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Multilingual Education – A Way to Promote Quality Education for All

International Mother Language Day, 21 February 2010

Since 2000, UNESCO and its Member States have celebrated International Mother Language Day annually on 21 February in order to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. This year, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) is marking the occasion with a variety of activities whose main purpose is to promote tolerance, equity and social justice through access to quality basic education and lifelong learning.


The outcome document of the Sixth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VI), the Belém Framework of Action, adopted on 4 December, 2009, states that “Member States are committed to supporting the development of writing and literacy in the various indigenous languages by developing relevant programmes, methods and materials that recognise and value indigenous cultures, knowledge and methodologies, while adequately developing the teaching of the second language of wider communication”. UIL is committed to providing technical assistance to Member States for the implementation of the Belém Framework of Action, including the promotion of mother tongues.


The Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) and the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD) also pay due attention to the promotion of multilingual literate environments. The role of mother tongues is reaffirmed as a key factor for promoting literacy and quality education in multilingual contexts. In September 2009, UIL held a cross-regional seminar on “Adult literacy in Multilingual Contexts” in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 47 participants from 10 LIFE countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gambia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Senegal) attended the seminar. They shared effective practices relating to bi-/multilingual adult literacy and the development of multilingual environments, as well as developing an action-research framework. To follow up, UIL and its partners – the Institute of Popular Education, Nirantar, and SIL International – are now developing an action-research manual for the promotion of adult literacy in multilingual contexts. This manual will be used in LIFE countries to implement (cross-regional) action-research projects in the field of adult literacy.


In January 2010, UIL and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) held a Ministerial Conference on the Integration of African Languages and Cultures into Education in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. UIL developed an advocacy guide in favour of the use of African languages in education, and the Ministers of Education adopted a policy guide for the promotion of multilingual education in Africa, recognising that African languages and cultures are crucial for social cohesion at the national and regional levels and a key factor in enabling universal access to education (see Communiqué).

Conference on the Integration of African Languages and Cultures into Education – Communiqué.
ADEA press release of 22 January 2010