They believe this should be a strategy to help them address the existing performance gap between rural indigenous students and their urban peers as informed by the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025.
More than 200 indigenous delegates representing approximately 30 ethnic groups unanimously made the call in their draft resolution and call to action at the end of the Second Malaysian Indigenous Peoples Conference of Education (MIPCE 2) here, Thursday.
The conference, which brought international expert speakers, basically aims to determine how indigenous education the country can look like while also serves as a platform for sharing of their aspirations and experiences, particularly in the development of their mother tongue-based multilingual education.
It is a continuation of the first conference on indigenous education held nine years ago.
Although there had been progress made after the first conference held in Sabah, performance gap continues to exist.
According to one of the expert presentations at the event, the dropout rate among indigenous children was at 30 per cent, far higher than the national figure which was only at 4 per cent.
Indigenous delegates expressed in the draft resolution that they must no longer allow the situation to continue or further deteriorate. They also expressed their concern about the rapid erosion of indigenous languages and cultures.
It was reported that 81 per cent of 136 languages in Malaysia are dying, the worst among all Southeast Asian countries.
Having been inspired by the success of Chinese and Tamil national-type schools that are provided for in the Malaysian Education Act, the indigenous delegates feel that the same can be attained by their own mother-tongue education with Government recognition and support.
A huge body of international and national research proves the academic, cognitive, cultural and psycho-emotional benefits of teaching students in their first language. The studies demonstrate that indigenous languages and cultures are assets to be used in learning and education.
Delegates however acknowledged in the draft resolution the importance of mastering the Malay and English languages for the children's long term academic success. But they affirmed that mother tongue provides advantages in initially developing a student's creativity, thinking skills and leadership.
The draft resolution also underlines their call on the Malaysian Government to develop a national policy on mother tongue-based multilingual education as the preferred language of instruction in pre-school education and also promote its usage in the same manner for initial literacy in primary school, while ensuring successful transition to Malay and English languages.
Delegates also called on the government for funding, among others.
The final resolution will be handed to the Education Minister soon.
Meanwhile, conference organising Chairman Datuk Ik Pahon anak Joyik said at the closing ceremony of the conference that despite the advocacy for mother-tongue based multilingual education, change for the better still lies in the hands of indigenous communities in the country.
He urged them to take even the smallest effort to making that change possible, starting by using and transmitting their mother tongue to their children.