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Enhancing learning of children from diverse language backgrounds: mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual education in the early years
Place of publication | Year of publication | Collation: 
Paris | 2011 | 87p
Jessica Ball
Corporate author: 

This literature review discusses mother tongue based bilingual or multilingual education for children starting in early childhood. The report: (1) informs policy-makers of existing research and practices in mother-tongue instruction in early childhood and early primary school years; and (2) raises awareness of the value of maintaining the world’s languages and cultures by promoting and resourcing mother tongue-based education for young children. This analysis of current literature is framed within UNESCO’s mandate and strong commitment to quality education for all and to cultural and linguistic diversity in education (UNESCO, 2003a). This discussion is especially timely, given the slow and uneven progress (UNESCO, 2000) in meeting international targets for universal education articulated in the Education for All Goals 1 (ECCE), Goal 2 (Primary Education), and Goal 6 (Quality of Education) (World Declaration on Education for All, 1990).1 Impetus for the current report is provided by the UNESCO (2008a) ‘Global Monitoring Report on Education for All: Will we make it?’ The 2008 GMR report calls for unwavering political will to ensure that education from early childhood onwards is a priority of national governments, civil society and the private sector in order to ensure educational inclusion for the 72 million children out of school and to reduce the numbers of young learners who leave school without acquiring essential skills and knowledge. The report calls for increased investments in the provision of pre-primary education for children aged 3 and above, and for policy measures to provide care and education to children below age 3. UNESCO (2007a) emphasizes the role of early childhood care and development in laying the foundation for learning and setting the stage for successful engagement in formal education. UNESCO has encouraged mother tongue instruction in early childhood and primary education since 1953 (UNESCO, 1953). Yet, monolingualism in official or dominant languages is still the norm around the world (Arnold, Bartlett, Gowani, & Merali, 2006; Wolff & Ekkehard, 2000). In its report, ‘Strong Foundations: Early Childhood Care and Education’, UNESCO (2007a) points out the overlooked advantages of multilingual education in the early years. When children are offered opportunities to learn in their mother tongue, they are more likely to enrol and succeed in school (Kosonen, 2005) and their parents are more likely to communicate with teachers and participate in their children’s learning (Benson, 2002). Mother tongue based education especially benefits disadvantaged groups, including children from rural communities (Hovens, 2002), and girls, who tend to have less exposure to an official language and tend to stay in school longer, achieve better, and repeat grades less oft en when they are taught in their mother tongue (UNESCO Bangkok, 2005).

Resource Type: 
Literature reviews
International understanding / Globalisation / International education / Interdependency
Multilingual / Bilingual / Mother tongue
Social justice / Equity


mother tongue instruction; bilingual education; early childhood education; primary education
literature reviews; glossaries; international understanding; international education; inclusive education; diversity; multilingualism; bilingualism; mother tongue; global citizenship education