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Primary education programs that begin in the mother tongue help students gain literacy and numeracy skills more quickly. When taught in their local language, students readily transfer literacy skills to official languages of education, acquiring essential tools for life-long learning. The results are the growth of self esteem and a community that is better equipped to become literate in languages of wider communication.
Victor, a bilingual primary school teacher in the village of Santa Maria Ocotán, Mexico, wanted to study the effect of mother-tongue education in his first grade class. He taught his students all of their subjects in Tepehuan, although most of the teaching materials were in Spanish. Another first grade teacher used only Spanish. At the end of the year, the test scores on the standardized government tests for the students taught in their mother tongue surpassed those for the students taught only in Spanish, even though the tests were in Spanish.
Like his nomadic father and grandfather before him, Yousif was a shepherd in the mountainous terrain of West Asia. And like his ancestors, the continual travels limited his access to primary education. Nomadic peoples are often illiterate because those wanting education for their children must either sell their flocks and settle in poor urban areas or send their boys away from home to attend school.
But Yousif and others in his family began attending an innovative mobile schooling program. Adults and children started reading and writing in their mother tongue and transferred their literacy skills to the national language and then to basic English. Evening classes were held only during the summer and winter grazing seasons due to seasonal migration. One season, when Yousif’s family was unable to migrate, he enrolled in a government school; the teachers were amazed that a nomadic child could read with such fluency. Even though Yousif had completed only the two-year mobile program, he was promoted to grade four.
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