Portuguese colonies, ignored these recommendations after gaining their independence. They prioritised international over local languages, even in the early primary school years. Most countries in "Anglophone" Africa, meanwhile, have attempted some form of early literacy development in the local language before children switch to English medium education.


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