Multi-lingual education

Myanmar’s diverse languages and cultures are a rich resource for community and national development. There is strong international evidence that it would be very beneficial, for children, their communities and the whole society, if ethnic nationality children were able to learn in and through their mother tongues, especially for their early years of education. Mother-tongue based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) is not about restricting access to national and international languages. Rather, MTB-MLE is about properly preparing children to learn these languages well. Starting in the language they know best allows children to build a strong foundation, which then enables them to make an effective transition into other national or international languages in due course.

(UNESCO 2015)

Prior to the 2015 National Education Law, Myanmar language was designated as the only language of instruction in all government schools, severely limiting the accessibility of government schools for children from ethnic areas. The Amendment to the National Education Law allows for use of ethnic languages in the classroom alongside Myanmar at primary level, but falls short of promoting full MTB-MLE. The NLD election manifesto offers the prospect that this may be addressed in future, with two specific pledges to support education in mother tongue.

“we will a) strive to ensure that primary-age ethnic children who speak different languages are taught by teachers who are able to speak the mother-tongue of their students and b) fund state and regional programmes to enable the use of mother-tongue in primary education.”

Multilingual contexts require the teaching and use of multiple languages and literacies and, whilst some teachers and schools are seeking to implement MTB-MLE, they do so with limited capacity and in the absence of supportive overall frameworks. It is likely, therefore, that many teachers will require pedagogic and broader framework/materials support, to adopt effective approaches to literacy acquisition and to language learning and use in their specific-and often very challenging contexts.

MEC will continue to support monastic and ethnic education systems to develop their capacity to identify, design, deliver and monitor appropriate multilingual approaches for their contexts. This might include capacity for curriculum and materials development and local adaptations, training and mentoring teachers and working with communities to understand, participate in and experience the benefits of multilingual education.