12 Mar 2020

Teach kids in their own language, UN expert says

6:42 pm on 12 March 2020

A United Nations expert says indigenous children must be taught in their own language and countries failing to do so could be in breach of human rights.

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Pupils march in support of Te Wiki o te reo Maori (Māori Language Week). Photo: RNZ / Rob Dixon

In a report presented to the Human Rights Council, the UN's special rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, said there are numerous benefits to prioritising the teaching of mother tongues.

"Education in a minority's mother tongue, combined with quality teaching of the official language, is more cost-effective in the long term; reduces dropout rates; leads to noticeably better academic results, particularly for girls; improves levels of literacy and fluency in both the mother tongue and the official or majority language; and leads to greater family and community involvement," he said.

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Children, especially girls, have better educational outcomes if they are taught in their own language, says Fernand de Varennes. Photo: YouTube/ Asia Europe Foundation

Children of linguistic minorities must be taught in their own language to achieve inclusive and quality education which would lead to better academic outcomes and reduced dropout rates.

De Varennes said the failure to use minority languages could be discriminatory or in breach of states' human rights obligations, such as the right to education.

Read the full United Nations report: (PDF 332.KB)

"It would also be inconsistent with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, which calls for inclusive and quality education for all.

"Inclusive and quality education for members of linguistic minorities means, as far as it is practicable, education in their own language. Not using a minority language as a medium of instruction where this is possible means providing an education that does not have the same value or effect."

Recommendations in the report include drafting practical guidelines so the UN can provide better guidance in implementing the teaching of indigenous languages.

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