UN Day

International Mother Language Day is an annual observance held on 21 February to promote awareness of linguistic diversity, cultural diversity, and multilingualism. It has been observed since 2000.

The theme for 2022 is “Using technology for multilingual learning: Challenges and opportunities.”

Decade of Indigenous language

This year’s event also comes at the start of the UN Decade of Indigenous Languages, which runs until 2032. During the decade, the UN intends to draw attention to indigenous languages. In 2020, it said that while 7,000 languages are spoken in the world, 90% may be extinguished by 2100.

The UK Government has supported the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and provided support in countries such as Papua New Guinea to protect and preserve local languages.

Linguistic diversity in education worldwide

UNESCO states many millions of children worldwide access education in a language they do not speak or understand, with one estimate putting this as high as 40%. This challenge is particularly prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia and the Pacific.

A 2016 paper for UNESCO, “If you don’t understand, how can you learn,” states this negatively impacts on children’s learning, leading to poorer education outcomes.

It found, for example, in Côte d’Ivoire that 55% of grade 5 students who spoke the test language at home (French) learned the basics in reading in 2008, compared with only 25% of those who spoke another language.

The report made several recommendations, including promoting bilingual schools, training teachers to teach in two languages, and provide school-readiness programmes to help children transition to school.

Technology, education, and the coronavirus pandemic

International Mother Language Day 2022 is focusing on technology to promote multilingual learning.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many countries employed technology to educate children when schools were closed.

However, an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) survey of 143 countries in late 2020 and early 2021 found access to technology varied across the world.

While 96% of high-income countries provided remote learning through online platforms for at least one education level, this compared to 58% of low-income countries.

In 2020, UNESCO raised concerns that many emergency education materials were provided in major national or international languages, potentially excluding minority language speakers.

Further reading

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