By CBF field personnel Kirk
New Year is a time of hope for many, looking ahead to the future, making resolutions—most of which will soon be broken. For others, the start of a new year can be a source of hopelessness and desperation that things can ever change.
The aftermath of COVID revealed a lot of hopelessness among educators. Schoolchildren suffered worldwide, especially those who were already vulnerable. A new World Bank study found that almost 70% of 10-year-olds globally are unable to read a simple story or do basic math. That number approaches 90% in many countries—especially in places where education is not available in local languages. About one-third of the world’s children go to school in a language they can’t even speak.
Just as Christians in the United States are concerned with education, and just as many of you have partnered with the school across the street, many field workers believe that investing in literacy and basic education programs helps disadvantaged kids thrive, ultimately resulting in stronger churches and societies. Government and UN officials are seeing that faith-based organizations are not only committed to reaching “the least of the least,” but have a lot of experience on how to do it.
Advocating for the unique educational needs of ethnic minority, migrant and indigenous children has become an important part of my work as a linguist, Bible translator and literacy expert. During 2022 I was privileged to attend meetings with high-level government officials from over 40 countries in United Nations-sponsored meetings in Bangkok, Paris and New York City. The concern for kids being “left behind” was evident. It was also remarkable that so many of these high-ranking people had never thought about the impact of language on education. They assumed that all children learn languages easily, so it doesn’t matter what language the teacher uses in the classroom. From research, we know that is false. Even in the U.S., massive studies have shown that non-English speakers learn reading, science, math and even English better if their first few years of schooling are conducted in their mother tongue.
During the early days living in B Village, I was living in a bamboo house with a grass roof and struggling to learn a new language and culture. I would have never dreamed that the lessons I was learning would give me a foundation to advocate for mother tongue-based education with government leaders and UN officials, in meetings in Bangkok, Paris, New York and elsewhere. I was encouraging them to adopt educational policies and practices that work. My hope is that these efforts will bring hope to the world’s most educationally disadvantaged children and their families.
CBF field personnel Kirk and his wife Suzie serve in Thailand. Learn more about their work here.