On the subjects of learning in mother language and the role of culture in education, Thar Foundation and The Citizens Foundation (TCF) published a research report titled ‘Finding Identity, Equity, and Economic Strength by Teaching in Languages Children Understand 2020’.

The report focuses on how Pakistan with over 70 native languages and the countries with similar challenges across the world could incorporate ‘mother tongue based multilingual education’ into their education systems.

According to the study, the term ‘mother tongue’ refers to the language that children first learn at home and have a good understanding of when they first come to school. The term ‘multilingual’ refers to the expectation that children will learn several languages during their education.

Commenting on the report, Zubeida Mustafa, renowned journalist and author of ‘The Tyranny of Language in Education: The Problem and Its Solution’, said:

“Language can facilitate children’s social, cultural and intellectual development or it can hurt their capacity to learn. The failure to look at language as a crucial component of education per se has resulted in our failure to spread literacy and learning in the country. I am glad that TCF and Thar Foundation have come forward to present this report and have started implementing this programme in their schools.”

The report reflects three years of work in Tharparkar, interviews with over 130 practitioners, policymakers, and academics worldwide, and cataloging of language policies in similarly diverse countries. It adds to the literature on MTB MLE (mother tongue-based multilanguage education) by solving for contexts where there are many mother tongues and where children are expected to learn up to four languages, including English, by the end of secondary school.

In early 2020, both TCF and the Thar Foundation schools implemented this research-based MTB MLE model in more than 21 classrooms in Tharparkar, starting with pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. Students in these classrooms will transition through fluency in three or four languages over the course of their education — from diverse mother tongue languages (Dhatki and Sindhi) to the regional language Sindhi, then the national language Urdu, and then to an international language English. The higher education in Pakistan is offered in English, making learning English a necessity.

Syed Abul Fazal Rizvi, the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Thar Foundation shared: “Thar Foundation is striving to impart quality education in Tharparkar through our 27 school units since past three years now. It was the community feedback that motivated us to initiate three-languages learning model in our schools.”

He added that the Thar Foundation and TCF jointly took the initiative, wherein the Thar Foundation funded the three-year project. “We are extremely delighted that students of Thar will now learn in Sindhi/Dhatki at early grades, subsequently adding Urdu and English. TCF has plans to extend this model to all its schools in Sindh which will be a shared pride for us.”

Unlike a lot of research that precedes this study, TCF, which is an organisation working in the field of education in Pakistan for 25 years by providing education to underprivileged children through 1,652 schools countrywide, does not just insist on a mother tongue-based approach to education. Instead, it provides pragmatic recommendations for how Pakistan and countries like it could provide mother tongue-based education in contexts where there are many languages and where children are expected to learn up to four languages, including English, by the end of secondary school.