Impact on children in the bilingual education programme

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Stung Treng, one of the remote northeastern provinces of the Kingdom of Cambodia, is inhabited by different ethnic minority groups in addition to the majority Khmers, such as "Brao, Kaveth, Lun, Phnong, Khmer Khe, and Kuy" (Center for Advanced Study, 2009, p. 285). Without schooling, these groups have high risks of being exploited and exposed to high-risk behaviors such as drug abuse and unprotected sex. With low levels of literacy they can be more prone to infection by common diseases in their community like malaria and dengue fever, which further depletes their minimal incomes requiring expenditure on medicines and medical expertise. Moreover, their full potentials to develop themselves as well as their community have not been realized due to lack of opportunities.

There are many benefits associated with mother tongue based bilingual education: higher enrolment rates in formal system; lower dropout rates (a common reason for dropout in the early years of education is language; there are high dropout rates for children speaking a different mother tongue to the language of instruction); lower repetition rates, for children needing to repeat particular grades of their schooling; higher rates of success for girls staying in education; higher rates of parental and community participation in children's education; it can improve the relationship between political leaders and a multilingual population; it leads to greater proficiency and fluency in national language (and also then international languages if these are pursued) if initial instruction is done in mother longue; and community involvement in education is very important - involving parents, community and teachers in education helps children learn. Greater involvement is found when initial instruction is in the mother tongue.

Over recent years the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS), has piloted a bilingual education programme in Siem Pang district, Stung Treng province, where most Kaveth ethnic group members are concentrated. This has been done in order to provide primary education to children of this group by using a bilingual model of learning implemented by CARE Cambodia, part of CARE International, in Rattanakiri province. The programme focused on a minority population in three villages of Siem Pang district directly benefiting approximately 225 children. For confidentiality purposes the villages will be known as village K, village O and village T.

1.2 Problem Statement

The bilingual method of teaching adopted in the program has been the means of providing primary education to children of ethnic minorities in this province and its impact has not been studied thus far, so the researcher has great interest in exploring this.

1.3 Purpose and Significance

It is anticipated that the data collected and analyzed in this study will be used as a strong foundation to argue for an expansion of the program to other minority communities which are currently underserved by the Cambodian education system. This has implications for an increase in education access for the-hard-to-reach children of the province's minority groups. The range of possible impacts include the individual's future work prospects, their attitudes towards and value for education, and the development of positive behaviors towards effective health and hygiene practices within the minority communities.

Hopefully, the research findings will demonstrate the positive outcomes and impact of the bilingual education programme. It may also uncover issues or problems that can be addressed. The positive impact will serve as an advocacy message to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport "for bilingual education to be part of national education policy plans, and the plans must be implemented in practice with sufficient resources in the form of allocated funds, properly trained personnel and other necessary resources" (UNESCO, 2005, p. 3).

1.2 Research Questions

This research proposal intends to explore the question "What are the self-reported impacts of attendance at the bilingual education programme on children, their families and communities?" with the following aims:

To document the impact on participating students of their attendance/involvement in the bilingual education programme in Stung Treng;

To document the impact on the families of students who attend the bilingual education programme in Stung Treng; and

To document the impact on the local communities in which students and their families attend bilingual education programme in Stung Treng.

2. Methods

Discussed in this section will be the sampling technique, data collection processes and the method for data analysis. Ethical issues and the steps taken to address them will also be considered here.

2.1 Sampling

The proposed research will focus on the impact of bilingual education on the minority communities in Siem Pang district, Stung Treng province. In each of these communities there is one school providing bilingual education from grades one to three, and this research will use a convenience sample to select one school with ready access for the researcher. Two students from each of the three grades (n = 6) from the selected school will be invited to participate in an interview. A parent of each of the invited students will be invited to participate in a focus group discussion plus two members of the school support committee based on their availability (n=8).

A list of male and female students from the selected school will be sought from the school principal by the researcher. Simple random sampling will be used to select two students from each of the three grades. The researcher will write each individual student's name on a separate slip of paper, place all the slips in a container, shake the container, and select slips from the container until the desired number of participants is selected. This process will be repeated by grade and gender with girls in one container and boys in the other in order to have gender balance. It is important to have gender balance in this study so that equally representative voices can be heard.

An Information Form and an Informed Consent form and letter from the school principal developed by the researcher will be sent to parents by the teacher through the selected students to seek their parental approval. If parents of the selected students do not approve of their children participating in this research, the same process will be repeated with other students of the selected school until the desired sample has been achieved.

There are limitations deriving from both time constraints and geographical conditions for conducting this research, so the sample size will not be large enough to generalize the outcomes of this study. This sampling approach also has some limitations. It cannot guarantee a good representation of the whole population in the village or the class, reducing the generalizability of the results. However, the impact of bilingual education in this minority community can still be measured through a carefully structured research tool.

2.2 Data collection

2.2.1 Interviewing

Data will be collected through individual interviews with the students of each of the three grades who have received parental consent to participate, and with two adult focus groups of four each group consisting of the parents of three students and a member of school support committee in each group. Student interviews will be done by grade level, three interviews with the 2 children from the same grade level.

Due to time constraints, conducting pair interviews with students is a preferable option to the researcher. To reduce the possibility of boys dominating the interview, the interviewer will intentionally direct the questions to girl students in an effort to encourage female participation.

The potential adult participants in focus group discussions will be provided with an Information Sheet in their own language, explaining the research purpose and a Consent Form (see Appendix A). Potential child participants will be provided with an Information Form and Consent Form in their own language that requires parental as well as child consent, in an attempt to address ethical concerns about interviewing children who are under the legal age of consent. Interviews with students will be conducted at their school on Thursday morning because Thursday is no-class day whilst focus group discussions will be conducted in the afternoon of the same day and at the same place. The interviews and focus group discussions will be audio-recorded for later transcription and analysis

The interviews and focus groups (draft questions in Appendix E) will be conducted by the researcher and facilitated by a bilingual teacher, who can speak the local language well, to help smooth the process and to avoid any potential misunderstanding during interviews and focus group discussions. The teacher will not be the child's teacher to prevent any concerns of the child in the event they make a critical comment. An education official each from the provincial and district offices will be approached to establish communication flow between the researcher and study participants in terms of making appointments for the interviews and focus group discussions.

An interview protocol and questions will be developed for use in the interviews and focus group discussions (see Appendix B). Students will be asked semi-structured questions by the researcher, with translation by a bilingual teacher. Possibly probing questions will also be developed to use when new themes come up during interviews and focus group discussions. The researcher will discuss the questions beforehand with the translator to clarify the content and intent of the questions with the intent of thereby reducing confusion during the times of interviewing and discussion.

All interviews and discussions will be audio-recorded so that the process can be conducted smoothly without interruptions for note taking. The recordings will later be transcribed for thorough analysis, and will be translated into English. The recordings, the transcriptions as well as the translations will be stored and password protected in the researcher's personal computer for confidentiality and will be destroyed after the research report has been completed.

There are some limitations to the use of interviews and focus group discussions. Students, their parents and community leaders of the minority group do not have much exposure to the world outside their immediate community, and this may lead to narrow views in their responses and discussions and limit the richness of data/information collection. All the research participants are new to interviews and focus group discussions, and this may restrain them from speaking openly and frankly. The use of a translator could also complicate the process and add an unintended confusion to participants. Focus groups cannot guarantee confidentiality therefore individual respondents may be restrained in their responses if they believe someone in the group might tell others about particular comments, especially any perceived as critical.

2.3 Data analysis

The analysis will be done first by transcribing the recorded responses from the interviews and focus groups. Similar phrases from each transcript are put together under descriptive labels. By doing so, data are pooled and a pattern or theme will emerge. Given the small number of participants in both interviews and focus group discussions, data analysis will be done using excel spreadsheet.

2.4 Ethical considerations

The true purpose of this study will be plainly explained to all participants in this research and the general benefits deriving from this research for their community will also be explained in order to gain their full participation. It will be explained that participation is voluntary and anonymous. By doing so the research participants understand they are not compelled to engage against their will and may withdraw from participating at any time.

The researcher pays great attention to ethical issues that might be concerned with the study in terms of coercion and power imposed on the participants. Therefore, the researcher has designed an Information Sheet and Consent Form in the ethnic language explaining the purpose and the process of the study as well as their right to refuse to participate before the study can start.

An informal approach to the conduct of the interviews and focus groups will be pursued in order to put all the participants at ease and to elicit as rich and varied information as possible.

3. Literature Review

3.1 International context

Studies have shown that instruction in the mother tongue is beneficial to achievement in other subject areas and second language learning. In regions where the language of the learner is not the national language of the country, bilingual education can make mother tongue instruction possible while providing acquisition of the national language at the same time (UNCESCO, 2003).

International research shows that at least five years of instruction in the first language -but preferably throughout the education system - is required to provide a solid foundation for further studies. A strong foundation in the mother tongue is also needed for second language acquisition and successful transfer of the literacy skills from the first to the second language (UNESCO, 2006).

Teaching basic skills to poor children through language immersion may be detrimental, but bilingual education is a much more effective option. Students in the United States of America receiving instruction in a native language and English at different times of the day were found to make the most dramatic gains in reading performance compared to their English-only peers. This research is pertinent to multilingual low-income countries (World Bank, 2006).

The number of years of instruction in the first language is the most important predictor of reading performance in a second language. It is not important what the first language is, but rather how much cognitive and academic development the student has experienced in it. The higher the students' achievement in the primary language, the faster they will progress in the second language (World Bank, 2006).

3.2 Cambodian context

The terms "ethnic minorities," "indigenous peoples," "hill tribes" and "highlanders" are not synonymous. They are used interchangeably to describe the population groups who reside in remote, difficult-to-access areas within Cambodia. They make a living mostly by subsistence farming and from forest products, and do not speak Khmer, the national language, as a mother tongue (UNCESCO, 2005).

With the promotion of Education For All (EFA), the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) is aware of the need to make education accessible to all. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport is beginning to recognize that bilingual education may be an effective way of meeting the educational needs of Cambodia's ethnic minorities while enabling them to participate more fully in Khmer society (UNESCO, 2007).

To achieve Education For All in minority communities, special strategies such as bilingual education can be used (UNESCO, 2006). Bilingual education encompasses more than the mother tongue as the language of instruction. Curriculum, materials, teachers and, learner-centered methodologies are all elements of the educational process related to the indigenous people's culture in a broad sense. Furthermore the approach has promoted the adoption of inclusive education with learners from highland indigenous groups have long been marginalized and deprived of any opportunity for formal education (UNCESCO, 2005).

Ethnic minority communities have maintained their cultural, linguistic and traditional differences through their remoteness from the majority ethnic communities. Given this remoteness, there has not been the opportunity to support infrastructure and the development and/or refurbishment of school buildings, transport and administrative infrastructure that education may require (UNCESCO, 2005). This compounds the disadvantage of the minority groups even further.

There have been few educational opportunities for indigenous peoples and, consequently, there are few trained personnel who are fluent in ethnic minority languages and Khmer. As Khmer is not the first language of the different highland groups, children are placed at a disadvantage when it is used as the only language of instruction (UNESCO, 2005).Find some figures that describe the participation rates of ethnic minority groups in higher education in Cambodia - it will strengthen this point as well as the Significance of the research

Given that there have been few projects that catered to the specific educational needs of ethnic minorities, there is also a lack of materials that are culturally relevant or readily adaptable for use in terms of language and content (UNESCO, 2005). Indeed, village support for schooling has been lacking, most probably due to the fact that formal school services did not meet the needs of the community, and conflicted with socio-cultural norms in highland villages. Also, teaching methodology and inflexible time-tabling were not suitable. Curriculum and material developed for the ethnic minorities needs to be appropriate to suit the needs of the indigenous communities. If an education project is not based on real, identified needs in the targeted communities, the learners will deem it inappropriate and not useful for their needs (UNESCO, 2005) with subsequent low participation and success rates.

Education for girls faces especially tough obstacles within Cambodia and can be observed often in the form of negative attitudes - by parents, teachers and community members. Discrimination is evident in social norms, language, and submissive stereotypes. Socio-cultural influences work against girls' access to education in the form of early marriages, a heavy domestic workload and low educational expectations (UNESCO, 2005). This is especially true in a traditional society like Cambodia, in which girls' education is less valued than boys' and girls are confined to household chores, let alone girls from the country's minority groups.