Below is a description of the focus of MLENs in various regions of the world.
The Bangkok MLE Working Group, based in Bangkok, is the oldest of the MLE working groups. Its founding members include UNESCO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), Save the Children UK, SIL International, Mahidol University, and CARE International. The group actually began as the planning group for a 2003 international conference on language and education, held in Bangkok. Since then the group has held three more such conferences in 2008, 2010 and 2013.
The group’s stated purpose is “identifying the major needs in nurturing a multilingual education movement throughout Southeast Asia and coordinating human and financial resources to help meet those needs”. The group’s current terms of reference (written in November 2009) state that:
The goal of the Asia Multilingual Education Working Group (MLE WG) is to remove barriers of access to quality education for ethnolinguistic communities through coordination of technical and substantive support to multilingual education initiatives and related policy advocacy throughout the Asia region.
The functions which the group has set for itself demonstrate its Asia regional focus. They include the coordination of regional development actors’ efforts to support MLE, capacity building and networking with national-level initiatives in language and education, and advocacy for supportive policies and practices that facilitate better integration of language issues in education and development.
As of 2013, the group’s areas of focus are:
Development of an MLE mapping and gap analysis: Develop a framework for conducting a situational analysis documenting key issues, actors and activities shaping the context for ethnolinguistic communities and MLE in the region.
Development of an MLE assessment framework: Identify principles and good practices in monitoring, evaluating and reporting on the impact of multilingual education programs on improving educational attainment of ethnolinguistic communities.
Hosting language and education conferences.
The group is led by a chair and a secretariat, positions which rotate among the membership. The group meets four times a year.
The Washington DC-based MLE Working Group began in mid-2007. Its participants include staff from institutions such as Research Triangle International (RTI), FHI 360 (formerly the Academy for Educational Development), the International Reading Association, SIL International, Save the Children US, the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Center for Applied Linguistics, along with several independent education consultants. The group focuses on advocacy among agencies and organizations in the Washington area, and counts up to 30 members.
The three current focus areas of the group are disseminating research-based evidence and user-friendly resources and information about MLE; providing support to key partners and stimulating collaboration among academics, practitioners and others; and conducting advocacy to influence key stakeholders.
The group has also recently taken new energy and direction, identifying itself as “locally based and globally oriented”. This global focus is played out in, among other things, the creation of a resource and collaboration website that serves all of the MLE networks around the world (http://www.mlenetwork.org).
The London-based MLE Working Group formed in 2007 is modelled on the Washington DC group. The group includes both scholars and non-governmental organization (NGO) staff, including representation from Save the Children UK, the International Development Network, SIL International, Minority Rights Group International, the University of Leeds and the Open University. The London group adopted the following vision statement:
The London working group on multilingual education promotes linguistically and culturally appropriate education to improve access and learning in nations throughout the world.
The group also has taken on the functions of advocacy, coalition building and knowledge generation and exchange. The group meets two to three times per year. The group is currently co-chaired by Save the Children UK, and SIL International.
Currently, this group’s goals include advocacy with the UK Forum on International Education and Training (UKFIET), engagement with various implementers of the Early Grade Reading Assessment to advocate for the inclusion of language as a variable, and encouraging UNESCO to consider a conference on MLE in developing countries. There is also a strong information-sharing function in this group, including updates on the status of multilingual education worldwide.
The Nairobi-based MLE Network of Kenya was the first African MLEN to form; it is also the first MLEN with a national focus. Although its original intention was to be regional in scope, the reality is that its members are primarily Kenya-focused. Indeed, the goal of the network, as stated in its terms of reference, is to influence practice in the Kenyan classroom where language of instruction is concerned.
The Network traces its beginnings to a one-day research seminar on language and education, held in 2006, hosted by Bible Translation and Literacy (BTL) Kenya and SIL Africa Area and funded partly by the Commonwealth Education Fund. The 15 or so scholars who shared their work that day saw the value of such a meeting; but it was not until two years later that the initial meeting of what would become the MLE Network of Eastern Africa was held.
The group that met in early 2008 to form the MLEN included not only scholars, but also representatives of national and international education NGOs. Representatives of national government education offices also became part of the network, as did UNESCO. The current membership of this network is around 25 people. One unique feature of this network is the strong representation from five Kenyan universities; at least 40% of the attending members are on the academic faculty of one of these universities. Other Network members serve on the staff of organizations such as World Vision, FHI 360, Save the Children, UNESCO, United Bible Societies (UBS) Africa Area, the National Book Development Council, Partners in Literacy Ministries (PALM), Bible Translation and Literacy (BTL Kenya), the Bible Society of Kenya, SIL Africa Area, the Department of Adult Education and the Kenya Institute of Education.
Right from the start, the concern of the MLEN has been to influence practice at all levels. They are not interested in producing yet one more scholarly study that goes in someone’s file drawer, and they are not interested in endless talks amongst themselves which amounts to “preaching to the converted”. The goal has been to find ways to make a difference in Kenyan classrooms and school systems where language of instruction is concerned.
The four themes that shape the activities of the MLEN in Nairobi are:
Advocacy: the group published an advocacy book in 2008, called Language and Education in Africa: Answering the Questions. Authored by several MLEN scholars and edited by the entire group, the book was printed by UNESCO Nairobi. A French version of the book is awaiting publication.
The MLEN is active in participating in national-level celebrations of International Literacy Day (ILD, 8 September) and International Mother Language Day (IMLD, 21 February). Beginning around 2011, the MLEN has participated in activities each year to mark these days, including radio talk shows, celebratory events and newspaper advertisements.
In addition, the MLEN staffed a booth at the Africa preparation meetings for the UN’s 6th International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VI) in late 2008, providing information and materials to interested meeting participants.
Knowledge generation and knowledge sharing: from the beginning of the MLEN, guest speakers who are experts in the language and education field have been invited to give presentations at the meetings. Speakers so far have come from Canada, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. In addition, the members of the MLEN themselves have given presentations on various aspects of the field. Another major project of the MLEN has been the production of an MLE manual for teacher trainers, to be used in teacher training institutions and in-service events. The manual has been used as a resource for teacher training in Kenya and Ethiopia; unfortunately, it has not been possible so far to find a funder to publish the manual in its entirety.
Coalition building: the gathering of MLEN members twice a year has led to strengthened alliances among the institutions represented there.
Tracking and supporting research: this theme of the MLEN has had less success so far than the other three. Although a number of useful research topics have been identified, research can be costly and it has not proven easy to mobilize research efforts around the topics identified. However, members of the network do carry out research on their own accord, and they share that research with the rest of the group as appropriate.
The Network is led by a steering group, made up of 4-6 members of the Network. The steering group leads the overall direction of the MLE Network, plans meetings and oversees the use of funds donated for the purpose of running the MLE Network.
One of the primary means by which the MLE Network works is by the formation of task teams. Task teams consist of MLE Network members with particular skills and interest in the task being articulated. Task teams are responsible for such tasks as developing advocacy materials, authoring training materials, staffing information booths at events, developing key documents for the MLE Network, and so on.
The MLE Network normally meets twice per year. Special meetings may be held in addition to the two regular meetings, when the input of all the MLE Network members is needed on a particular project.
The Uganda MLE Network began in July 2009, when a small group of NGO leaders and educationists in Uganda met to discuss the challenges in education connected to language, and specifically the use (or neglect, in many cases) of the home language. This original forum has now grown and become the Uganda Multilingual Education Network.
The forum includes representatives from Save the Children, Mango Tree Educational Enterprises, UNESCO, UNICEF, the Uganda National Curriculum Development Centre, Kyambogo University, Makerere University’s Institute of Languages, Uwezo Uganda, Straight Talk Uganda, The Forum for Education NGOs in Uganda, and the Dutch development organization, SNV. The list of interested participants has grown to 60, and the MLEN meets every two months in Kampala.
The core mission of the group is:
To ensure and promote home language based MLE (learning) in Uganda, in effective support of the policy of the Uganda Ministry of Education and Sports and each self-defined language community, through home language development.
The MLEN Uganda carries out this mission through advocacy, awareness raising, networking, technical assistance, and advising. The group has expressed five core values: language as identity, dialogue between key stakeholders, strong partnership, efficiency without unnecessary duplication, and resourcefulness.
Among its advocacy activities, the MLEN is active in reviewing and critiquing national policy that is relevant to the use of local languages in schools; for example, in 2012 a government move to remove the teaching of Ugandan languages from the national secondary school curriculum was met with energetic dialogue and advocacy from MLEN members.
The newest MLEN, the MLE Network of Ethiopia, was launched on 9 October 2012. This launch was the culmination of two years of processing and thinking by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, along with interested NGOs and universities.
The founding members of the network members include the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Addis Ababa University, Wollayetta Sodo University, the Ethiopian Multilingual and Multi Cultural Professionals Association, Mizan Teppi University, USAID Ethiopia, the Southern Regional Education Bureau, the Southern Bureau of Culture and Tourism, and SIL Ethiopia. The network is intended to be open to any organization working on education in the country.
The network members are now engaged in developing the vision, mission, objectives, tasks and action plan of the network.