Harish Boodhoo in his series of articles against Kreol as the medium in schools assumes that people who advocate the use of the mother tongue advocate it solely because it would help underprivileged children. What he does not realize is that the mother tongue is not only helpful for children with learning difficulties, which would be a sufficient reason to rely on it, but is a marked benefit for all children. The wrong language policy on the medium used in schools is the main reason for the bad results at school, that is true. But, in addition, all the studies done recently are absolutely overwhelmingly clear on one fundamental point that effects all children:
There are two types of language proficiency that are developed during schooling:
One is referred to as Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills, (BICS) and this level of language proficiency can be acquired in schooling that's done in a foreign or non-mother-tongue language (See Jim Cummins' website www.iteachilearn.com/cummins). The kids can all thus make some progress in communicating in English or French.
But language is not just "a tool of communication", as the cliché pretends. It is much more than this. And this is what Mr. Boodhoo fails to understand.
Language is our tool of understanding. It is a template upon which we map our understanding of time, of causality, of form, of dialectics, of sense-input, of emotions, even of thoughts, of reasoning, of analysis, of logic, of creativity. It is the structure in our heads through which we make sense of the world and of the input we get from it through our senses, and from our own bodies, and from our minds. And, importantly for our argument, we have a natural capacity to do this mapping. It is instinctive.
And this brings us therefore to the second form of language proficiency.
It is called Cognitive Academic Language Proficiencyand this develops well only if a child is learning in his or her natural mother-tongue. Children taught in a language that is not their own, from very young begin to fall behind in exams that involve this kind of proficiency, and then they fall further and further behind. They can only keep up, if at all, in the rote-learning department. All the more highly abstract levels suffer. It is estimated to take some 7 years of post-secondary education to repair the harm done by depriving the child of mother-tongue schooling. The reason is obvious once you read the studies: the natural development of the language capacity in the child gets slowed down to the level of his or her grasp of a newly introduced foreign language. Imagine that. And that is what we do here at the moment. We also teach children mathematics, physics, chemistry, social science, biology, art, history, reading, grammar, geography, writing, economics, commerce, statistics, computer studies, the lot, on condition that they have already learnt foreign languages and then obviously only to the extent that they have learnt them.
In fact, for the teaching of foreign languages, as languages, like English and French, Hindi and German or any language on earth for that matter, there are excellent methods already developed that have nothing to do with the medium of schooling. For English the subject has got a nickname, "EFL" short for English as a Foreign Language. This language science was much helped by the Noam Chomsky work on "structural generative grammar" that applies to all human language. All the studies show, Mr. Boodhoo, that children's results in English and French as foreign languages are significantly better if they are developing their own natural language to a high level, and if they are using their own language for the increasingly high levels of abstraction in their content subjects.
So, using the mother tongue as medium helps all children. They learn their mathematics, their science, their history and geography, their social science and hygiene, their domestic science and computer studies, all their content subjects, through their own language. They acquire literacy, the art of expressing thoughts in writing, in their own tongue. They learn the love of reading, not just the skill, in their own tongue first. Then, any other languages that they learn, can always be learnt up to the same high level as their mastery of their mother-tongue.
So this means children's French and English can develop to a higher cognitive academic level, if they do the rest of their schooling in their mother tongue.
Alain Ah-Vee & Rada Kistnasamy
20 October, 2008