The benefits of mother tongue education in Senegal

Rudy Klaas

The benefits of learning in one's mother tongue are no longer disputed. But is it affordable to implement mother tongue as the first language of learning and teaching for all learners? And if it is, where can one find the necessary expertise and ideas to make it happen? In this article, Rudy shares the story of a mother tongue project in the small village of Diembering, south-west Senegal, which may begin to answer these questions.

Project background
In 1998, school teachers in Diembering attended a mother tongue literacy teacher training event run by SIL International. The teachers then convinced their headteacher to try out the methodology in their school. This first initiative was a success, and convinced parents that their children would learn better in their mother tongue. The mother tongue programme that followed sought to reduce the high failure rates in schools that resulted from students' poor development of basic literacy skills in their first few years of education. In 2002, the government launched a separate experimental multi-lingual education programme in five locations, including Diembering.

Changes within Diembering school

Differences between Diembering and other schools
Other experimental mother tongue classes in the area were less successful. During my on-going monitoring visits, students, teachers and education officials have suggested reasons for this:

Affordable and worthwhile?
Detailed figures are not available yet on how much the experimental mother tongue classes cost per student. However, these classes in Diembering produced almost four times the level of exam passes than the traditional classes - but certainly didn't cost four times as much to run. So the mother tongue class approach is clearly worthwhile.

The cost of producing traditional class books is not that different from producing the same book translated into a mother tongue. Translation costs don't have to be high either; some work can be done voluntarily, if time is taken to find motivated translators.

Students from mother tongue classes often complete their learning goals faster than those in traditional classes. This can reduce overall education system costs, especially if it reduces the number of students who repeat years.

We need to think:

If a country spends less money on education that doesn't work, it costs them more in the long term than if they spend more money on education that does work!

Rudy Klass
SIL - Klaas
BP 2075

Reading Kwatay
Reading Kwatay

Title: The Benefits of Mother Tongue Education in Senegal
Author: Klass, R
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2008
Published in: Enabling Education 12