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Multilingualism and Multiliteracy research project report

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This report outlines the findings from a four-year research study in India.

The Multilingualism and Multiliteracy (MultiLiLa) project was a four-year research study (2016 –2020) led by the University of Cambridge and a consortium of Indian and UK partners including the British Council. The project aimed to identify whether or not children who learn through the medium of a language which is not the same as their home languages have different levels of learning outcomes than those children whose home and school languages are the same. Data was collected in Delhi, Patna and Hyderabad, from children in Standards IV and V.

A total of 2500 children were assessed on their literacy, numeracy and cognitive skills. Classroom observations were also done in their schools to explore teaching practices and how languages are used during English and mathematics lessons. The data tells us that:

The number of languages a child speaks at home and whether any of them are also used at school has an effect on the child’s school and cognitive skills.

Poverty, lack of rich print exposure at home, and migration do not necessarily create cognitive disadvantages. Children living in slum areas in Delhi either did not differ or in some cases, outperformed, children living in non-slum areas. The slum/non-slum distinction did not seem to lead to significant differences in most data from the Hyderabad children. In Patna, there were no differences between children in non-remote rural areas and children in the town areas in Hindi literacy skills, but there were differences in non-verbal IQ with town children performing better.

Children from Hyderabad showed a strong positive relationship between aspects of cognitive skills and knowing and using many languages.

The teachers in all three sites used multiple languages as an informal strategy to support learning. Language mixing is used more frequently than the official medium of instruction – both in English medium and regional-language medium schools.

The majority of lessons observed involved mainly teacher-centred practice which did not encourage children to demonstrate their understanding or skills in a meaningful way.

The full research report and a summary version can be downloaded below.

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