New Bilingual Education Strategy is a big win for learners in Mozambique 

By Leopoldino Jerónimo 

November 7, 2019

new 10-year national Bilingual Education Strategy has reached Mozambique’s Council of Ministers for approval. The strategy sets out a plan for all teachers across the country to be proficient in teaching bilingual education classes by the end of 2029. 

With only 10 percent of Mozambican children able to speak Portuguese when they begin school, this new bilingual strategy has the potential to extend education opportunities and increase student comprehension and performance for thousands of studentsFailing to understand instruction, many learners leave primary school before graduating, and many of those who do complete primary school are unable to read and write well. 

In a country where over 40 languages are used, and most people are not native speakers of the national language, Portuguese, bilingual education is critical to student success, education experts say. Portuguese has been the language of instruction in most Mozambican schools, but efforts from the local government and education partners are transforming this practice.  

Going farther with bilingual education 

The national strategy was created with support from the USAID Vamos Ler!/Let’s Read! program in response to the Ministry of Education and Human Development’s mandate to improve education quality and reduce the illiteracy rate in Mozambique. The strategy is a significant achievement that responds to the major needs of the country. 

“USAID Vamos Ler!/Let’s Read! continues to support Mozambique’s Ministry of Education and Human Development in its expansion of the new bilingual education strategy, which respects and promotes local languages and cultures,” says project Chief of Party Leesa Kaplan. “Students learn better and faster in a language they can understand and parents and communities can be more involved in school and their children’s education.”

Training teachers in bilingual education and producing teaching and learning materials in so many languages requires resources that have not been available until now. Some of the main challenges have included the training and continuous professional development of teachers, provision of school supplies — especially books — and the regulation, pace and sustainability of expansion. 

Let’s Read! is the largest bilingual education expansion in the country to date, operating in 13 Emakhuwa-speaking districts in Nampula and eight Elomwe– and Echuwabo-speaking districts in Zambézia province where it has reached over 1,950 schools, 7,000 teachers and 400,000 students. The project designed intensive teacher training programs and developed teaching and learning materials through an integrated and inclusive process by the Ministry. 

The project’s efforts to expand bilingual education include the standardization of national languages’ orthography, an instrument to guide all actors when developing learning materials and the teacher training program. By creating common ground, Let’s Read! and its partners constructed the building blocks to scale up their efforts nationwide. 

Bringing experts together to support expansion 

In November 2018, Let’s Read! brought in Sylvia Linan-Thompson, a U.S.-based consultant to help the national program team for Educational System’s Strengthening to review current studies, policies and practices in bilingual education, and interview Ministry stakeholders to identify priorities to support the first national bilingual education strategy in Mozambique. 

LinanThompson worked with Remane Selimanethe Teacher Training National Director, who believed a coherent strategy was needed to guide all stakeholders on how to focus and direct their efforts and resource allocation for bilingual education expansion. He also notes that there is a high demand among educators for a framework of standards and qualifications for their profession.  

“This is a welcome development, as many teachers who have participated in Let’s Read! trainings are eager to receive a formal qualification or certification in bilingual education that can help their career and professional development, says Selimane. 

The national strategy is the result of a successful pilot phase of bilingual education from 1993-2003, which demonstrated improvements both in the relations between teachers and students and in school performance of children in experimental bilingual education programs. Although it was limited in scope, the pilot demonstrated that bilingual education is successful in delivering literacy and numeracy skills to early grade children in the Mozambican context. 

Four main areas have been defined to reach the strategy’s goal by 2029: provision of school material, initial and in-service teacher trainingmastering the transition model from native language to secondary language for instruction and community mobilization. These areas are the essence of the Let’s Read! program’s approach, which is inspiring the Ministry to adopt its best practices. 

With editing by Ashley Williams 

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