Webinar – Multilingual Education in The Gambia

You can watch a recording of this webinar here.

The third talk in our series provided an insightful discussion of challenges within multilingual education. Focusing specifically on The Gambia, Dr Clyde Ancarno (King’s College London) and Mr Momodou Jeng (Ministry of Secondary and Basic Education – The Gambia) discussed their Multilingual Education in The Gambia project. The project, running from 2018 to 2021, is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund and King’s College London and is a partnership between King’s College London, the University of The Gambia, The National Language Programme and Gambia College. Their research focuses on an ‘unusual and innovative’ early parallel biliteracy programme which introduces literacy lessons from grade 1 to 3 in seven national languages (Jola, Mandinka, Manjako, Pulaar, Serahule, Serer and Wolof). This means that, since 2015, literacy lessons happen both in English and in national languages.

In The Gambia English is the only official language of instruction however national languages are also used, unofficially, in the classroom. Since 2015 national languages have been used as part of the early biliteracy programme. The overall premise of the programme is to improve literacy in English, in the national languages, and support content learning in general. This was launched in response to an Early Grade Reading Assessment in 2007 which revealed low literacy levels amongst Gambian children. A smaller pilot version of the programme showed positive impacts on literacy development which has led to rolling the programme out at a national level.

Ancarno and Jeng explained the rationale for this innovative bilingual approach to early literacy. Evidence shows that children learn best when taught through a language with which they are familiar. At the same time, however, in The Gambia (as in many contexts) there is a lack of support for the use of national languages in education, as there is a desire to see English being used in educational contexts. Earlier pilot programmes involving national languages were met with resistance from parents and from teachers, which has been a major factor in opting for a bilingual early literacy programme.

Discussing the data from their interview research, a key challenge area which has emerged during implementation of the national language biliteracy programme has been the limited literacy practices in national languages. Interviewees highlighted that there is a lack of literacy resources in national languages as they are not commonly read or written. Related to this teachers will, at times, have limited competency in the national language commonly spoken in the area in which they are posted. Another issue noted by interviewees is that there is a lack of theoretical knowledge and understanding of the national languages, and further work must be undertaken to develop content and orthographies for national languages.

These difficulties present a challenge for the development of resources for initial literacy in the national languages and for providing appropriate training for teachers to conduct the biliteracy programme. Ancarno and Jeng concluded by suggesting a number of other initiatives which would support the for the successful implementation of the programme. These include the development of materials in the national languages and ensuring more national language resources are readily available in school libraries.  

For more information on the Multilingual Education in The Gambia project visit their website: https://megambia.wordpress.com/

You can also follow Dr Ancarno on Twitter @clydeancarno

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