March 9, 2016

If you don’t understand, how can you learn?

Written by GEM Report, UNESCO


Illustration of a man with a thought bubble over his head

How a country chooses the language for its education system is not an easy process. The decision is usually influenced by multiple factors: colonial history, origins of immigrants, legal recognition of minority languages, cultural diversity, political interests – to mention but a few. In some cases, instruction is provided in more than one language; in others the medium of instruction may vary between primary and secondary education.

Underneath this tangled and evolving web of policies and priorities, however, lies an undeniable truth: teaching and assessing children in a language they understand will result in better learning. This is something that has been recognised now for decades. It is written into the 1989 ILO Convention and Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 2001 Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. Our new paper out today, If you don’t understand, how can you learn?’ confirms this basic principle, and yet reports that, despite the overwhelming evidence supporting this claim, 40% are still not able to access education in a language they understand.  It is clear that the complex nature of factors affecting language-education policy still take precedent over the accumulation of evidence.

Read blog.