International Mother Language Day, observed since 1999 on 21 February, honours the world’s abundant cultural and linguistic diversity. The celebration draws attention to the significance of pluri-lingualism and the need for language preservation. For example, UNESCO’s Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger categorises more than 2000 languages along various levels of endangerment.
This year’s special theme is inclusion in and through education: language counts. During celebrations for the International Mother Language Day at UNESCO, yesterday, attention focused on the role of mother language as a factor of inclusion in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.
While most countries are bi- or multilingual, education is generally taught in the dominant or national language. Today, minorities repeatedly become marginalised and isolated because of linguistic barriers. These communities are socially, economically, and politically excluded, and if they are able to attend school, are likely to perform poorly on assessments and often eventually drop out. Not only does this impede children’s chances of succeeding but it exacerbates social inequality and reduces citizenship participation.