UNESCO calls for multilingual education to promote indigenous languages

A grandmother and her grandchildren in Bushenyi District Uganda read an Uwezo report on learning outcomes. Courtesy Photo/Uwezo.
A grandmother and her grandchildren in Bushenyi District Uganda read an Uwezo report on learning outcomes. Courtesy Photo/Uwezo.

The United Nations Education and Cultural agency, UNESCO has called for multilingual education in schools, administrative units and the media as a way of promoting indigenous languages.

Today is International Mother Tongue Day, proclaimed by UNESCO in 1999 with the objective of promoting linguistic and cultural diversity.

Irina Bokova, the UNESCO Director General says in a statement that promoting and respecting mother languages will help foster a future of dignity for all.

“On the occasion of this Day, I launch 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 better we understand how to value languages, the more tools we will have to build a future of dignity for all,” says Bokova

The theme for this year is “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education”. Bokova argues that in order to foster sustainable development, learners must have access to education in their mother tongue and in other languages.

“It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired. Local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus playing an important role in promoting sustainable futures,” she says.

UNESCO also looks at the International Mother Language Day as an opportunity to mobilize for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and in particular SDG 4, “to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.” The UN agency argues that education and information in the mother language is essential to improving learning and developing confidence and self-esteem, which are among the most powerful engines of development.

In Uganda, the Minister of state for gender and culture, Peace Mutuuzo, has recommended for the use of local dialects to help develop mother languages.

Mutuuzo says understanding of mother language enables easy learning and grasping of secondary languages like English and Kiswahili which are now the official languages in Uganda. However, she notes that families and schools have ignored the use of mother languages, forcing children to use English which affects their understanding.

At a press conference on Friday last week, Mutuuzo warned teachers against punishing children for speaking vernacular at school.

David Ssengendo, the head teacher of Buganda Road Primary School in Kampala, the use of using local languages in schools which is stated in the thematic curriculum for lower primary has faced criticism from members of the public. He notes that whereas learning through the mother tongue language helps a child in understanding, most parents perceive the practice archaic, forcing schools to teach in English.

The national event is taking place at the National Theatre, Kampala, under the theme “Promoting use of local languages in learning for national development.”

– Uganda Radio Network