Mother-tongue education - A valuable asset to international schools

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Mother-tongue education - A valuable asset to international schools

Mother-tongue education:

    A valuable asset to international schools


1. Mother-tongue education in international education

In 2002, UNESCO published a report calling for the promotion of multi-lingualism.

    Extra attention for minority languages, and the inclusion of minority languages in the

    curriculum are considered important not only from the point of view of cultural diversity but

    also to guarantee the linguistic rights of children. The report calls for European guidelines in

    this respect, because the European countries are becoming increasingly multi-cultural (Guus

    Extra & Kutlay Yagmur, 2002). There is a group of schools that has seen this development

    within its own walls for years: the international schools. Apart from addressing the linguistic

    rights of children, the specific perspective of cultural diversity is of great importance to

    international schools. Presuming international schools indeed wanting to offer international

    education rather than an ‘authentic national experience outside the boundaries of a home

    country’, we expect international schools to include the most important features of

    international education in their mission and vision. According to Thompson (1998), these

    features are:

    ? exposure to others of different cultures within the school

    ? teachers as exemplars of ‘international mindedness’

    ? exposure to others of different cultures outside the school

    ? a balanced curriculum

    ? a management regime which is value consistent with an institutional international


We claim that, by means of mother-tongue education (in other words: education of one’s own

    language and culture), international schools may more adequately address these important

    aspects of international education. After all, a considerable part of the student population of

    international schools consists of multi-lingual students, or students who will have to become

    multi-lingual. Teaching of the mother tongue is crucial to these students. Below, we will go

    into Dutch mother-tongue education specifically, but first we will give a short overview of

    literature supporting our case.

    Diversity in student culture

    As described by Sylvester (1998), research has proved that the development of international

    mindedness is a more direct result of the movement of students between and among their

    several ethnic, linguistic and cultural worlds in their informal contacts outside the classroom.

    His presupposes that students are able to distinguish between their own language and culture

    and those of others, and to reflect on these differences in their interaction with other students.

    Mother-tongue education enables students to do this. Baker (2001) indicates that research

    has shown mother-tongue education (heritage language education) to be effective for a

    number of reasons:

    ? students maintain their home language which enables them to go back to their home

    countries for secondary or further education;

    ? students who have mother-tongue education perform as well as comparable students

    in mainstream education and there is evidence that they perform better, all other

    factors being equal;

    ? children’s attitudes are particularly positive, most possibly by enhancing their sense of

    identity, self-esteem and self-concept through mother-tongue education;

    ? when children have mother-tongue education, their English language performance is

    generally comparable to that of mainstream children.

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The background of such positive results seems to lie particularly in the increased self-

    confidence and more effective use of language and intellectual skills through mother-tongue


    In our view, by offering mother-tongue education, international schools allow students to

    make a self-confident, positive contribution to the cultural diversity within the school.

Teachers as exemplars of ‘international mindedness’

    Richards (1998) quotes Blaney (1991) who makes an appeal for teacher diversity in

    international schools: ‘Staff should be carefully recruited so as to represent, without an

    unreasonable financial burden being placed upon schools, the major cultural areas of the

    world and as many nationalities as feasible. This … will also provide the students with a

    variety of racial, ethnic, and national role models.’ A lot of work is yet to be done in this field, as may be concluded from Bezemer’s thesis (2003). He distinguishes three sorts of reactions

    from teachers to multi-lingualism in a mainstream classroom:

    ? the teacher notices a second-language deficiency, and adjusts education accordingly;

    ? the teacher notices a second-language deficiency, but does not take the


    ? the teacher assumes there to be sufficient proficiency in the second language and

    does not take action.

    In international schools, we look primarily for teachers of the first variety. They are often found among those teaching ESL/EAL and/or mother tongue.

By offering mother-tongue education, international schools may maintain an internationally

    oriented school staff. Within such a staff, teachers are focussed on problems related to

    second language acquisition, and are convinced of the importance of mother-tongue

    education. Thus, a contribution is given to the cultural diversity within the school. Experience has taught that teachers who leave their home countries to teach abroad, learn to shape the

    concept of ‘international mindedness’. A number of these teachers have already taught

    various different curricula, and can thus be effectively employed within the schools so that all students profit from teachers with an international frame of mind.

    Exposure to others of different cultures outside the school

    In our view, mother-tongue education contributes indirectly to the interaction among the

    various cultures outside the school and the culture of the host country, because of its effect in other fields such as attention for one’s own and other cultures within the curriculum, the

    cultural diversity of the student body and the implications for school management.

    A balanced curriculum

    A balanced curriculum in an international school is ideally an international curriculum.

    But what is ‘international’ about an international curriculum? Skelton (2002) states that an

    international curriculum is an approach that sets out to develop understandings of our

    similarities, in addition to an acceptance of our differences and an ability to live together with those differences. Furthermore, it is an approach that accepts the need to define the

    knowledge, skills and understanding that lead to an international mindset as rigorously as it

    accepts the need to define the learning outcomes for individual curriculum subjects. Thirdly, it is an approach that is as much about developing a formal curriculum and supportive systemic

    curriculum and management structures as it is about creating an emotional and cultural

    awareness and attachment to international-mindedness. Fourthly, it is an approach that

    accepts that the development of the knowledge, skills and understandings contained within

    the idea of ‘international-mindedness’ is necessarily different for children and students of

    different ages and at different stages of development. Within such a curriculum, at least the

    student’s own language and culture should be included. The curriculum supports

    understanding of similarities and differences between languages and cultures and the

    development of international mindedness, as well as providing an optimal development of the

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    students’ knowledge, skills and understanding related to their own language and culture with the accompanying learning strategies and approach to tasks.

    Bartlett (1998) argues that the development of a coherent international curriculum is important. He considers the primary years within the international curriculum vital. We agree. An international perspective is developed in the first years of one’s life. Thus, it is important to lay

    the foundation in primary education with the necessary knowledge and skills, with an international, communal mindset as ultimate goal. From our point of view therefore, a balanced curriculum such as Thompson describes means a kind of mother-tongue education combined with an international curriculum such as Skelton describes. With such a curriculum, schools will enable their students, from their own cultural identity, to discover other languages and cultures

    A management regime which is value consistent with an institutional international philosophy

    The task of those most directly responsible for the planning and organization of the school, board members, administrators, teachers and other staff is to arrange a learning environment that will provide opportunity, encouragement and support to those who are participating in it, and through which international education has the possibility of being experienced (Thompson, 1998). As we argued earlier we think that mother-tongue education and heritage culture education will help to provide this kind of learning environment. It fosters cultural diversity and will help international schools to establish the balanced international curriculum they need and may be expected of them. Question is however how international schools can actually implement an integrated mother-tongue programme in their curriculum.

2. Current practise: Dutch mother-tongue education in international schools

    About twenty years ago the Ministry of Education in The Netherlands decided to encourage Dutch expats around the world to maintain education in the Dutch language for their children. The main reason was to make sure that if children returned to Dutch education in The Netherlands, they would smoothly fit into within the Dutch educational system. The ministry funded the Foundation for Dutch Education Abroad (Stichting NOB); this organization provides subsidy for Dutch Schools abroad. Additionaly, it gives support for the foundation of new Dutch schools overseas in the areas of organization, management, teaching and finance. The Dutch Inspectorate inspects schools abroad providing Dutch primary and secondary education and affiliated with Stichting NOB.

    The types of Dutch education changed over the years. In the early years, there were primarily schools with a complete Dutch primary curriculum. Expats in those days went abroad for a couple of years and ususally came back when their children reached the age to go to secondary education. Or they stayed on but their children went to boarding school in The Netherlands. Over the last ten years this situation has changed drastically. Globalization and further internationalization of education demanded a different type of education. Dutch parents preferred international education for their children. Yet they wanted to keep their ties with The Netherlands in case they might there. This has brought on the rise of a new type of Dutch language education: the so-called Dutch language and culture education (NTC). This means that children attend either international or local schools and additionally attend NTC, either within the curriculum of an international school or after school hours.

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    Table 1 Overview total amount of pupils 1995 2004

    1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003



    Full Primary 1656 1801 1945 2301 2203 2110 2051 1980 1885 education 1880 NTC Primary 2111 2436 2876 3128 3257 3481 3699 3696 3886 education 3954 NTC secondary 179 456 643 685 674 735 858 education 938 Total 3767 4237 5000 5885 6103 6276 6424 6411 6629





    10002001500200202003PrimaryNTC-primaryNTC-sec2004Graph 1. Numbers of pupils (1995-2004)

NOB Foundation supports different kinds of schools;

    1. NTC education primary /secondary (Dutch language and culture education)

    2. Full primary education

    3. Shell schools

    4. Dutch section of European schools (1223 pupils in 2003)

    Ad 1. Dutch language and culture: NTC schools

    The language ability of children varies. The NTC schools have policies to bring children up to

    the level expected of them by the inspectorate.

There are the following NTC levels:

    End target NTC Parents Language at home


    Conform end level of Parents are both Dutch

    a primary school in Dutch Direction 1


    Direction 2 Conform end level One parent is Dutch One parents speaks Dutch with

    P5, the child

    9/10 year

    Direction 3 First steps towards One parent is Dutch Parents speak the language of the

    an independent form host country or a language other

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    of communication than Dutch

    NTC Direction 1: is aimed at direct linking up with education in The Netherlands; primarily aimed at (re-)entry into the Dutch educational system. Working towards the attainment targets for Dutch language as formulated for the different year-groups. Usually these students speak mostly Dutch at home, and one or more additional languages. Therefore, their vocabulary will vary, and the language of their day school will have influenced their written proficiency. Goal: level of students in final grade (group 8) of Dutch primary education

    NTC Direction 2: keeping the level of proficiency as high as possible in case of returning to

    The Netherlands. Not primarily aimed at (re-)entry into the Dutch educational system. Attainment targets and intermediate targets for the various age groups are to be followed at a distance of two years at the most. These children will speak Dutch at home, but another language will be dominant. NTC education will aim at the highest possible level of oral proficiency.

    Goal: level of students in group 6

    NTC Direction 3: Dutch as a foreign language, in view of a possible return to The Netherlands.

    The education is aimed at the desired linguistic development of these students in view of their initial level. These students will hardly have any command of Dutch, and they have to learn it as a foreign language.

Goal: larger vocabulary and independence.

    After 25 years of experience in NTC education, the following issues seem to be of real importance;

    ? Assembly of a class group

    ? Teaching methods and materials

    ? Planning and minimal timings

    ? Motivation pupil and parents involvement

    ? Pupil monitoring system,

    ? Culture: own culture and respect for other cultures.

NTC schools integrated in international schools

    An increasing number of NTC schools become part of an international school. Apart from logistic advantages such as classrooms, materials and schedules, there could also be a number of educational advantages. The NTC teacher becomes more involved with the day school of the children. Both the international and NTC teachers can tune their lessons to one another or copy parts of them.

    Also, it has been demonstrated that an international school can attract more Dutch students if the Dutch classes have been integrated. This will lead to a larger Dutch community and will enhance Dutch language and culture.

    Ad 2. Full primary education

    These schools resemble the Dutch primary schools in The Netherlands very closely. These schools are increasingly interested in international education. An example is the increasing enthusiasm for the IPC (International Primary Curriculum). Stichting NOB offers tailor-made training for such schools, for instance at the Dutch School Lagos. This school has become acquainted with the IPC through other Shell schools in Nigeria. Together, these schools are assisted in their implementation of the IPC. A number of Dutch schools have elected to teach

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    the IPC in Dutch, a number in English. A number of schools teach language and math in Dutch in the mornings, and then the IPC in English in the afternoons.

    In The Netherlands, the international schools with a Dutch curriculum are also interested in integrating an international curriculum. A number of these schools now teach the IPC. On thOctober 13, Stichting NOB will organize a conference on the IPC. Recently, the Dutch

    Inspectorate accepted the IPC and considered it appropriate for Dutch primary education. Also, an increasing number of Dutch schools offer English from an early age. It is to be expected that this will increasingly take place within primary education. This development has already taken place in higher education, where many university courses are offered entirely in English.

    Ad 3. Shell schools

    Out of the fifteen Shell schools, nine consist of an English and a Dutch stream. Apart from Dutch and English, the following language courses are offered:

    1. Dutch as a foreign language

    2. English as a second language

    3. Arabic/French/Russian as a foreign language

Second language attains higher aims than foreign language.

    Foreign language features:

    ? Practical and useful

    ? Relevance for children

    ? Context is already their in most of the cases

    ? Material is hard to get

    Ad 4. European schools

    Basic instruction is given in the eleven official languages of the union: Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. The student’s

    mother tongue therefore remains his/her first language throughout the school.

    The study of a first foreign language (English, French or German) is compulsory throughout the school. In the secondary school this language will start to be the official language of the students during school time.

    The European schools have their own European curriculum for subjects as biology, science, music, maths etc. For the mother tongue language they are using existing materials.

    There are over 200 Dutch schools in the world. Some are very small in remote places, others are fairly big with more than 200 pupils. NOB is their lifeline and gives support on the following:

Organizational support

    The NOB Foundation can give organizational advice in the following areas:

    ? gauging and analyzing demand for Dutch education in a certain country or region, by

    carrying out a survey;

    ? making contact with local governments, embassies, international and Dutch schools

    abroad, etc.;

    ? setting up a trust or association;

    ? recruitment and selection of teaching staff;

    ? drawing up of employment contracts for the teaching staff.

Management support

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    Governing bodies of affiliated schools are supported in and advised on matters related to management of schools. The subjects range from forming up a School Board, implementing a personnel policy or the recruitment of teachers to presenting courses on the subjects, abroad and in The Netherlands.

Teaching support

    Teaching support is provided by - and is directed towards - teaching staff, students and parents. Initially, support is often given with respect to the organizational structure of the school or class situation, the streaming of pupils, the choice of teaching materials and the drafting of an outline school plan.

3. Models for mother-tongue language in international education

    The Dutch situation is not entirely unique, although one can hardly find an equivalent of the NOB Foundation. Sweden has a agency (Skolverket) that has similar tasks. What can be found particularly in minority languages is that governments provide a grant / subsidy for

    language education. A survey carried out by the Erasmus University of Rotterdam (Beukenholdt, 2003) found that governmental bodies in Sweden, Greece, Germany, Japan and to some extent France provide some sort of financial support. For example: Japan distinguishes two types of schools: the Japanese schools with a complete Japanese curriculum and the so-called Hoshuko or Saturday schools. Japan goes as far as to post teachers to their schools abroad. Germany has a similar system as The Netherlands and distinguishes Begegnungschulen, Europaschulen and Deutschsprachige Auslandschulen. As we stated before, the ideal construction for children when they move abroad frequently is to go to international schools where they have mother-tongue education during school hours. As Baker (2001) indicates, it proves to be effective. The background of these positive results seems to lie specifically in the increased self-confidence and more effective use of language and intellectual skills through mother-tongue education.

    In our view, by offering mother-tongue education, international schools allow students to make a self-confident, positive contribution to the cultural diversity within the school.

    When we look at the Dutch situation, we try to encourage Dutch NTC schools to integrate with international schools. We have seen some fine examples: the Dutch school Houston have integrated the Dutch language stream at Awty International school in Houston. Awty gives room to five other language programmes, such as Spanish, French, German, Italian and Arabic. They have implemented the International Primary Curriculum. This situation is ideal for the children: they go to their own language programme.

    Slightly more complicated is the situation regarding the teachers’ legal position. The Board of

    the Dutch school employs and pays the Dutch teachers. At the same time, they are employed by Awty. The Board sees to the quality of education. The Dutch inspectorate inspects the school according to Dutch standards. The aim is that when children return to The Netherlands they can adjust smoothly to the Dutch educational system.

    Another example is a situation where language programmes are offered after school hours at international schools. The international school in Budapest is a good example. It is beneficial both to the students and the parents. Although schooldays are long, and the positive effect is less because the discrepancies between children are stressed: when other children go home and play, they have to go to another school.

    The Board of the Dutch school and the international school have an agreement on the use of classrooms. The Dutch school is independent from the international school.

    4. Future:

    In the future, we expect to see that more international schools will focus on the international aspects of their school and will give attention to issues of cultural diversity and the level of internationalism in their (balanced) curriculum. This will also raise questions about the international mindedness of teachers and a value-consistent management regime. As

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international mindedness will be increasingly important on all levels, especially at student

    level, we have argued that, for good reasons, mother-tongue education needs be considered

    as part of this process of growing internationalism. International schools could start the

    development towards mother-tongue education with the following activities:

    ? inform their stakeholders (students, teachers, board etc.) about the possibility of

    mother-tongue education and its benefits;

    ? discuss the need for mother-tongue education on different levels with stakeholders

    and staff to establish common ground;

    ? do a feasibility study;

    ? work on school policies for mother-tongue education;

    ? talk with parents about their role (board of mother-tongue school, etc.) and the

    school’s views on mother-tongue education;

    ? get outside help/funding;

Stichting NOB and International Educational Services (Intes BV) can help international

    schools with the establishment of (Dutch) mother-tongue programmes, getting funding and

    advice on curriculum issues.

We hope that, working together with international schools, we will increasingly be able to

    show the surplus value of mother-tongue education for international schools, but specifically

    for the students of these schools. We will try and do this by promoting research, informing

    parents about the possibilities of mother-tongue education and providing services in this field.

    Schools that already have mother-tongue education within their school and mother-tongue co-

    ordinators who want more information on the organisation of (Dutch) mother-tongue

    education, the benefits et cetera, can therefore also contact us.

About the authors:

Jan Boomsma MSc has studied Educational Psychology at the University of Groningen.

    He worked at Educational Service Centre in Groningen. Later, Jan joined a School Board

    Organisation in The Hague. Currently Jan manages the Back Office of Stichting NOB and

    works for the Centre of Excellence IPC, which is part of International Educational Services.

Lianne Dekker MA has studied public administration and criminology at the Erasmus

    University of Rotterdam and the University of Leiden. She has worked as a researcher and

    lecturer at the Erasmus University. Later she worked as a dpt. director of the Dutch Institute

    for Public Administration where she trained civil servants on policy making and management.

    Currently Lianne is Managing Director of Stichting NOB and of International Educational


Janine Ziemerink MA has studied at the teacher academy and read Educational Theory at the

    University of Utrecht. She worked as a teacher in primary education. Later Janine worked for

    an Educational Publisher on teaching methods. Currently, she is a senior consultant at

    Stichting NOB. Janine is a certified trainer for IPC.


Guus Extra and Kutlay Yagmur, (2002), Language diversity in multicultural Europe. Paris,

    Unesco (discussion paper 63, MOST)

Bob Sylvester, Neil Richards, Kevin Bartlett, Jeff Thompson (1998), International Education,

    Principles and Practice. London.

Tilly Beukenholdt (2003), Wie betaalt er wat? Rotterdam, Erasmus University Rotterdam (su.

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    Colin Baker (2001), Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Clevedon. A Parents’ and teachers’ guide to bilingualism. Clevedon.

Jeff Bezemer (2003), Dealing with Multilingualism in Education. A Case Study of a Dutch

    Primary School Classroom. Amsterdam.

    Martin Skelton (2002), Defining ‘international’ in an international curriculum, London

J.J. Blaney (1991), The international school system, in P.L. Jonietz and D. Harris (eds), World

    Yearbook of Education 1991: International Schools and International Education, Kogan Page, London.

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