CEDIL Language Transition Evidence Synthesis

African young boy is learning Amharic language

Over the last 50 years, schooling has expanded dramatically in most low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). However, while children are in school more than ever before in LMICs, on average, over 50% of them are not acquiring foundational literacy and numeracy skills, and that proportion is expected to increase to 70% over the coming years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Although a myriad of factors contributes to this learning poverty, the role of language is essential as all learning happens in and through language.

This systematic review, funded by CEDIL and supported by UK Aid from the UK Government, examined the impact of language of instruction (LOI) policies—especially LOI transition policies—on literacy and biliteracy outcomes for primary school children across LMICs. Nearly 40% of students in LMIC’s are educated in languages they do not use or understand. In addition, nearly all LMIC students need to transition to a new LOI by the end of upper primary school, even though very little is known of when and how this transition should be made.

The study resulted in key implications for decisionmakers globally. These implications include: 

  1. Decisionmakers should invest in high-quality curricula and teacher training in the mother tongue (MT). 

  2. Decisionmakers should provide school inputs (such as textbooks and other teaching materials) together with teacher training to improves MT literacy outcomes in children attending elementary school. 

  3. Decisionmakers should invest in further research on this topic, including investigating the impact of MT education on academic outcomes in the child’s MT, the country’s national language, and in post-colonial languages, to inform future LOI programming.