Collage of seminar photos. © UNU-WIDER

Seonghoon Kim on a from a study conducted in Malawi looking at the impacts of learning in mother tongue.

WIDER Seminar Series

Seonghoon Kim, Assistant Professor at Singapore Management University presents evidence from a study conducted in Malawi looking at the impacts of learning in mother tongue at the WIDER Seminar Series session on 4 July 2018.

Abstract - Teach me in my mother tongue: Experimental evidence from a summer school program in Malawi

Most sub-Saharan African countries use colonial language as the medium of instruction. For example, the language of instruction in Malawi is a local native language (Chichewa) until the 4th grade, but changes to English after the 5th grade. In principle, the use of colonial languages could accelerate globalization and foster economic development. However, this language policy in primary education imposes a great learning barrier to children who do not have fluency in colonial languages such as English or French.

To study the impacts of learning in mother tongue, we randomized the language of instruction during the summer school in which local, regular primary school teachers provide math and social studies lessons. We find that teaching in the mother tongue significantly improves primary school students’ learning outcomes. Given that fluency in the colonial language is not required for most people’s daily lives in developing countries, our findings imply that delaying the transition from a native language to colonial language to later grades could help improve learning outcomes of primary school children in developing countries