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Preserving and Promoting the Mother Tongue

The Dreams of a Child

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UNICEF Việt Nam\Trương Việt Hùng

LÀO CAI – Meet Việt, a fifth-grade Hmong student known for his language skills; he fluently speaks Hmong, Vietnamese, and English. In remote and underprivileged areas, his story is not common. Việt shares his motivation to excel in language mastery.

Việt says, “For an ethnic minority person, learning in one’s mother tongue is very important. Besides learning other subjects in Vietnamese, bilingual education in my mother tongue has given me the foundation and confidence I need for my studies.”

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At a Boarding School for Ethnic Minorities in Bắc Hà, Lào Cai province, Việt and his Hmong peers are thriving. From his home in Bản Phố, it’s a daily journey to school, but it’s worth it. Bản Phố was among the areas supported by UNICEF over a decade ago in the Mother Tongue-Based Bilingual Education (MTBBE) program. This initiative introduced bilingual education where children learn and communicate in their native language, building a solid foundation for learning a second language.

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Việt’s bilingual journey began at five years old in kindergarten. Alongside Hmong and Vietnamese, he also developed an interest in English. His efforts paid off, as he excelled in language competitions, consistently achieving top grades and awards.

Aside from linguistic skills, the MTBBE program highlights the importance of preserving ethnic minority cultures and traditions, not just in Việt’s case but globally. As a confident and friendly student, Việt actively participates in various school activities, ranging from hobby clubs and crafts to cultural, artistic, musical, and sports events. He leads a club that recently won district and provincial awards in a youth creativity competition with crafts made from local materials.

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Việt and his clubmates maintain Dao and Hmong cultures, performing traditional dances like “Khèn” and “Xênh Tiền” at school. They also engage in sports like badminton and table tennis.

The students also contribute to environmental protection. With support from teachers and parents, they have nurtured over 200 valuable orchid baskets to fund small plans for their Youth Union. These students actively promote environmental awareness and conservation in their homeland.

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Việt dreams of becoming a tour guide. “I want to use my mother tongue daily and foreign languages like English to showcase the beauty of my homeland and country to tourists,” he shares.

Promoting Mother Tongue-Based Bilingual Education Through Action Research and Experimentation

From 2005 to 2018, with technical support and financial aid, the MTBBE model was introduced as an initiative to enhance education quality for ethnic minority children in Vietnam. Children participating in this bilingual model showed better results in cognition, skills, and emotional expression in both their mother tongue and the second language. These students became agile, creative, self-aware, and better learners.

Further information: UNICEF Vietnam’s Research

Sustaining the Mother Tongue-Based Bilingual Education Program Requires More Local and National Efforts

Lào Cai was one of the provinces participating in the UNICEF initiative from 2008 to 2015. The province’s education sector has continued and expanded the model to more schools. In the 2020-2021 academic year, this model was implemented in 5 kindergartens and 9 elementary schools across the province.

In 2021 and 2022, UNICEF Vietnam and the Ministry of Education and Training organized a policy workshop on MTBBE in preschool education. The ministry’s decision to extend this model to 8 provinces with a significant ethnic minority population is a strong commitment to its success.

Recognizing the crucial role of technology in providing quality online learning environments, efforts are being made to provide necessary technology and leverage technological advancements in bilingual education based on mother tongues. Training opportunities for MTBBE teachers and school administrators are being enhanced through online platforms at both national and local levels.

(Source: UNICEF)

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