30.05.2014 - Education Sector

Multilingualism: a key to inclusive education

UNESCO/Nguyen Thanh Tuan- Teaching diversity: At a school in La Pán Tẩn Commune, Muong Khuong country, Viet Nam, students from 10 ethnic groups are taught in groups.

In today’s world, providing quality education for all implies taking into account the many varied cultural and linguistic contexts that exist in contemporary societies. Language and, in particular, language education and the choice of language of instruction, are key issues that are at the heart of the debate on quality.

Educational policy-makers are confronted with the challenge of having to ensure language education standards for the whole population of a country, while at the same time protecting the rights of those who belong to specific linguistic and ethnic populations.

UNESCO encourages countries to adopt mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual approaches in education where relevant - an important factor for inclusion and quality in education. For UNESCO, ‘multilingual education’ refers to the use of at least three languages in education: the mother tongue, a regional or national language and an international language. 

Research shows that mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual education has a positive impact on learning and learning outcomes. The 2014 Education for All Global Monitoring Report found that in Cameroon, children taught in their local language, Kom, showed a marked advantage in achievement in reading and comprehension compared with children only taught in English. Research has also shown that mother tongue-based multilingual education has a positive impact on the acquisition of a second language.

UNESCO acknowledges the vital interaction between linguistic and cultural diversity. It is also guided by the principle of equality of all cultures and languages.

“Multilingualism is a source of strength and opportunity for humanity. It embodies our cultural diversity and encourages the exchange of views, the renewal of ideas and the broadening of our capacity to imagine”, says Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General.

Ms Bokova will join government officials, policy-makers, researchers, educators and development partners to reflect on challenges and new options for effective language education and planning at the ‘International Conference on Language - Enhancing Language Ability and Language Education’, taking place on 5-6 June in China. The conference is organized by the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China, the State Language Commission of the People's Republic of China, the National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO, and the Jiangsu Provincial Government in partnership with UNESCO.

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