28.02.2017 - New York Office

Multilingual education - key for sustainable development

New York: On 21 February 2017, the Permanents Missions of Bangladesh, Hungary, Mauritius, Peru and Vanuatu together with UNESCO, United Nations Secretariat and Office of New York City Mayor organized an event for of the International Mother Language Day’s observation, held in United Nations Headquarters in New York

The International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by UNESCO's General Conference in November 1999, and it has been observed every 21 February since 2000 in a view to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. On this occasion of 2017 celebration, UNESCO Director-General launched an appeal for the potential of multilingual education to be acknowledged everywhere, in education and administrative systems, in cultural expressions and the media, cyberspace and trade.

The celebration, aligning with this year’s UNESCO theme for the day “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education”, was the first one to take place in the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The event gathered distinguished ambassadors and high-level UN representatives, who shared their visions and commitments towards promoting multilingualism.

Opening the session, H.E. Masud Bin Momen, Ambassador of Bangladesh, shared that in his country February 21 is observed as the language movement day, known as “Ekushey February”, for the last 65 years. “Ekushey February in Bangladesh has paved the way for the rest of the world to prevent any motivated attempt to destroy a language and local culture, and is now a global intellectual property”, the Ambassador stated.  

“There can be no authentic dialogue or effective international cooperation without respect for linguistic diversity, which opens up true understanding of every culture”, said Ms Marie Paule Roudil, Director of UNESCO New York, quoting UNESCO Director-General Ms Irina Bokova. “This Day is an opportunity to mobilize for the Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular SDG 4, to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”, she continued.

In her remarks, H.E. Katalin Bogyay, Ambassador of Hungary, emphasized that mother tongue plays a crucial role in all aspects of life, be it social and cultural activities, family and social life, work or leisure activities. She highlighted three key areas: education, self-expression and exchange to illustrate how language shapes culture, preserves and transmits information.

Peru's Ambassador H.E. Gustavo Meza-Cuadra emphasized the International Day of Mother Language embodies the essence of the United Nations themselves: multilingualism and cultural diversity. The Ambassador observed that the preservation of mother language should be equal to the protection of the root of a nation.

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Ms Cristina Gallach shared that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been translated over 500 languages so far while the United Nations radio has been conveying its programmes in 60 languages globally. Ms Gallach outlined the multilingualism has inspired United Nations to foster dialogue, tolerance and mutual respects among conflicting situations.

UNESCO GEM Report’s publication on language policy in education showed that while there are 6,500 languages spoken in the world today, a staggering 40% of the global population are learning in a language they do not understand.

UNESCO promotes multilingualism as an essential driver of sustainable development employment and enabler for ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being, poverty eradication, sustainable consumption and production, combatting climate change. UNESCO’s Education 2030 Framework for Action, a road-map to implement the 2030 Agenda, encourages full respect for the use of mother language in teaching and learning, and the promotion and preservation of linguistic diversity.

UNESCO brings the same focus to advancing linguistic diversity on the Internet, through support to relevant local content as well as media and information literacy. Through the Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) programme, UNESCO is highlighting the importance of mother and local languages as channels for safeguarding and sharing indigenous cultures and knowledge, which are vast reservoirs of wisdom.

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