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Multilingual education in the light of diversity

M S Siddiqui
22 Feb 2023 00:00:59 | Update: 22 Feb 2023 00:00:59
Multilingual education in the light of diversity

February 21 of each year is being observed all over the world as International Mother Language Day since 1999. The declaration was made by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to maintain linguistic diversity for the sake of a sustainable world. It is a tradition that UNESCO observes International Mother Language Day on February 21 every year based on a particular theme since 1999. The theme of the year 2023 is “Multilingual education - a necessity to transform education”.

The profound societal changes caused by globalisation, new migration patterns and other factors, have created a need to re-think the Key Competence Framework for lifelong learning in the 21st century. Language competences are further promoted as one of the keys to building resilience and opening doors to personal fulfilment, social inclusion, active citizenship and employment. With the growing numbers of migrants in the western countries, language teaching and learning is also one of the tools to facilitate their integration in those societies and foster a sense of belonging, as well as to promote intercultural understanding and
multilingual awareness.

In Bangladesh’s latest education policy, the National Education Policy 2010 (NEP 2010), English education has been given greater importance with a view to building a strong and progressive knowledge-based and information technology-oriented society. The NEP 2010 first has given emphasis on bi-linguistic education. English has been recognised as essential tool to building knowledge-based society and Emphasis on English writing and speaking from the very beginning of primary education.

Thousands of students are going to western countries for general education not only for higher education.  When pupils move from one country to another, and therefore from one language to another, they develop different sets of knowledge in their different languages. When moving to a new school (language) environment, such pupils require support to successfully transfer their existing knowledge from one language to another. They also need support to learn how to successfully communicate and develop cognitively on different subjects through the medium of new languages.

Inclusive multilingualism curricula integrate the language dimension comprehensively and go beyond a simple opposition between monolingual and bilingual educational models or mother tongue versus foreign language. The Multilingualism Curriculum, for instance, explicitly focuses on the development of linguistic awareness, the ability to reflect on one’s own linguistic situation and to analyse others’ situation, the knowledge about languages and their significance for people and groups, the linguistic knowledge necessary for the comparison of languages, a varied range of learning strategies, and self-confidence as far as the pupils’ languages are concerned.

Interlinguistic transfer is a time-consuming process. It can be facilitated by effective educational practices that call attention to the similarities and differences between languages. Interlinguistic transfer is multi-directional, but it is most efficient to begin with literacy in the pupils’ strongest languages and then pro-mote transfer to new languages.

According to international research, school success for multilingual children cannot come from separate classes where they learn the dominant language while everything else stays the same, especially when subject teaching is carried out with no consideration to the multilingual nature of the classroom. On the contrary, effective results can be expected only when applying a consistent approach throughout the classroom, school and system. In this regard, three dimensions of continuity of language learning should be looked at: biographical continuity, thematic continuity and plurilingual continuity.

Biographical continuity means not only that educational institutions should follow each other in a vertical perspective, for example from pre-primary to primary to secondary education, but also that there should be cooperation between different educational environments where a child participates in each particular phase. Thematic continuity implies coordinated and reflected exposure to academic language skills and knowledge across content areas and subjects, as well as usage of consistent materials and guidelines for language-sensitive content across and within disciplines.  Plurilingual continuity ensures that students’ plurilingual skills and competences are taken into account and used for the extension and consolidation of their linguistic repertoire, as well as for the acquisition of the academic register.

Continuity of learning is not only important for multilingual children or language learning. As with most enabling factors for successful multilingualism on a more general level, continuity is a quality feature of a well-functioning education system, which is beneficial for all learners. In accordance with this concept, it is crucial to ensure the quality of each educational element on its own, but it is the sum of different elements and their inter-relationship that defines whether or not the educational context fosters children’s development. The availability of many types of educational tracks and schools, along with different teaching styles, can be a major asset of an educational system as it provides flexibility, adaptability and opportunities for all.

Positive experiences of transition to school and between educational levels can be a critical factor for children’s future success and development, while negative experiences can lead to lasting difficulties and problematic behaviour resulting in poor educational performance. Transitional challenges can be particularly acute between primary and secondary and between lower and upper secondary school programs. In language learning, the difficulty of transitioning from one level to another is often com-pounded by different approaches and materials.

With the growing use of ICT and in response to rising mobility, new initiatives have been developed to create digital language portfolios, which foster opportunities for tracing the evolution of language proficiency and cultural competence. E-Portfolios function as an educational blueprint of learning opportunities in and beyond the classroom, and therefore create a unique opportunity for mapping the diversity of the linguistic repertoire of individuals and of whole classrooms, and demonstrate progress in students’ linguistic development over school and work careers.

Language teaching and learning strategies are often inherent representations of different language ideologies, i.e. beliefs, visions and conceptions of the role(s) of certain language(s) held by different institutional and policy actors. Competing ideologies drive aspects of language policy in different, often conflicting, directions both at national and supranational levels.

It may be noted with due care that all teachers need to have a profound knowledge about language and language learning, diagnosis and support. This includes scaffolding on the individual micro-level of each student and on the macro-level of planning of instruction for the classroom.

Although there is evidence that children learn best in and through their mother tongues, and the value of children’s first languages as an important means of communication and an integral part of personal, cultural and social identity has been recognised by researchers. Most of the countries presently provide opportunities for children from non-dominant linguistic groups to study their home languages at school, or to use home languages in learning other subjects and languages. Often even these provisions are not comprehensive enough, and such teaching is considered secondary and unimportant, which can result in low quality.

Teachers and pupils need to monitor and evaluate the results of the factual language development using language portfolios to keep track of the progress.  The proactive and strategic use of learners’ family languages and the use of cultural embedded tasks make it easier for pupils to access higher conceptual and cognitive tasks.  Pedagogical approaches such as translanguaging and metacomprehension, cooperative learning, and content and language integrated learning, are important tools that capitalise on linguistic diversity and should be integrated into teaching strategies. Information and communication technologies can facilitate teaching in multilingual contexts substantially. Therefore, it is important to provide access to the necessary infrastructure in schools and ideally also at home.

The writer is Non-Government Adviser, Bangladesh Competition Commission. He can be contacted at [email protected]