All over the world millions of children learn in a dominant language, which is foreign to their mother tongue. For example, Portuguese for Mozambicans, French for Malians and Standard Arabic for Moroccans. Many children don’t have access to the dominant language, for instance Khmer which is unknown by indigenous people in Cambodia.
Sustainable Development Goal 4
Point 4.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals aims to ‘ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes’ by 2030. Point 4.5 targets to ‘eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education … for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations’ (UNGA, 2015b). These targets however don’t mention the role of the language-of-instruction in providing access to literacy and quality education.
What is educational equity?
Lizzi O. Milligan, Zubeida Desai and Carol Benson define educational equity as the
normative process that facilitates equal educational opportunities to reach full realisation of rights, not just institutional access, but enabling spheres in which learners experience education and the outcomes that they are able to achieve. This includes meaningful access to the knowledge, skills, and values as part of what is being taught. So, educational equality entails greater epistemological access to the wider curriculum for all children. Educational equality can not be achieved by a sole method, but requires different approaches.
Impact of dominant language-of-instruction
English as a language-of-instruction has grown significantly. The idea behind this growth is
an assumed relationship between proficiency in a ‘global’ language and economic progress. Extensive research has shown that the use of a dominant language-of-instruction for children with a different mother tongue has led to limited access to the wider curriculum, higher dropout rates, diminished quality of education, lower learner self-esteem and identity confusions. The language-of-instruction is a major factor in the level of national development. Countries that do not provide access tot education in the first language of children have the lowest levels of literacy and educational realization worldwide. There is a so-called ‘learning crisis’. For example, in 2017 about 78% of grade 4 children in South Africa did not have basic reading skills. The negative impact particularly hit girls, children from lower socioeconomic groups, in poor urban areas and remote rural areas, nondominant groups, and conflict-affected areas. Although the use of a single language-of-instruction also negatively impacts highincome countries, aggravating differences between people from dominant and nondominant social groups. low-income and postcolonial countries face deeper impact. The latter not only show sharper differences between local and official, mostly ex-colonial, languages but they also more often have to deal with health and safety problems, especially for girls.
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