Mother Tongue: A Panacea for SDGs #4 & Global Agenda 2030

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Peace Islands Institute

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On the occasion of the International Mother Language Day, PII’s Center for Global Affairs in partnership with UNESCO Center for Global Education and the Journalists & Writers Foundation organized a roundtable discussion entitled “Mother Tongue: A Panacea for SDGs #4 & Global Agenda 2030” on March 1, 2016.

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Mr. Mehmet Kilic, Director of Center for Global Affairs, delivered a welcome speech and introduced the speakers to the audience. He said: “According to World Bank (2013), the population of the world is 7.1 billion, and there are more than 6.500 languages that are spoken in the word. About 2000 of those languages have less than 1000 speakers. If we do not preserve mother languages, most of these languages will disappear off the face of the earth”. He also added: “Language is a living thing, and changes over time. Language and culture are the two sides of a coin and cannot be separated. People pass their culture, music, food, and dance to the next generations through written or oral languages. When any language disappears, memories of the people and cultural heritage are lost, too. Therefore, UNESCO plays a significant role in preserving mother tongues and cultures in with the support of UN Member States.

The Opening Remarks were delivered by Dr. Ada Okika, Executive Director of UNESCO Center for Global Education, focusing on the question of how can we achieve the Sustainable Development Goal #4: Quality Education: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (SDGs, 2015). Dr. Okika mentioned that many people in Africa faced various challenges concerning their mother tongue: the local languages differentiate from the language of education. Dr. Okika said: “In Africa, we start our education in a foreign language – this is our challenge”. She also emphasized the importance of delivering quality education to all learners by promoting multilingual approach. According to Dr. Okika, it would facilitate access to education and promote fairness among populations that speak the languages of minority and indigenous people. Finally, she completed her message with these words: “We can move the world through peace, prosperity and partnership.”

Mr. Baba Bah Traore, President of the Togolese Association USA, provided depth into the challenges by emphasizing the impact of the colonialism in Togo and Africa, particularly the effects of colonial time in education. Mr. Traore stated that 43 different ethnic groups in Tongo speak different dialects and languages; however, the official language is French. Mr. Traore said: “the people from the south are better educated than the population in the north, which causes an imbalance in the country”. In his opinion, it is easier for local people to be engaged in education if local languages and mother tongue are promoted. Therefore, he demanded new educational concepts for mother tongues to preserve the languages, cultural heritage, and the values.

During the roundtable discussion, participants shared their perspectives on the importance of mother tongue. Bonita Montaque shared her knowledge about the importance of the environment for children. If the mother tongue is not spoken and promoted in schools, the sense of security is gone; as a result, children feel uncomfortable to develop their language skills.

Dr. Fatih Esenboga demanded to create new curriculum and methods in the educational system to promote multilingual approach. He indicated that not only the multilingual but also the multicultural approach was crucial concerning the economic aspect. In our global world, if society has access to multilingual and multicultural resources, then they benefit the advantages to playing an important social and economic role in the world.
Badjbril N. Gawe, who speaks six languages, indicated that “We cannot understand the global culture if we do not understand world languages. We have to go back to our traditions to understand global languages. Our stories are captured in our mother tongue”. aptured in our mother tongue”.


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Mr. Mehmet Kilic is Director of Center for Global Affairs.

Dr. Ada Okika is Executive Director of UNESCO Center for Global Education.

Mr. Baba Bah Traore is President of the Togolese Association USA.