Hosted by UNESCO Bangkok, the Multilingual Education Working Group (MLE WG) is a coalition of INGOs, universities, and bilateral and UN agencies involved in promoting Mother Tongue Based-Multilingual Education (MTB MLE) programmes for disadvantaged communities in countries throughout the Asia-Pacific Region. The MLE WG was formally established in 2009 under the Regional Thematic Working Group on Education for All (TWG on EFA) to remove barriers of access to quality education for ethnolinguistic minority communities through enhanced coordination of technical and substantive support to multilingual education initiatives and evidence-based policy advocacy throughout the region. The MLE WG has been closely following Education 2030 discussions and online consultations, and would like to make its expertise available to UIS and other key development actors.
Linguistic diversity is a reality in classrooms all around the world. Access to education in the learner’s first language is crucial to ensure full participation in the learning process and to overcome a vicious cycle of marginalization, exclusion and discrimination. Worldwide research confirms that children learn best if their initial education is in the language they understand best (usually their “mother tongue”), with other languages added gradually. MTB MLE is also one of the most effective strategies to transform the lives of out-of-school children and youth and to address adult illiteracy. However, an estimated 2.3 billion people, nearly 40% of the world’s population, still lack access to education in their own language.1 Article 29 of the 2009 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Annex II objective 6 of UNESCO’s 2001 Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, and article 14 of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are among numerous internationally affirmed declarations supporting the linguistic, cultural and educational rights of children from non-dominant communities.
In order to ensure all learners benefit from access to equitable and inclusive quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Target 4 should consider MTB MLE as one of the indicative strategies to address the language of instruction issue. In this regards, the MLE WG strongly supports the Technical Advisory Group’s proposed Indicator #18 (“Percentage of students in primary education whose first or home language is the language of instruction” - under Target 4.5). The membership of the MLE WG supports this indicator as a major step towards addressing structural barriers of exclusion and marginalization as well as disparities and inequalities in access, participation and learning outcomes at all levels.