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Supporting Students' First and Second Language Acquisition in the Kosrae State Department of Education

Pacific | September 30, 2019

The role of the education system in supporting both the development of a student's first language or heritage language as well as access to and fluency in a global language, like English, is at the forefront of discussions on language maintenance and revitalization across the Pacific region. Education and community leaders on Kosrae, an island state in the Federated States of Micronesia, are looking closely at current policy guidelines, teaching practices, and student outcomes in their education system as they relate to the acquisition and development of Kosraean and English fluency.

In July, REL Pacific completed a training on bilingual pedagogy with the Partnership for Bilingual Education in Kosrae. REL Pacific staff are working with the Partnership, which includes Kosrae Department of Education (KDOE) leadership, teachers and specialists, and other community leaders to identify how to incorporate bilingual education in both English and Kosraean languages into the K–12 classroom setting, in comparison to English-only or English-majority education.

Kosrae Language Policy Coaching Session: Summer 2019

Kosrae Language Policy Coaching Session: Summer 2019
Photo credit: Bradley Rentz, McREL International

Research suggests that academic environments that support and encourage the use of a student's first language can help that student acquire second language skills and perform better in other academic content areas (May, 2017). Research on bilingual education and language acquisition also suggests that a successful bilingual or dual language education model must be developed for a particular context, should utilize students' first language(s) in the classroom as a language of instruction, and, in most cases, maintain a 50-50 ratio of both language of instruction in the later grades (García, 2009; May, 2017; Malone 2005). REL Pacific is supporting KDOE by providing a space for these conversations and is providing ongoing training and coaching to support KDOE in the implementation of system changes outlined in an updated language policy, which is currently pending approval by the Kosrae State Legislature.

REL Pacific's analytic technical support for this partnership has included training and coaching sessions on bilingual education models, policy implementation frameworks, language assessments, and bilingual pedagogy. REL Pacific will continue to provide the partnership with information on research-based practices as members identify short-term and long-term goals and as they implement the new policy.

For July's training, REL Pacific staff were joined by Dr. Stephen May from the University of Auckland, an expert in bilingual education, who addressed many of the questions and concerns that the participants had about bilingual education research and the new proposed language policy for KDOE. This training also served as KDOE's first main outreach to teachers to bring them into the planning process for the proposed policy. Discussions helped acclimate teachers to the research and department motivations behind the changes to the language policy, and resulted in their increased buy-in. A number of myths about second language acquisition were also discussed; for example, that English-only education is the best way to learn English or that using both English and Kosraean in the classroom will confuse students and lead to negative learning outcomes (García & Li Wei, 2014; Cummins, 2017). These conversations helped address longstanding views of language use in education and challenged preconceived notions that can be barriers to changing pedagogical practices. Many teachers noted that the new bilingual pedagogical practices and theories presented changed their views on how English and Kosraean should be taught and would be helpful to implement in their classrooms to support their English learners.

REL Pacific is excited to continue working as a partner with KDOE and supporting their innovative work on bilingual education on Kosrae!



Cummins, J. (2017). Teaching minoritized students: Are additive approaches legitimate? Harvard Educational Review 87(3), 404–426. García, O. (2009). Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A global perspective. Malden, MA.: Blackwell.

García, O., & Li Wei. (2014). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Malone, S. (2005). Education for Multilingualism and Multi-literacy in Ethnic Minority Communities: the situation in Asia. First Language First: Community-based literacy programmes for minority language context in Asia. Bangkok: UNESCO, 71–86.

May, S. (2017). Bilingual education: What the research tells us. In O. García, A. Lin & S. May (Eds.), Bilingual/multilingual education. Encyclopedia of Language and Education (3rd ed.). New York: Springer.


Bradley Rentz

Katie Gao

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