Multilingual schools improve performance
Thailand should adopt multilingual education policies in ethnic schools where students are allowed to speak their native dialects to reduce social and educational disparities, according to a new report prepared by Unicef and Mahidol University.
In the report titled "Bridge to a Brighter Tomorrow: The Patani Malay-Thai Multilingual Education Programme (PMT-MLE)", students in deep South provinces who learn in both their mother tongue and Thai are likely to do better in school than those who only study in Thai.
That conclusion was derived from a pilot programme adopted in schools in the restive region, where mother tongue-based multilingual education has been implemented.
Under the programme, children are allowed to learn in their first language -- Patani Malay -- from an early age. They are introduced to the Thai language in the second semester of kindergarten 1.
In reality, however, Thai often serves as the lingua franca in state schools nationwide, even in far-flung southern regions or among ethnic hill tribal, where students speak their own mother tongue.
The research is exploring a multi-language programme with students and has found the outcome promising, according to Thomas Davin, Unicef's Thailand representative.
"Many Patani Malay and other ethnic minority children speak little or no Thai when they start school. Entering school is like going to a foreign country as they often can't understand their Thai-speaking teachers," Mr Davin told media yesterday at an event marking the report's release.
"Because of the language gap, many ethnic children who have completed eight years of Thai-only schooling still can't read or write," he said.
On average, children whose mother tongue is not Thai are more likely to be excluded from school as they do poorly in national exams, and as a result they are more likely to drop out, Mr Davin added.
Unicef's Thailand representative found those who participated in the PMT-MLE programme had an advantage over Muslim students who are forced to learn in Thai.
Grade 6 students who joined the programme scored higher than the Deep South average in Thai, math and science on the nationwide O-Net exam.
Grade 1 children involved in the project were 271% more likely to score better on a Thai letter dictation test, and 207% more likely to pass a Thai sentence writing test.
"Children whose mother tongue is not Thai clearly need special attention and a very specific approach to help them learn more effectively," Mr Davin said.
Mahidol University rector Dr Banchong Mahaisavariya has urged the Ministry of Education and policymakers to integrate mother tongue-based multilingual education into national education policies.
This kind of multilingual education "should be expanded to other schools in the far South and other parts of Thailand to help build a brighter future", he said.