Mother tongue and early childhood care and education: synergies and challenges

Organisation(s): UNESCO Office Bangkok and Regional Bureau for Education in Asia and the Pacific

Date: 2020

Pages: 18 p.


Two major, inter-related issues are analysed in this paper – mother tongue (MT) and early childhood care and education (ECCE). Evidence tells us that learning first in one’s MT leads to better outcomes in the future – for individuals, cultures, and nations. But MT is used rarely in ECCE programmes and the early grades of primary school so that many children are forced to learn in a language they poorly understand, and in an environment which neglects and even represses their cultural identity and the language which “carries” it. Evidence also tells us that good quality ECCE programmes enhance the well-being of young children. But many governments spend few resources on ECCE and put very little effort into creating a developmentally and linguistically appropriate curriculum and pedagogy for young pre-school children. The challenge is that while the most disadvantaged children benefit the most from ECCE programmes, these children participate in them the least. Thus, for both cultural and educational reasons, and as a child’s right, ECCE and initial literacy should be provided in a child’s MT, and actions can be taken at both macro- and micro-levels to ensure that this is achieved. In other words, the long and often difficult process of revitalising, maintaining, and further developing endangered languages of indigenous peoples must begin first in families and communities – but then must continue into ECCE programmes and into the wider education system. Without this, indigenous, minority languages and cultures will never thrive – and many will not survive.

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