Abau Multilingual Education Program

The Sandaun Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG)—and the Green River District in particular—is home to the people of the Abau language group. An Abau literacy program that began with SIL involvement in 1990 has developed and grown to include a multilingual education program that transitions the students from literacy in the Abau vernacular to literacy in English.

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With more than 800 languages, PNG is the most linguistically diverse country in the world. Therefore, many language communities are multilingual. This diversity creates challenges to students who enter school speaking those languages but have an insufficient understanding of English, the official language of education. The government of PNG began a formal reform program to address this multilingual education challenge as early as 1989.

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As a first step toward educational reform in the Sandaun Province, the government had commissioned a formal review of instruction among the Abau and other existing literacy and non-formal education programs. When the national program reached the Abau-speaking communities in 1996, it began with a tremendous head start because of mother-tongue literacy and educational awareness activities previously started by SIL. “The impact of basic literacy and education has been positive,” concluded a national education officer in his report about the Abau program.

In 1994, an Abau Training Center opened to offer a wide variety of courses ranging from the use of typewriters, calculators and computers to simple bookkeeping. A current special emphasis is women’s courses and bilingual teacher training. The reading and writing of the Abau language is an integral part of every course.

With active Abau community participation and some SIL support, the program offered by the Training Center expanded to include nearly 100 teachers in 25 mother-tongue preschools, plus grades one and two and adult classes. Through innovative program design and bilingual teaching methods, classes start with basic literacy and numeracy in the Abau language to provide a solid educational foundation for Abau speakers.

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A number of the teachers, trained at the local Training Center and experienced in the schools that use mother-tongue instruction, have moved to positions in the national elementary school system. Ninety percent of the students completing the first three-year Abau curriculum achieved scores in the top 50 percent of student performance when they entered the government primary school. Those who have been through the Abau literacy classes have attained high academic achievement at the government-sponsored Green River High School.

 

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