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Foundation for Applied Linguistics (FAL) and Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB MLE)
The Grade 3 Mon child’s drawing of a large insect with many legs includes an extended written text. Its title is “The Insect and the Bad Guy.” Judging from its smiling face, the insect is happy. Happy student, happy insect?
There could be a connection. Mon children living near the western border of Thailand have not traditionally been happy students. Why? Their days in the classroom were spent trying to understand the teacher speaking in a language (Standard Thai) that they did not understand well and could barely speak. Not anymore.
The Foundation for Applied Linguistics (FAL), in collaboration with local schools and communities, the Office of Basic Education Commission (OBEC), the Pestalozzi Children’s Fund (PCF), UNICEF, and SIL International began implementing a mother tongue-based bilingual education MTB MLE program 5 years ago in this Mon community.
The first cohort of children are now in Grade 3 and are not only eager and fluent readers and writers of their own Mon language but now also of Standard Thai. Located in just one school – but a very large school – the program enrolls 254 children in 9 kindergarten classes and 337 students in 9 Grade 1, Grade 2 and Grade 3 classes.
These Mon children’s experience is typical of non-dominant language learners who are given the opportunity to engage in formal education in a language they understand and speak fluently. They use that experience as the foundation for transferring their literacy and learning skills to the dominant language(s). They are on the road to using both languages for learning and sharing.
The Grade 3 Mon girl’s story is a case in point. She has transferred her Mon story writing knowledge and skill to writing stories in Thai. The story in the photo is written in Thai, not Mon.
The first line at the top of the page is the student’s name: Gasorn (a girl) Grade 3
The second line is the name of the insect called “Insect Goy”
Text under drawing:
There is an insect on a tree.
It climbs to the top of the tree.
There is a boy coming to catch the insect for food.
There is another new insect flying to be on the tree.
It finds a bad guy, then it just flies to bite the bad one.
Translation by Ms. Wanna Tienmee, Director, FAL
The importance of this story is not that it is excellent literature or perfect writing but that it is original. It is the product of the learner’s own experience and thinking. In the past, Mon students in Grade 3 only copied what the teacher wrote on the board. ‘Writing” was not a creative or expressive activity. It couldn’t be; the children didn’t understand the words. The best they could do was to memorize the Thai texts verbatim and copy them from the board into their “copy books”! Now, with a strong foundation in their mother tongue they are building a bridge to Thai that includes the knowledge of their own culture and community. Perhaps that is what makes for happy learners, and smiling insects.