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(June 2007) The International Workshop on Improving Quality of Mother Tongue/Bilingual Literacy Programmes brought together education experts from 18 countries to discuss issues related to Multilingual Education (MLE) projects. Workshop sessions were led by education consultants from UNESCO, Stockholm University and SIL International.
Sponsors for this workshop, held 18-22 June in Dhaka, Bangladesh, were UNESCO Bangkok Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, Asia-Pacific Programme of Education for All, UNESCO Dhaka and UNESCO Institute of Lifelong Learning. MLE experts from Africa and Latin America also attended.
One purpose of the workshop was to build the capacity of the participants in designing effective mother-tongue and bilingual literacy programs which include a transition plan to learn the national language. Dr. Carol Benson, Educational Language Issues specialist from Stockholm University in Sweden, and Ms. Catherine Young, SIL International (Asia) Literacy Consultant, made individual presentations and also facilitated or co-facilitated several workshop sessions.
During the workshop, participants reported on MLE projects in their countries, with special emphasis on four areas: advocacy and policy formulation, teaching/learning processes and curriculum-content development, transition from mother tongue to national language, and community participation and ownership.
Dr. Benson and Ms. Young jointly facilitated a session that included topics on decision-making for writing systems, community involvement in the selection of a writing system, and advocacy and approval from authorities. Ms. Young also explained the five central principles for maximizing the transfer from education using a student’s first language to a second language.
During a session facilitated by both Dr. Benson and Ms. Young, Dr. Benson explained innovations in MLE programs from different countries based on her experiences in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Citing examples from her experience as SIL Philippines Associate Director for Academic Affairs, Ms. Young discussed research initiatives in the Philippines and other countries. In another session, Ms. Young and participants discussed methods of effective adult education, curricular content, needs assessment, materials production, participatory learning and assessment of learning.
During the workshop, participants visited a mother-tongue/bilingual literacy program for children and adults. They observed classroom activities, held discussions with teachers, program stakeholders. In a group discussion afterward they reported on their own experiences.
The final day of the workshop was devoted to the development of strategies for advocacy and interregional cooperation, policy dialogues for promoting mother- tongue education and country follow-up action plans.
SIL's participation in MLE involves serving as an advocate for and with local communities, linking them to supportive resources and helping each build capacity to develop appropriate programs. SIL partners with governmental agencies, local communities and others, not only to preserve minority and endangered languages, but also to help design MLE programs. As a nongovernmental organization, SIL has been in formal relations with UNESCO since 1993 and in special consultative status since 1998. Such affiliations provide a platform for SIL to contribute to the global dialogue on language development and MLE.