International Mother Language Day

21 February: International Mother Language Day

Since 2000, the world has celebrated International Mother Language Day on 21 February. A language is considerably more than simply a means of communication. Language, notably the mother tongue, is a vital aspect of different cultures worldwide. International Mother Language Day aims to enhance global awareness of language, cultural diversity, and multilingualism. But what are the history and importance of this day?

According to the United Nations, languages are strategically crucial for individuals and the world due to their complex consequences for identity, communication, social integration, education, and growth. They are, unfortunately, increasingly threatened or on the verge of extinction because of globalisation. However, they are an essential part of preserving cultures all over the world.

“When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity”- the United Nations.

At least 43% of the world’s 6000 spoken languages are in danger of extinction. Every two weeks, a language vanishes, carrying a whole cultural and intellectual history with it. Currently, only a few hundred languages have been accepted into educational systems and the larger society, and fewer than a hundred are utilised in the digital environment. Statistics also suggest that over 40% of the world’s population lacks access to education in a language they can speak or comprehend. Fortunately, there is a rising awareness of the significance of multilingual education based on a mother tongue, especially in early childhood education, and a more remarkable dedication to its advancement in society.

Commemorating International Mother Language Day is critical since it guarantees that the languages on the verge of extinction are not lost while preserving nations’ culture, legacy, and history.

History of International Mother Language Day

International Mother Language Day is observed on 21 February in honour of the Language Movement, which the Bangladeshis carried out. On this day in 1952, Dhaka University students and several social activists protested to survive their mother tongue. The dispute stretches back to India’s split in 1947 when East Bengal became East Pakistan. Protests arose when Pakistan designated Urdu as the national language of both West and East Pakistan even though most of the population in East Pakistan and West Pakistan spoke in Bengali or Bangla. Unfortunately, the protest quickly devolved into a massacre and four young students were killed in it. Following Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, the new government initiated International Mother Language Day to raise awareness of national languages and those killed in the protests. To commemorate the day, people in Bangladesh continue to put flowers at the Shaheed Minar (Martyr’s Monument).

Recognising the Bangladeshi people’s efforts to conserve their language, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared 21 February to be the International Mother Language Day, an annual celebration observed across the world on the 17 November 1999. It was then observed for the first time on 21 February 2000. Also, in a resolution passed in 2002, the United Nations General Assembly welcomed the establishment of the day.

Furthermore, in a resolution A/RES/61/266, adopted on 16 May 2007, the United Nations General Assembly urged member states to support the preservation and conservation of all languages utilised by individuals worldwide. 2008 was also declared the International Year of Languages to promote worldwide understanding and unity in diversity via linguistic diversity and multiculturalism and designated UNESCO as the primary agency for the year.

2022 Theme: “Using technology for multilingual learning: Challenges and opportunities.”

Like every year, UNESCO selects a new theme to celebrate International Mother Language Day, and the 2022 theme is “Using technology for multilingual learning: Challenges and Opportunities.” The event will be held in a seminar at the UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, France. Discussions on how technology may help promote multilingual education and support the development of high-quality teaching and learning for all students will be made. Also, the two major topics that will be covered are on:

  1. improving teachers’ roles in the promotion of high-quality multilingual teaching and
  2. learning and reflecting on the possibilities of technology to assist multilingual teaching and learning.

Finally, the webinar will highlight how technology can alleviate some of education’s most pressing issues. If it is governed by the fundamental concepts of inclusion and equality, it can help to speed efforts to ensure accessible and fair lifelong learning opportunities for everyone. An essential component of inclusion in education is multilingual education based on mother tongue. Also, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, several nations worldwide used technology-based methods to ensure that learning continues even during school closures. However, many teachers lacked the necessary abilities and competence to use distance learning. Moreover, many students did not have the technology, internet connection, accessible resources, customised content, or human assistance to pursue distance learning. Furthermore, online teaching and learning systems, programs, and materials may not adequately reflect linguistic diversity.

Mansi Thaneswari Hursahye, YUVA Intern and Psychological Science student at Curtin University (Mauritius)

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Registered in February 2015, YUVA started as a group of enthusiastic individuals, and today it has mobilised thousands of young people with a simple aim of creating a better future for children and youth of Mauritius. At the heart of YUVA’s duty lies the conviction that the collective destinies of the human race are bound together.

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