Beyond Symbolism: Integrating Ethnic Minority Languages into Asian School Systems

Authors: Kirk Person (SIL International and Mahidol University, Thailand)
Speakers: Kirk Person
Strand: Language Minorities and Majorities
Session Type: General Session


Multiple United Nations declarations and conventions reference the right of minority groups to engage in educational activities, including the teaching of the ethnic language and culture. Nonetheless, these broad pronouncements do not deal with the technicalities of how that might be accomplished, and invariably contain caveats such as “whenever possible” or “where appropriate.”  The phrasing of these texts presents the teaching of non-dominant languages as a desirable symbolic goal, rather than an educational necessity.

This presentation will examine evidence from a number of Asia-Pacific Countries, including Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Timor Leste, demonstrating how the inclusion of ethnic minority languages in formal schooling holds definite practical value in enhancing the school  performance of language minority students.  It will also present policy developments, on the national and supranational levels, supportive of what has come to be termed Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education.  Special attention will be given to the  “Bangkok Statement on Language and Inclusion” (promulgated by UNESCO Bangkok and, as of December 2020,  endorsed by 16 Asia-Pacific  nations) and related activities of the Asia-Pacific Multilingual Education Working Group (co-chaired by UNESCO Bangkok and the UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office).  These efforts hold great promise for the preservation of endangered languages and cultures, as well as the educational development and future prospects of ethnolinguistic minority children.

Keywords: Language Rights, Language-in-education policies, multilingual education