No sustainable development without language development

Earlier this year, the UN hosted a symposium on Language and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The symposium placed literacy at the centre of the SDGs, emphasising that there is no true development without language development.

Learning to read is one of the core skills that children must acquire in order for them to progress well in their education career and achieve lifelong learning. Because literacy is a pre-requisite in any knowledge-based society it is therefore crucial to achieving sustainable development.

The successes of the UN’s 2015 Millennium Development Goals have seen a global increase in primary school enrolment figures, an increase recorded across Uganda. However, simply “getting more children into school” has failed to address the problems of poor learning outcomes, low retention rates and low secondary education enrolment rates.

Improving literacy is central to solving these problems, helping to achieve the high quality of education needed for successful sustainable development.

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Let’s talk about Mother-Tongue Learning

Since 2007, each primary schools is required to teach the curriculum using the local language of its district (see more about language and education in Uganda here.) This is why RedEarth Education focuses on training schools how to teach lower primary children in their local language rather than in English.

But wait- English is THE Global Language?

The global dominance of English, the language of all international business, has given rise to the belief that learners must become proficient in English as quickly as possible. The government’s emphasis on local languages in education has confused many parents, who believe that a local language policy may hinder learners’ access to English, future employability and career success.  

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Local language users make global citizens

There has been significant research into the positive relationship between mother-tongue education and literacy in multilingual contexts such as Uganda’s. Based on this research, UNESCO upholds the belief that the language of primary school instruction should match the language of the child’s home and community.

If a child’s first few years of education are taught through a foreign language they have had little exposure to (such as English), the child will struggle to understand the lessons. This means they fail to learn to read and write properly, a competency needed to succeed beyond primary education. As a result, these children are much more likely to drop out of school or fail in early grades.

When children receive their primary education in their local, home language they can become fluent language users, skilled in reading and writing. They are then able to effectively transition and adapt their skills to English in P3, P4 and beyond.

RedEarth Education uses a phonics-based reading instruction to enable P1 and P2 learners to become fluent local language users, and increase their chances of continuing into secondary education.

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