Promoting Cognitive Development in Children from Minority Language Groups: A Mother-Tongue Curriculum for Language Arts

By Leila Schroeder.

Published by The Learner Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The author cites evidence for the interdependency between overall cognitive development and the development of the mother tongue in the child (UNESCO 2003; Baker 2006). If children are allowed to follow a natural process of language acquisition, a solid foundation is laid for all their further learning. A curriculum built upon this foundation in the early primary years begins far ahead of one which suppresses or discards almost all the children bring to the preschool classroom.
The natural process of mental development for the young child is language-embedded. First language skills are intricately linked with all areas of the child’s mental development (Baker 2006, Cummins 1977 and 2000). The curriculum described here attempts to utilize a young child’s rich supply of linguistic knowledge, skills and abilities as the point of origin for a language arts curriculum. This paper provides examples of methods and materials currently in use in some Kenyan early primary schools, describing a language arts program which targets over 30,000 children in 152 early primary schools among the Tharaka people of Kenya.
A curriculum which allows a natural cognitive and linguistic process to continue should provide gains in the other academic disciplines, as well (Collier and Thomas 2004). The benefits of such programs could extend both nationwide, where mother-tongue based bilingual education programs are part of national policy, and to the individual, where they would help diminish the traditional African divide between “school knowledge” and real life skills.
Summary: Children’s mental development is enhanced when their foundational mother-tongue skills are used and nurtured in school. In the curriculum described, these linguistic skills will further their education.

Keywords: Cognitive, Linguistic, Mother-Tongue, Curriculum, Skills

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 14, Issue 7, pp.179-188. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.042MB).

Leila Schroeder

literacy consultant, Bantu Department, Africa Area, SIL International, Nairobi, Kenya

Leila Schroeder has eight years’ experience in American bilingual education followed by twenty years of literacy work in Africa and the US. She has a bachelor’s degree in Education from Biola University, a master’s degree in Urban Education “with Bilingual Emphasis” from California State University Los Angeles, and a Bilingual Education Specialist’s credential from the State of California. Leila has also studied linguistics extensively, through the University of Washington and the University of Texas at Arlington. She has taught graduate level classes in applied linguistics, and worked in Kenya in the area of adult literacy and bilingual education until recently. She is currently a literacy consultant for SIL Africa Area. Her focus is linguistic and orthographic issues which impact literacy materials and pedagogies for Bantu languages.


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