New right to education report reveals measures taken by countries to expand linguistic diversity in education

Mother and children writing on notebook

UNESCO just published the report From rights to country level action analyzing the 82 reports that were submitted for the recent consultation with UNESCO Member States on the implementation of the Convention against discrimination in education. On the occasion of the International Mother Language Day, the findings of the report are particularly relevant in showcasing national efforts made to foster cultural and linguistic diversity, and can be of inspiration in the context of learning recovery.

Conducted on a periodic basis, the consultations require Member States to submit a national report on the measures taken to implement this normative instrument, providing a valuable opportunity to take stock of the progress made, sharing interesting national practices and report on challenges, for example in light of the impact of the COVID—19 pandemic. For the last twelve years, there has been more than 47% increase in state reporting which shows the value given to this reporting mechanism.

The Convention provides for clear rights when it comes to languages. Recognizing the importance of minority languages, 41% of reporting states have legislation or regulations which guarantee the right of national minorities to study in their mother tongue – some states have even guaranteed this right in their constitutions. The report reveals that countries provide instruction in minority or indigenous languages and in accordance with the needs of the local populations as well as spreading multicultural and intercultural bilingual education through teacher training in “linguistic, communicative, cultural, sociolinguistic and pedagogical competences” in the minority languages. Among the 47% of countries reporting on the adaptation of the curriculum to minorities needs, examples, for instance, on the creation of specific syllabus for schools in the mother tongue of the national minorities and in native languages of indigenous communities, were shared.

Refugees and migrants face a multitude of obstacles to education, including language barriers. 52% of reporting countries are providing language classes to ensure a smooth transition into the educational system of the host country.

Despite progress made, the findings reveal that when the language of instruction differed from the mother tongue, for example for those with migrant backgrounds, learning was extremely challenging and resulted in poor performance. In this respect, globally, 40% of the population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand.

Rights-based national measures taken to ensure that every learner can be educated in their mother language will help to foster inclusion and reduce disparities in education, especially for learning recovery. Technology may also have a role to advance multilingual education and support the development of quality learning for all, a facet which is being explored by the Initiative on Evolving the Right to Education. With increasing mobility and the risk of languages disappearing, it is timelier than ever to fully embrace linguistic diversity in education.