Importance of mother tongue in learning

Importance of mother tongue in learning


Importance of mother tongue in learning

Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera has discussed the relevance of the mother tongue in early learning and also in the preservation of the culture of a nation in an excellent article which appeared in “Irida Divaina” on 20th June 2021.

He was responding to the government’s hare brained decision to introduce English as a medium of instruction in primary schools from year one. He sounded very disappointed probably because he did not expect such a thing from a government which he thought was nationalist in all critical policies.

Dr. Amarasekera is the doyen of Sinhala literature and also in nationalist critical thinking. No wonder he thinks such a move would be the death knell of the Sinhalese language and its development. Everybody would think the government has taken this step for it would ensure employment. Everybody would want to study in the English medium.

While it may be correct that a knowledge of English is useful not only from the point of view of employment but more importantly from the point of being learned, it should not be done at the expense of the mother tongue. Mother tongue is the cornerstone of our civilizational consciousness. We could exist as a nation in the face of great peril for more than 2500 years due to the binding nature of our language which held us together in the face of adversary. Our heritage is so rich in culture, literature, religion and art mainly due to the pervasive language that we developed on this land. Its further development would be greatly hampered if it does not continue as the medium of instruction in the formative learning period of our children.

Great cultures of the world ancient and modern such as the Greek, Indian, Chinese, English and Russian have blossomed and made this world beautiful due to the fabric of their languages. If Leo Tolstoy’s medium of instruction in early school had been French he would not have thought as a Russian and wrote those great novels like “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace”.

Same could be said of Euripides and Shakespeare and also Martin Wickramasinghe and Gunadasa Amarasekera. Their Greekness, Englishness and Sinhaleseness respectively would have been stunted and we would not have “Macbeth”, “Viragaya”, “Rathu Rosa Mala” or “Gandappa Apadanaya”. Fortunately they were not educated for the purpose of employment.

From the point of view of effective learning, the essentiality of the mother tongue as a medium of instruction in early formative years cannot be overemphasized. There is enough research done on this subject and the findings are overwhelmingly in favour of mother tongue to be the medium of instruction. Mainly these research models have been designed in relation to multilingual educational institutes, some with well developed mother tongue teaching programmes and others that had no such programmes (Ball J, 2011, Kosonen K, 2009).

There had been multicentre research featuring schools where the medium of instruction had been the mother tongue and other schools where it had been a foreign language (Bluson M, 2004, May S, 2003). Noteworthy findings have been that language of instruction was a factor for low and high achievements.

These researchers conclude that when children develop their mother tongue at home under the influence of the family they are simultaneously fostering a whole host of other essential skills such as critical thinking and literacy skills. It is these skills that children take with them into formal education in schools. To change over to another language for learning would deny the child of this initial advantage they have developed at home. These abstract skills are difficult to teach through a second language. Children with a strong foundation in their first language often display a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in society along with an increased sense of well-being and confidence. Naturally this flows down into every aspect of their lives including their academic achievement.

In the modern world knowledge of an international language like English could be considered essential not only from the point of view of employment but for improving the intellectual capacity and the ability to access global literature and science and technology as well. But this knowledge of English could be imparted in the same way that any other subject is taught and not at the expense of learning via the mother tongue. If English is made the medium of instruction for all subjects in early years of student life achievement in all these subjects would be adversely affected as shown by good research cited above.

Further, the mother tongue in its important role as the fabric that binds us together and enriches our culture could get eroded and totally displaced. A generation of uprooted people who do not belong in their culture and who do not know their place in society would be produced.

English should be taught in all schools from year one as a subject by good English teachers. Learning English should be popularized and made accessible to rural children. A good foundation of the mother tongue obtained in the homes would immensely facilitate the learning of English and this has been substantiated by research as mentioned earlier. It must also be said that a wide spread teaching of English would not create jobs. It is a growing economy that would create jobs. A person who has a knowledge in English may have a better chance of fitting into a job than one who hasn’t.

However the Government is in no mood to take note of good research. This may not be the correct attitude. No government which had disregarded science or scientists has been successful