World Bank on Language of Instruction - Report and Webinar


The World Bank has for many years been supportive of the concept of mother tongue-based multilingual education, (MTBMLE) but this year for the first time they produced a policy paper on it. The launch of the report last week was accompanied by a webinar on "Effective language of instruction policies for learning". The webinar included roundtable discussions with politicians, policymakers and practitioners. One of them being Dhir Jingran, the director of LLF in India.

The policy paper is titledLoud and Clear: Effective Language of Instruction Policies for Learning”. As I listened to the webinar at the launch I heard a clear stand for an "and-and" rather than a "either-or" approach: multiple languages can be used in the classroom as long as the basic language of the child is taken as a base. There was a recognition that this is complex but there is also evidence that it is possible and effective. I was glad to note that there was no pretension that this would be easy but it was good to hear positive examples from across the globe, including India.

The paper itself seems a bit more idealistic on the principles, but maybe that is why those are principles! Here are the 5 principles listed for language of instruction policies (abbreviated):

  1. Teach children in their L1 from Early Childhood Education and Care through at least the first six years of primary schooling.

  2. Use L1 for instruction in academic subjects beyond reading/writing.

  3. Introduce L2 as a foreign language with a focus on oral language skills. 

  4. Continue L1 instruction after an L2 becomes the principal language of instruction. 

  5. Continuously plan, develop, adapt, and improve the implementation approach for Language of instruction policies according to country contexts and goals. 

Those are definitely sound pedagogical principles. The challenge for policy makers is to navigate the multiple other complexities. The good news is that the World Bank offers support for which the Bank proposes a three-strand approach (abbreviated):

  1. Strand 1: Work together to assess the current situation with respect in a given country.

  2. Strand 2: Be proactive in engaging countries in policy dialogue on language of instruction issues. Work with governments on measures that address language policy as an opportunity to improve instructional practice. 

  3. Strand 3: Work with other partners to focus attention on language of instruction issues while creating long-term solutions for language issues in education. 

If you are not a big reader, I suggest that you at least listen to the launching webinar!