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Research report

Reflecting language diversity in children’s schooling: moving from ‘Why multilingual education’ to ‘How?’

Helen Pinnock

This research and learning project started as a way to learn more about the chances for pilot mother tongue based multilingual education projects to become scaled up within the school systems in which they were operating

People in schools, families and governments in many countries know that the way language is handled in basic education is not working. They know that many children learn very little in school, and that one of the main reasons for achieving poorly or dropping out is not being able to understand or use the language of teaching and examinations.

Educators often know that this effect is most dramatic in settings of poverty and poor teaching quality. Children in these settings know this best of all, struggling through hours of classes trying to make a torrent of unfamiliar words make sense - or realising in an exam that they will not pass because they do not understand many of the questions. Some never go to school, knowing that their language and identity will not be welcome. These issues are estimated to affect 221 million school aged children worldwide (Dutcher, 2004).

This research and learning project started as a way to learn more about the chances for pilot mother tongue based multilingual education (MTBMLE) projects to become scaled up within the school systems in which they were operating. Each project already had an advocacy and scale-up strategy attached to it, but we wanted to do more to find out whether that strategy was strong enough, and what could be done to improve it.

Why did we want to do this with multilingual education projects, rather than any other type of education project? We wanted to look into whether there were any particular issues associated with scaling up multilingual education that were distinctive or more challenging than other types of education change programme. This was because, although the evidence is increasingly being accepted that children who do not speak dominant languages at home need multilingual education, progress towards offering multilingual education to the children who need it has been slow, particularly outside Central and South America.