|My captive audience. =)|
Why conduct the study?
When I was teaching at a secondary school in Sarawak, I found that a large majority of the students did not do well academically & at least a quarter of the students could not read or write. This was despite the fact that the teachers were well-trained, the students were very teachable &, being at a boarding school in the middle of nowhere, the learning context was ideal & distraction-less.
Why do many Iban children fall behind academically?
A possible factor is the difference between the medium of instruction & the language spoken at home. The students spoke Iban at home, but they have to learn ABC & 123 in Malay at primary school. Imagine speaking English at home all your life & then suddenly having to learn your basic literacy & numerical skills in German. I hypothesized that this was a major factor to the academic handicap experienced by the Iban children.
What do you recommend?
My recommendations were made based on Heugh's (2011) extensive review of African education language policies. He compared countries with different years of mother tongue instruction as well as the effects of a country's change in years of mother tongue instruction. Heugh found that students who had initial instruction in the mother tongue did better academically in the mother tongue as well as in a second language or even a third language. He also found that they did well even when the medium of instruction was later changed to another language. They performed even better than students who were "immersed". The minimum amount of mother tongue instruction required for the greatest academic gains was 6 years.
It makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? Use a language that the students already know to master all the basic reading, writing, listening, & speaking skills essential for academic achievement. These skills will then be very useful when learning a national or international language.
What are you going to do about it?
Unfortunately, this is not available to a lot of minority children in Malaysia which is one explanation for the rural-urban or poor-rich achievement gap. This needs to change. When I return to Malaysia, I plan to initiate an early childhood education program for the rural children in Sarawak. I hope to create a system simple enough that it can be replicated all over the country, and, eventually, all over the world.
If you're already doing something similar, I'd love to hear from you & explore possibilities of collaboration. If you're interested in helping out in some capacity, contact me too!