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Heritage Language Playschools for Indigenous Minorities: A resource for early learning

(November 2012) SIL announces the public release of a new set of resources for multilingual education (MLE) available as a free download publication. Designed for both administrators and classroom teachers, Heritage Language Playschools for Indigenous Minorities provides an introduction to the rationale for play-based, mother-tongue preschools, detailed plans for conducting this type of program and a full set of supplementary materials.

The manual and materials grew out of a pilot project undertaken in the Malaysian state of Sarawak by the Dayak Bidayuh National Association (DBNA), UNESCO and SIL Malaysia. In a preface to the book, DBNA President Datu Ik Pahon anak Joyik comments on the program’s goals and outcomes:

One of the objectives of DBNA is to strengthen the Bidayuh cultural heritage and sense of identity in a modern world. What better way to do this than by starting the education of Bidayuh children in their own language? We were also attracted by the power of MLE to give our children a good educational foundation and improve their school performance…We are amazed when we see how well our children can perform because they are learning in their own language. At this time we are encouraging more Bidayuh villages to commit to hosting Bidayuh-language playschools and, where possible, MLE kindergartens. We are also hoping to take the programme further with curricula and materials for the second year of kindergarten.

Heritage Language Playschools author Dr. Karla J. Smith and her husband James A. Smith, both SIL literacy and education consultants, had a key roles in organizing the Dayak Bidayuh pilot and served as consultants for the project. The original teaching resources were written in the Malay language or English. The daily lessons were translated from Malay into English for wider distribution and translation into additional languages for communities around the world. The plans and activities are meant to be adapted to a particular community’s language and cultural context with the program conducted entirely in the heritage language. Smith notes the value of multilingual education for building a bridge that ethnolinguistic minority students can cross to participate in the wider world without losing their own linguistic and cultural heritage.

Patricia M. Davis, an SIL literacy and education consultant with more than forty years of experience in the field of multilingual education, calls this “the most complete and most practical reference book on this topic that I have seen to date.” Davis cites a number of features which educators will find useful:

Heritage Language Playschools for Indigenous Minorities and the supplementary materials are available for free download for personal study or use in community programs. The author and publisher request that any distributor will not charge more than the cost of the copy, packaging and shipping. See page 4 of the text for additional details.

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