“Language is a tool, but the goal is not simply to change one language by another, but to create a project, educational and social,” explains Adama Ouane, a former member of the UNESCO Institute for Learning Throughout Life (IUAL), in Hamburg (Germany).In a world in which cohabiting 7,097 known languages, and in that 2,300 billion people lack access to education in their own language, it is a challenge to ensure that the education is inclusive.
The challenge becomes greater in a country, multi-lingual, where the native languages of the learners are different from the language of instruction. Due to this lack of diversity in the languages of instruction, many students of the traditional educational systems are at a disadvantage.
“The multilingual education must be anti-racist and anti-discrimination,” explained Tarcila Rivera, Quechua activist and member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues of the United Nations.“One of the many reasons why the parents and grandparents of indigenous societies and minorities are not transmitted the language to new generations is due to the persistence of racism, discrimination, eurocentrism, and the vision colonialist power, the knowledge and the word”.
Multilingual education is a challenge that requires solutions tailored to the needs of the learners and to the reality of their lives. UNESCO encourages and promotes multilingual education based on the mother tongue or first language. It is a type of education that begins in the language that most dominant the learner and, then, gradually introduce the remaining languages. This approach allows learners whose mother tongue is different from the language of instruction to cover the gap between the home and the school, see the school environment in a language family, and, in this way, to learn best.
UNESCO agreed to specialists in the field of languages, including indigenous languages, to promote multilingual education based on the mother tongues, multilingualism and linguistic diversity. The discussion examined the challenges and opportunities around the multilingual education, the fundamental role it plays in the development agenda, as well as the guidelines of UNESCO in the field of multilingual education.
Today, more than half of the languages are in danger of falling into disuse. When a language disappears, it disappears, with it, the knowledge and the socio-cultural diversity of a language community, especially among the indigenous communities. To address this situation, a position paper of the updated UNESCO integrates other areas of work, such as the recovery of languages, or the revitalization of language.
In line with recommendations made during the Summit on Transforming Education , education and languages of indigenous peoples were also emphasized. In his Vision Statement on Transforming Education , the United Nations Secretary-General has called for equitable investments in education, with the aim of reaching those who have traditionally been excluded from quality education. , including indigenous peoples. Similarly, a discussion paper on inclusive, equitable, safe and healthy schools calls for textbooks and curricula to be inclusive of all groups, and for teacher training curricula to better address the principles of inclusive education.
What is the next step?
UNESCO’s updated guidance document “ Education in a Multilingual World ” will be published in early 2023 and will support countries to implement the multilingual education and respond to the needs of marginalized and excluded learners, including indigenous peoples.
To further support work on multilingual education, UNESCO will publish a guidance document on languages and inclusion, as well as a reference document on early childhood care and education and languages for the UNESCO World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education in November 2022. UNESCO will also celebrate International Mother Language Day 2023 around promising policies and practices in multilingual education focused on indigenous languages, among others.