Teacher, Speak My Language
Research from high-income countries shows that teaching kids to read first in their mother tongue helps them become literate sooner and pick up a second language faster than teaching them to read in a language other than the one they speak at home.
To measure the effectiveness of mother tongue instruction versus official language instruction in low-income countries, RTI will conduct a nationally representative study in up to four African countries—Kenya, Mali, Senegal, and Uganda—with a grant from the Quality Education in Developing Countries (QEDC) initiative of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
“In principle, these countries are all experimenting with some form of ‘mother-tongue first’ language instruction in their schools,” said Amber Gove, RTI senior education research analyst.
RTI will use classroom observation to document the actual language of instruction and materials in roughly 50 schools per country. RTI will then conduct Early Grade Reading Assessments (EGRAs) to evaluate basic reading skills in the language of instruction among third-grade students. “Our surveys will inform the design of remedial interventions supported by the Hewlett Foundation to improve literacy instruction and will also serve as the baseline assessments for those interventions,” said Gove.
The EGRA—a 15-minute oral assessment conducted one-on-one with the pupil to measure proficiency in reading fluency, comprehension, phonemic awareness, letter knowledge, and other foundation skills—was developed by RTI and has been applied in several African countries in both English and French, the two official languages in the study sample.
However, for this study, RTI will work with local language specialists to adapt the instrument into mother tongues: Kiswahili in Kenya; Bambara, Bomu, Fulfulde, and Songhoi in Mali; Wolof and Pulaar in Senegal; and Ganda in Uganda.
In each country, RTI will also partner with a local nongovernmental organization (NGO) to carry out EGRA adaptation, data collection, and data analysis, so at project end the NGO will be able to conduct subsequent assessments with minimal technical support.
RTI will present its findings to the respective Ministries of Education and civil society at analytical workshops that will inform the countries’ decisions around mother-tongue-first instruction as it impacts early reading outcomes.