Mother tongue-based education provides ethnic children with a fair chance to learn

08 September 2018
Students in mother tongue language class
UNICEF Thailand/2016/Preechapanich
Teacher at Ban Bon School in Pattani Province teaches students in kindergarten using Pattani-Malay language, initiated by UNICEF Thailand and partners under the Patani Malay-Thai Multilingual Education Programme. The project was initiated in 2006 to promote mother-tongue based education in Thailand’s southernmost provinces where the majority of the population speaks Pattani-Malay. It is aimed at improving students’ academic performance. Thai and English are progressively introduced throughout the primary cycle and taught alongside the mother tongue. The programme was developed based on global studies and evidence, which show that children’s learning outcomes improve significantly when they are taught in their mother tongue particularly in the early grades.

BANGKOK, 7 September 2018 – Children whose mother tongue is not Thai do better in school, including improved Thai literacy skills, when they participate in mother tongue-based multilingual education, says a new report released by UNICEF and Mahidol University on the eve of International Literacy Day 2018.

Thailand now needs to further integrate mother tongue-based education into national education policies and expand its use with non-Thai speaking communities across Thailand, to reduce education disparities and improve learning outcomes for all children.

The report, titled “Bridge to a Brighter Tomorrow: The Patani Malay-Thai Multilingual Education Programme”, presents evidence from a pilot programme implemented in the far south of Thailand, showing how the mother tongue-based education approach has transformed literacy and learning for children whose mother tongue is not Thai. The programme focuses on mother tongue-based instruction in the early grades, as a bridge to the national language progressively becoming the primary language of instruction.

In Thailand, children who do not speak Thai as their mother tongue face difficulties in learning effectively, the report notes. On average, they are more likely than the general population of children to be excluded from school; they do poorly in national exams and are more likely to drop out of school.

 “Children whose mother tongue is not Thai clearly need special attention and a very specific approach to help them learn more effectively,” said Thomas Davin, UNICEF Thailand Representative at a forum organized at the Ministry of Education in Bangkok.

“The global evidence, and now evidence from Thailand, show that children learn best when they learn in their mother tongue in the early years. This strong learning foundation provides children with the bridging skills to master the national language and other subject areas.” Davin added.

While Thailand has made great strides in education, achieving near 100 per cent of primary school enrollment and a 98 per cent youth literacy rate, about 1 in 3 youth aged 15-24 from non-Thai speaking households are illiterate in Thai, according to a national survey on the situation of children and women in Thailand, conducted by the National Statistical Office with support from UNICEF in 2015-2016. 

UNICEF partnered with Mahidol University’s Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia (RILCA) and Thailand Research Fund to develop, to run and measure the results of a pilot programme in schools in Thailand’s far south, where Patani Malay-speaking children have, for decades, been among the lowest achieving students in the country.

The report presents the “why” and the “how” of the programme, its results and the implications for education policy in Thailand. It is designed to be used by Education policy makers to integrate mother tongue-based education into national education policies.

Professor Banchong Mahaisavariya, President of Mahidol University, said that the programme underwent several evaluations and tracked students’ performance, demonstrating that children quickly developed better Thai language skills and improved learning across other subjects. The programme also gained strong support from parents and local communities, and has won national and international awards, including the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize in 2016.

 “I call on all stakeholders to take the steps needed to expand this innovation to other primary schools in the far south and to extend the mother tongue-based approach to other parts of Thailand as necessary, to help build a bridge to a brighter future for many more children.” Professor Banchong said.

Associate Professor Sophon Napatorn, Assistant to the Minister of Education, said that as Thailand pursues education reform, policy makers need to have access to evidence of “what works” as well as tools to effect change so that all children in Thailand are included and learning.

“This programme can be a good model to guide education planning for Thailand 4.0,” said Associate Professor Sophon. “It can help address inequities in the education system, reducing the gap between students in big cities and rural areas”.

Leading Thai academics also joined the forum, including Professor Emeritus Dr. Charas Suwanwela, Independent Education Reform Committee Chairperson and Dr. Krissanapong Kiratikara, National Committee on Human Development and Empowerment Strategies Chairperson. They both highlighted the importance of literacy skills as the foundation for learning and human development, that will underpin Thailand’s future development.

Media Contacts

Alistair Gretarsson

Chief of Communication

UNICEF Thailand Country Office

Tel: +66 92 256 2418

Kongdej Keesukpan

Communication Specialist

UNICEF Thailand Country Office

Tel: +66 82 077 2233

Multimedia content

Students in mother tongue language class
UNICEF Thailand/2016/Preechapanich
Students in kindergarten at Ban Bon School in PattaniProvince learn happily under the UNICEF-supported Patani Malay-Thai Multilingual Education Programme. The project was initiated in 2006 to promote mother-tongue based education in Thailand’s southernmost provinces where the majority of the population speaks Pattani-Malay. It is aimed at improving students’ academic performance. Thai and English are progressively introduced throughout the primary cycle and taught alongside the mother tongue.The programme was developed based on global studies and evidence, which show that children’s learning outcomes improve significantly when they are taught in their mother tongue particularly in the early grades.

 

More information about the study and its findings can be found in the Bridge to a Brighter Tomorrow: The Patani Malay-Thai Multilingual Education Programme Report. You can download the full and summary reports from the link below.

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