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Education Law Policy and Social Justice Mother Tongue Instruction
The population of students receiving their instruction in another language apart from their mother tongue is increasing as a consequence of the increased migration. Indeed, as Bingol (2012) points out, “migration and language are clearly linked issues…. because the language of instruction in the schools is different from the language spoken at home, some arrangements must be done for these children in these bilingual situations” (1016). Quite a number of research studies conducted in the past indicate that learners could have better comprehension of curriculum in those instances whereby learning is firmly rooted in their mother tongue. This is particular the case in early learning. In one such study, it was found out that in early childhood classroom education, mother tongue was a key factor in the further advancement of the learning abilities of children (Awopetu, 2016). To a large extent, students tend to have more positive attitudes towards education – and the school at large – when instruction has a strong mother tongue foundation. It therefore follows that there is sufficient basis for the maintenance of a learner’s mother tongue as the primary language of instruction – particularly at the onset of schooling. In seeking to assess a subject of this nature, it would be prudent to first supply a concise definition of the terms mother tongue. In basic terms, mother tongue is ones native language or first language. It should, however, be noted that mother tongue as a term is not only limited to its linguistic aspects. To a large extent, mother tongue should also be conceptualized from the perspective of a child’s cultural as well as social identity. This is the meaning of mother tongue that will be embraced in the context of this discourse.
To a large extent, English remains the most spoken language in the global context. However, the list of widely-spoken mother tongues is endless. However, in the context of globalization and other population and geographical dynamics, there are some mother tongue languages that happen to be more widely spoken than others. Examples of the said mother tongue languages could be inclusive of, but they are not limited to, Vietnamese, French, Korean, Wu Chinese, German, Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, Arabic, Hindi, Spanish, as well as Mandarin Chinese. In matters education, mother tongue is of great relevance. This is particularly the case given that a whole host of key competencies including interpersonal skills and critical thinking abilities are simultaneously fostered with the development of mother tongue. It therefore follows that when transiting to formal education, students take with them these skills – which are essentially intertwined with their mother tongue. An example would come in handy in seeking to explain this assertion. A person could reinforce their understanding of a particular word by associating the said word with certain contexts. When this abstract skill is learned in the context of the mother tongue, it could be difficult to make inferences through a second language. The abstract skill may have to be learned again. From the context of education, mother tongue could come in handy in the gradual development of other language skills. This is more so the case given that it serves as a foundation upon which other languages are mastered. The social as well as cultural identity of a child ought not to be interfered with as doing so could cause discomfort and interfere with the learning process. This could also end up affecting a child’s self-worth and self-esteem. Indeed, there is evidence indicating that learners are more likely to be comfortable in those instructional environments that promote mother tongue as a language of instruction. In the words of Ozfidan (2017), “mother tongue education has a crucial role in ensuring school attendance, raising the quality of education, and integrating children into society” (15).
The expansion of education access by way of promoting language rights so as to facilitate the advancement of the learning agenda has been a contentious issue in education circles for a significant period of time. This is more so the case when it comes to the education formats that ought to be advanced in pursuit of education rights for America’s immigrant populations. It is important to note that the U.S. education system largely focuses on offering competent public education. Competency does not necessarily man being alive to the plight of students who do not have English as their first acquired language. This effectively means that the increasing immigrant populations are likely to have their need for key language resources ignored – as has been the case in the past. This is despite there being a framework for expanded access – i.e. via various programs and policies. According to Sahin (2018), these, however, do not have the adequate pertinence and emphasis required to drive the language rights agenda forward. With the U.S. increasingly becoming a multilingual society, Sahin (2018) is of the opinion that the relevance of advancing linguistic diversity in classroom settings cannot be overstated. This is more so the case given that linguistic diversity and multiculturalism are two important factors in the social justice realm. It would be prudent to take this issues into consideration from the perspective of the new global economy. This is more so the case as it relates to immigration, language, and education policy.
It should be noted, from the onset, that the arguments presented in this particular discourse tie to the struggle for the promotion of education access. This is more so the case as to relates to America’s immigrant populations and their language rights. In essence, being the land of opportunities, this country welcomes all. Those who come from other countries bring along their own cultural and linguistic identities – effectively attaching to them a minority tag. Although public education is offered to all, the U.S. education system – as presently constituted – fails to embrace the said immigrant population’s language and cultural needs (Peyton, 2015). According to the author, when the…
…make meaningful progress in this realm, it will be difficult to engage students at both the emotional and cognitive level in an attempt to ensure that they acquire the needed problem solving skills. It is important to note that students join school with diverse from diverse backgrounds – be they social, economic, or cultural. This a fact that cannot be ignored as doing so would essentially amount to the isolation of learners on the basis of their language-minority status. At present, the United States has approximately five million English learners - a significant percentage of whom are school-age. The number of English learners will continue increase going forward as a consequence of a multitude of factors. Some of these have been highlighted by Stepanek and Raphael (2010) who are of the opinion that immigration in the US “has led to a rapid and unprecedented influx of immigrants to the Pacific Northwest as well as a rise in the number of English language learners” (31). It is important to note that this is a trend across the country and is not limited to this particular region only. Further, it should also be noted that as per some estimates, by the year 2030, approximately 50% of learners in the U.S. public school system will be from backgrounds that and non-English-speaking. This is a reality that cannot be ignored. The sooner we embrace this fact, the better. Otherwise, the education system is likely to not only shortchange learners from minority cultures, but also churn out learners who are linguistically deprived. There is also need to be aware of the fact that most EEL learners come from economically disadvantaged families. Interventions designed to improve the current situation ought to be cognizant of this fact so that cost considerations can be factored-in in the attempt to factor equality in linguistic improvement measures.
In the final analysis, it should also be noted that the world of today is a global village. Success is no longer a function of being familiar with a single dominant language. Those most likely to succeed in an integrated society are those who can be able to communicate and tap from their cultural background. At present, English-learner achievement appears to be the primary focus of the system. On this front, the acquisition of language happens to be limited to ESL. There are many countries from which the U.S. could model its approach to mother tongue instruction. These include, but they are not limited to South Africa. In South Africa, there is a constitutional mandate that requires learners to be instructed in the language of their choosing. However, it would be worth noting that the implementation of this ideal has been rather challenging. Thus, the US could learn from both the successes and failures of the model. As it has been pointed out elsewhere in this text, there is sufficient research indicating that instruction in mother tongue appears to foster learning. In the words of Awopetu (2016) “It is generally accepted that in…
Awopetu, A.V. (2016). Impact of Mother Tongue on Children’s Learning Abilities in Early Childhood Classroom. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 23, 58-63.
Busse, V., Cenoz, J., Dalmann, N. & Rogge, F. (2019). Addressing Linguistic Diversity in the Language Classroom in a Resource?Oriented Way: An Intervention Study with Primary School Children. Language Learning.
Bingol, A.S. (2012). Mother tongue instruction policies towards Turkish migrant children in Europe. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 70, 1016-1023.
Mcmahon, T., Griese, E.R. & Kenyon, D.B. (2019). Cultivating Native American scientists: An application of an Indigenous model to an undergraduate research experience. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 14, 77-110.
Ozfidan, B. (2017). Right of Knowing and Using Mother Tongue: A Mixed Method Study. English Language Teaching; 10(12), 15-23.
Peyton, J.K. (2015). Language of Instruction: Research Findings and Program and Instructional Implications. Reconsidering Development, 4(1), 71-79.
Philips, J.S. (2015). The rights of indigenous peoples under international law. Global Bioethics, 26(2), 75-82.
Sahin, I. (2018). A look at mother tongue education in the context of the right to education. Educational Research and Reviews, 13(9), 343-353.
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