The Importance of Language of Instruction
Resources for informing policies and programs
This is the first blog post in our new series on Language of Instruction. In this post, we’ll explore why language of instruction is important and highlight some useful resources from USAID that can help guide policy, program development, and implementation around language issues.
Developing strong reading skills is essential to children’s academic success and later life outcomes. Learning to read in a language that they use and understand—whether it’s spoken or sign language—is one of the most critical factors in determining whether children develop the strong literacy skills that are foundational for all later learning. Even the most carefully designed reading lessons won’t help children learn to read if they can’t understand the language their teacher uses in the classroom.
This is why language of instruction policies and practices are critical to learning and improving children’s reading outcomes—and why we’re sharing two useful resources for addressing language issues in literacy programs and policies: USAID’s Reading MATTERS Conceptual Framework and the new Handbook on Language of Instruction issues in Reading Programs, which was developed by USAID and the Global Reading Network and provides a summary of the latest research and best practices on issues of language of instruction.
The Handbook on Language of Instruction Issues in Reading ProgramsRead Now
Analyzing Reading and Literacy Policies Across the Education System
USAID’s Reading MATTERS Conceptual Framework provides a basis for informing reading and literacy policies and instructional programs at all levels of the education system. The framework includes seven components for fostering all students’ reading acquisition:
5. Extra Practice
6. Regular Assessment
Each component of the Reading MATTERS Conceptual Framework assumes that students are taught to read in a language they use and understand and that the system incorporates universal design for learning principles to promote learning among all students.
Why Language of Instruction Matters
Unfortunately, although a growing body of evidence demonstrates that children learn to read best in a language they use and understand, about 40 percent of children around the world attend classes in a language they do not speak or use. Predictably, when students are required to learn to read in a language they don’t understand, the results are poor learning outcomes in the early grades, which contribute to significant grade repetition and high dropout rates.
In comparison, instruction in a first language can yield significant benefits both at the individual and systemic levels in the early grades which include:
- Improved education access, equity, and inclusion;
- Improved early literacy outcomes;
- Increase in learner-centered teaching practices and assessment;
- Increased parental and community involvement in education; and
- Improved education efficiency due to lower dropout and repetition rates.
Implementing effective instruction in languages students use and understand requires careful consideration of contextual factors as well as the engagement of a variety of stakeholders to ensure language is addressed and incorporated in curriculum, teacher placement and professional development, and multiple other areas of the education system and teaching and learning process. It requires clear policies, standards, benchmarks, and practices from the national level to the classroom level to ensure students receive the instruction they need to become strong readers.
Often, an important first step in designing and implementing effective language of instruction policies is the use of mapping exercises that can provide important data and insights for implementing policies effectively and influencing programmatic decision making.
Given the linguistic diversity in many countries, language mapping exercises can help identify which languages children use at home (including spoken and sign languages) and determine which language(s) should be used for instruction within a school community or geographic area. Language mapping can also help inform teacher placement. By understanding the languages used in schools and those that teachers speak, policies and practices can be adjusted to promote “teacher-student language match”: Teachers should be placed in schools and classrooms where they speak the same language as the students. Additionally, language mapping can help identify gaps in available teaching and learning materials for certain languages and prioritize development of materials for languages that have limited resources available.
The handbook outlines useful mapping activities and examples from reading programs to help guide stakeholders in designing, conducting, and analyzing findings from a mapping exercise.
Guidance for Stakeholders
From policies to curriculum and teacher training to textbooks, language is central to all aspects of reading instruction and must be taken into consideration to create effective reading policies and programs. The Reading MATTERS Framework provides those involved in education policy development with useful guidance for informing planning and policy development at the national level as well as the design and implementation of reading and literacy instructional programs.
Aligned with the Reading MATTERS Conceptual Framework, the GRN handbook provides more in-depth guidance to international education practitioners engaged in designing, implementing, and/or expanding reading programs. It prompts you to carefully consider how central the role of language is in your programming. Through extensive activities, resources, and examples integrated into the handbook, you can develop a solid understanding of why language is critical to learning and literacy, the components of effective reading and language instruction and assessment, and how to plan for language use in reading programs.
Once all the elements of the education system are addressed, providing children with instruction in a language they use and understand has the potential to significantly improve student reading outcomes and help students develop the literacy skills they need to be successful in school and life.
In our next blog post in this Language of Instruction series, we’ll explore how to support teachers in providing effective reading and language instruction.