Learning practical methods of Multi-lingual Education in Liberia

A major methodological challenge for PAMBE Ghana is how to effectively integrate English into the curriculum which is being taught in the mother tongue. The research in primary education proves beyond doubt that when students start with their first language, it helps them become proficient in a second language much faster. Research also shows that student performance in other subject areas improves significantly. But how does one do it in the classroom? To gain practical experience in the methods of bilingual education, I attended a 2 week workshop in Monrovia, Liberia organized by Dr Susan Malone, and her husband, Denis, of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). This workshop was the third of a series of workshops on Liberian Languages and English Multilingual Education (LLEME) for kindergarten teachers, involving 16 Liberian language associations.  The Malones have much experience in Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE), especially in Asia, including the much-talked-about success story of Papua New Guinea with 380 languages.  Two SIL Consultants working in MTBMLE in Kenya and Senegal also shared their experiences. I learned from many concrete examples - from presentations and exercises on language and literacy development in mother tongue and English. Many of the ideas on developing a bilingual approach can be applied in our PAMBE Ghana program right away.  The methodology and approach promoted is child-centered and experiential, in line therefore with the Montessori principles. For example, there was strong emphasis on making language and literacy development practical and fun for children, beginning from speaking, listening, writing and reading; building on children's existing knowledge and experience, and techniques to encourage children's creative writing and invented spelling. I found the distinction between teaching and learning for meaning and for accuracy, called the two-track approach, especially at the emergent literacy stage also quite useful. In teaching for meaning, activities or exercises are as experiential and meaningful to the students as possible. The teacher pays little attention to errors or mistakes. The focus is on expression and comprehension and creativity. In teaching for accuracy, the focuses and draws the students' attention to details and conventions/correctness e.g. sound-letter association, syllabic segmentation, sentence structure and grammar. Another area of great interest for me was the development and use of local materials and resources for teaching and learning in the classroom.  One of the key issues we must keep in mind, as work and develop quality primary education model, is the cost effectiveness of the model. If the implementation of the model program requires heavy and costly resources it would be less likely to be taken up by others, especially GES, even if it is very successful. I'm very eager to share the new ideas I have learned about MTBMLE with our teachers and see how best to adapt the it our particular situation.  We already scheduled a one-week teacher education workshop at the beginning of the 2010 - 2011 school.

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