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International Mother Language Day 2024

Focus on preserving mother tongues worldwide

Published : Wednesday, 21 February, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 411

Focus on preserving mother tongues worldwide

Focus on preserving mother tongues worldwide

International Mother Language Day, observed annually on February 21st, commemorates a significant historical event in Bangladesh that underscores the importance of linguistic diversity and the preservation of mother tongues. The origins of International Mother Language Day can be traced back to a pivotal moment in Bangladeshs struggle for linguistic and cultural rights.

The roots of this commemoration date back to February 21, 1952, when students and activists in what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) protested against the imposition of Urdu as the sole official language by the central government of Pakistan. This decision disregarded the linguistic and cultural identity of the Bengali-speaking majority in East Pakistan. The protests culminated in a tragic event known as the "Language Movement," where police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, resulting in the deaths of several protesters who were advocating for the recognition of their mother tongue, Bangla.

The sacrifice of these language martyrs galvanised the Bengali-speaking population and ignited a vibrant movement for linguistic autonomy and cultural recognition. The Language Movement ultimately led to the recognition of Bangla alongside Urdu as one of Pakistans official languages in 1956. This victory was a pivotal moment in the struggle for linguistic rights not only in Bangladesh but also as an inspiration for language movements worldwide.

In 1999, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) recognised the significance of the language movement and declared February 21st International Mother Language Day to promote linguistic and cultural diversity worldwide. The declaration aimed to raise awareness about preserving mother tongues and celebrating the linguistic richness of different communities.

Since then, International Mother Language Day has been observed globally, with various events, seminars, and cultural activities organised to promote multilingualism, language education, and the preservation of linguistic heritage. Each year, UNESCO selects a theme for International Mother Language Day to highlight different aspects of linguistic diversity and its relevance to sustainable development, cultural understanding, and social cohesion.

The theme for 2024 is "Multilingual education is a pillar of intergenerational learning", which underscores the critical importance of multilingual education policies in promoting inclusive educational practices and safeguarding indigenous languages.

According to UNESCO, the disparity in access to education based on language comprehension is a stark reality for a significant portion of the global population. As of today, approximately 40% of the worlds inhabitants lack access to education in a language they speak or understand. In some regions, this figure skyrockets to over 90%, highlighting a concerning gap in educational equity and linguistic inclusivity. However, amidst this challenge lies a compelling solution supported by research: implementing multilingual education policies and practices.

Research consistently demonstrates that utilising learners languages in educational settings lays a robust foundation for effective learning. When students are taught in languages they understand, it enhances their comprehension and bolsters self-esteem and critical thinking skills. Educators can create an environment conducive to active participation and meaningful engagement by providing instruction in familiar languages, facilitating more profound learning experiences.

Moreover, embracing multilingual education opens the door to many benefits beyond individual academic achievement. It catalyses intergenerational learning, fostering connections between different age groups within communities. When languages are valued and integrated into educational curricula, it facilitates the exchange of knowledge, stories, and cultural traditions across generations. This intergenerational exchange enriches the learning process by tapping into older community members wealth of wisdom and experience, thereby preserving cultural heritage and promoting mutual understanding.

Additionally, multilingual education plays a pivotal role in language revitalisation efforts, particularly for indigenous and minority languages facing the threat of extinction. By incorporating these languages into formal education systems, communities can actively work towards preserving their linguistic and cultural heritage. UNESCOs recognition of the importance of multilingual education aligns with the objectives of the International Decade on Indigenous Languages (2022 - 2032), emphasising the critical role of language preservation in maintaining cultural identity and promoting social cohesion.

Against these pressing issues, UNESCOs celebration of International Mother Language Day 2024 is a poignant reminder of the imperative to prioritise multilingual education policies and practices. This years theme underscores the integral link between multilingual education and achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4, which calls for inclusive, quality education and lifelong learning for all. By recognising the intrinsic value of linguistic diversity and promoting multilingualism in education, stakeholders can pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable educational landscape.

Concerted efforts are needed to address the challenges associated with language-based educational disparities. This entails investing in teacher training programs, developing culturally relevant curricula, and providing resources in multiple languages to support the effective implementation of multilingual education initiatives. Furthermore, it requires collaboration among governments, educational institutions, communities, and international organisations to ensure that linguistic diversity is celebrated and upheld as a fundamental human right.

Multilingual education is a powerful tool for promoting inclusive, quality education and fostering intergenerational learning, language revitalisation, and cultural preservation. As we commemorate International Mother Language Day 2024, let us reaffirm our commitment to championing linguistic diversity and ensuring that all individuals have access to education in the languages they speak and understand. In doing so, we can create a more equitable and enriched educational landscape that empowers learners, preserves cultural heritage, and fosters global solidarity.

The writer is a researcher and development worker

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