Frequently Asked Questions about the UN Committee’s report on the Netherlands

In August 2021, the UN Committee Against Racial Discrimination expressed its concerns about discrimination of multilingual children in the Netherlands. The committee confirmed that restricting or punishing children for speaking their mother tongue in the school environment is discriminatory and that the Netherlands should take measures to ensure that this does not happen anymore.

We can imagine this report raises questions for teachers such as:

Does a teacher need to speak all their students’ languages?

Internationally, the best practice for multilingual children is considered to be mother tongue based multilingual education: offering children instruction in a language they know best, while also including the dominant language.

With many different languages in the classroom, it may be practically difficult – but not impossible! – to provide instruction in each language. How do you it? How can teachers make space for all languages in the classroom? In a series of blog post, we will try to answer your questions.

The good news is: it is absolutely not necessary for teachers to speak every language! You can still use the wide variety of languages present in the classroom, without understanding the languages themselves. Here are some examples:

  • One of the Language Friendly Schools show how they value and use linguistic diversity in this video.
  • Video about multilingualism in the classroom

The Language Friendly School

The Rutu Foundation founded the Language Friendly School – a school label and a global network – as a response to the increasing multilingualism in schools around the world. Language Friendly Schools embrace the linguistic diversity of all students, their parents and the entire school community. The network of Language Friendly Schools  support each other in developing language inclusive approaches in their own contexts. Do you want to know more about the Language Friendly School or learn more about language inclusive practices? Read more on the Language Friendly School website.

Read more about the UN Committee’s report here.

For English, click here

Genève – Op 25 augustus j.l. heeft het VN-Comité inzake rassendiscriminatie Nederland aangemaand maatregelen te nemen zodat meertalige leerlingen niet beperkt of bestraft worden als zij op school hun moedertaal spreken. Het Comité zegt zich zorgen te maken over discriminatie die leerlingen met een migratieachtergrond ondervinden binnen het Nederlandse onderwijs. Het gebruik van de thuistaal mag, op grond van het VN-Verdrag inzake rassendiscriminatie, niet worden verboden.

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UN: Dutch schools must welcome mother tongues

Geneva – On the 25th of August 2021, the UN Committee Against Racial Discrimination urged the Netherlands to ensure that multilingual pupils are not restricted or punished when using their mother tongue at school. The Committee expressed its concern about discrimination experienced by pupils with a migration or minority background in Dutch education. Based on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the use of the home language may not be prohibited in the school environment.

Prohibiting mother tongues common practice at Dutch schools
In the Netherlands, it is still common to prohibit speaking other languages at school than Dutch. For example, a teacher recently explained in a national newspaper (Volkskrant 18/2/21) that when she catches her students speaking their own language in class, they are forced to copy pages from a Dutch dictionary during lunch break. This was presented as a good practice. Parents are also frequently asked to speak only Dutch with their children when picking them up or taking them to school. The Rutu Foundation recognizes these practices. Ellen-Rose Kambel, director: “Unfortunately we have been receiving and collecting these signals for years. It is still widely believed that restricting the home language will help students to learn the Dutch language.”

However well-intentioned, research shows that discouraging or punishing by condemning home languages has exactly the opposite effect. When school rejects part of the child’s identity, it restricts the child’s social-emotional and cognitive development. For example, at schools where students are punished for using their home language, these students were found to perform worse in comprehensive reading than at schools where their languages are welcomed. The students feel greater shame for who they are and have less confidence in their future.

A form of racial or ethnic discrimination
With these conclusions and recommendations, the Committee has confirmed that restricting or punishing the use of the mother tongue at school by multilingual pupils with a migration or minority background constitutes a form of discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnicity. The Committee recommended that the Netherlands expands its teacher training to include multilingual education. Within one year, the Netherlands must report back to the Committee on the measures it has taken to implement the recommendations contained in paragraph 20 (a), (b) and (c).

Discrimination in education
19. The Committee is concerned by reports of discrimination of students with ethnic minority and immigrant backgrounds, including that they are more likely to receive a lower assessment from their teachers for secondary school admissions than what they could receive on the basis of their school results. The Committee is further concerned that:
(a) Students with ethnic minority or immigrant backgrounds continue to face discrimination with respect to obtaining internships, which negatively impacts their future prospects on the labour market;
(b) Multilingual students with an ethnic minority or immigrant background are allegedly restricted from or punished for speaking their home languages in the school environment;
(c) The COVID-19 pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on the education of children from ethnic minority groups and with lower socio-economic status (art. 5).

20. The Committee recommends that the State party take measures to increase equal opportunities for all children in education, regardless of their background, and monitor the effectiveness thereof. The Committee also recommends that the State party:
(a) Ensure that all children receive an adequate assessment from their teachers for secondary schools, without discrimination including implicit bias, based on race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin;
(b) Take measures to combat and prevent discrimination in accessing internships, develop protocols or guidelines that teachers can follow when students report such discrimination, and ensure that teachers are aware of these protocols;
(c) Take measures to ensure that multilingual students from ethnic minority groups are not restricted from or punished for speaking their home languages at school and expand teacher training on multilingual education;

The UN Committee on Racial Discrimination is the supervisory body of the International Convention Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The members are independent experts who base their conclusions and recommendations on reports received from the State, the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights and NGOs. As a Member State, the Netherlands is obligated to report on its compliance with the Convention every five years.

Language Friendly Schools

In a special report to the Committee, the Rutu Foundation presented its findings based on interviews, newspaper and research articles. An estimated 25 per cent of the Dutch population speaks an additional language at home. In the larger cities, more than half of the school children are multilingual, speaking dozens of different languages. Instead of restricting the use of these languages, schools should welcome them as a rich source for learning and communication to the benefit of all students.

The recommendations of the Committee should not be interpreted to mean that schools are required to offer instruction in all the languages spoken by their pupils. Students should be allowed to use their home languages with their friends or their families at the school grounds or in the hallways. In addition, teachers can use the student’s languages as part of the learning process. For example by allowing small groups of students who speak the same language to solve a problem among themselves and report back in Dutch. More good practices of using students’ language diversity as a learning resource, can be found at Language Friendly Schools. This is a global network of primary and secondary schools who welcome and value all the languages present in the school. There are currently 12 schools certified as Language Friendly Schools in the Netherlands.

More information:



Communications Internship 

Application Deadline: September 1, 2021
Timeframe: 01/09/21-15/12/21 

The Rutu Foundation is seeking a creative, motivated, and proactive intern with an interest in languages and education for a part-time (8 hours/week) Marketing and Communications position. We are an award-winning international non-profit based in Amsterdam committed to advocating for multilingual education. As our Communications Intern… read more here


Multilingual Education/Language Friendly School Intern 

Application Deadline: September 1, 2021
Timeframe: 01/09/21-15/12/21 

The Rutu Foundation is seeking a committed, motivated, and proactive intern for a part-time (16 hours/week) Multilingual Education position. Read more here


Marketing & Development Intern 

Application Deadline: September 1, 2021
Timeframe: 01/09/21-15/12/21 

The Rutu Foundation is seeking a motivated and proactive fulltime or part-time intern for our Marketing and Development position. Read more here


On Saturday 3 April 2021, De Dubbeldekker, a public primary school in Hilversum, the Netherlands, celebrated its official certification as a Language Friendly School. “This means that we welcome the cultural identity of our students, which includes multilingualism,” explained the principal, Jacqueline van den Bor.

During the covid-proof celebration, the school raised a flag with the Language Friendly School-logo and offered ‘language friendly school’-cakes to the small group of parents, teachers and students who had gathered.

For De Dubbeldekker, multilingualism is not perceived as a problem, but as a strength. “The use of the mother tongue will never be prohibited anymore at our school”. Lidy Peters, the support coordinator (interne begeleider) said: “It is wonderful to see students’ delight when they are asked to provide knowledge about their home language.”

Becoming a Language Friendly School

The Dubbeldekker-school team had already started professional development courses on integrating multilingualism in their teaching strategies, when teacher Pauline Simons heard about the Language Friendly School.

Using the Language Friendly School Roadmap, the team mapped out what they were already doing and then which language friendly-activities they would like to develop further in the future.

As part of the Language Friendly School network, the Dubbeldekker will have access to an online toolkit, a library and most importantly: experienced colleagues to exchange ideas with.

The Language Friendly School is a programme of the Rutu Foundation. The network is growing fast. Starting with two schools in Amsterdam in 2019, there are now 13 Language Friendly Schools in The Netherlands, Spain, Canada and the Dutch Caribbean island of Saba.

For more information: visit the website or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Linkedin.

Interested in becoming a Language Friendly School? Sign up here to receive more information.

Children love picture books. And picture books are a great way to introduce children to reading and to build their vocabulary. For children from ‘small language’ communities, however, there are not many children’s stories available. In May 2020, the Rutu Foundaton launched the campaign #GiveATranslation. The challenge was to translate 100 stories in one month. Volunteer translators translated more than 130 children’s stories from the website Storyweaver into 18 different languages. One of those languages was Papiamento. The mother tongue of the majority of children in Aruba, a Caribbean island that is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands with a population of 100,000 people.

One year later, the Language Project (Proyecto Idioma) of the Department of Education Aruba (DEA) has the pleasure of announcing the publication of 21 digital stories in Papiamento, with more on the way for a total of 60 children’s stories. These have been translated from tales on the website StoryWeaver and published to it’s innovative online platform, which provides free and open access to multilingual reading material for kids in order to reach as many kids as possible on a global scale.

With the publication of these translations, the Language Project at DEA hopes to promote reading and language development among Aruban kids in Papiamento, the mother tongue of the majority of children in Aruba. In this way, the Language Project hopes to protect and preserve our beloved Papiamento.

Kids, parents, educators and others interested can access the e-books in Papiamento on the StoryWeaver website here.
You can also access them via the DEA websites: and

Happy reading! / Lesa dushi!


“Children whose languages are not spoken at school are torn between two worlds, that of the language(s) spoken outside the school and that of the language(s) admitted to the school in predefined and exclusive spaces. How many of these students have been told that they have an accent, pretty or ugly? Followed by the question where they – really – come from. The effect of such comments is always the same: children understand that they do not belong to the local school community.”

Read the full blogpost by Emmanuelle Le Pichon and Ellen-Rose Kambel, co-founders of the Language Friendly School, featured by HundrED in honour of International Mother Language Day 2021.

The theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day, “Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society,” captures the essence of the Language Friendly School. This is what Language Friendly Schools do: fostering their students’ multilingualism, making sure that everyone is included and celebrating diversity. To celebrate International Mother Language Day, we created a video showing what Language Friendly Schools do.

Language diversity is not a problem but rather the solution

For Language Friendly Schools, language diversity is not a problem but rather the solution to create a climate of inclusion and well-being. A Language Friendly School values all languages of the community equally. The objective is that all students feel welcome, enjoy their full identity, and build on that to enhance their overall academic performance. Principals, educators, students, community members, and parents or guardians work together toward these common goals.

How do Language Friendly Schools do it?

The Language Friendly School network is open to all schools, public, private, international, primary, secondary and even tertiary schools are welcome. The Language Friendly Schools are all different, with varying student populations and operating in vastly different education systems. So each school is encouraged to create their own Language Friendly School-activities. For example:

  • students are encouraged to participate in the classroom as active agents and leaders by sharing their languages and cultural practices with their peers.
  • teachers develop classroom activities that are both relevant and relatable to students and their families
  • school teams cultivate an atmosphere of inclusion and diversity by ensuring that parents, caregivers and community partners are all involved in the program.

But why don’t you watch the video and have a look for yourself!

Take a look at our Language Friendly Schools

Get to know our Language Friendly Schools in the Netherlands and Canada! Click on the link to discover tips for success, activities and get a sneak-peek into each schools’ individual Language Friendly approach.

February 21st is the International Mother Language Day. This day was declared by UNESCO “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”. The theme of 2021 is “Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society.”
The whole week leading up to February 21st, we are spotlighting our Language Friendly Schools who welcome, value and include all languages at their schools.

Sint Janschool, Amsterdam

The first Tip for Success comes from the vice-principal of the St. Janschool in Amsterdam, Dieneke Blikslager, who states that when it comes to language inclusion “You don’t need to change anything about your education system. You just need to add a language-friendly sauce.” Click here to find out more about what makes the St. Janschool a Language Friendly School.
invitation webinar

With the Language Friendly School, we envision a world in which all children have access to a language friendly-learning environment: a place where they feel accepted and valued for who they are and no child is punished for speaking his or her mother tongues in school. All schools are welcome to join. The network is open for primary and secondary schools; international, private, public and many more.

Due to the current COVID-19 crisis, the onboarding process for new schools in the network of Language Friendly Schools has gone virtually 100% online. This means that for new schools around the world, we do not have to wait for a local partner to support your school in becoming language friendly. We will organise a series of free online information webinars to explain the first steps.

Free information webinar

The webinar will be hosted by the Language Friendly School Team. After an overview of what the Language Friendly School is and what the benefits are of becoming part of our network, we will be happy to answer your questions.

The next information webinar will be held on Wednesday 2 December 2020, 15.00-15.45h (CET). To register for this webinar or stay updated on future webinars, please fill out this form. Please note: to allow for optimal interaction, we have room for a limited number of guests.  If the webinar is full, we will notify you of the next opportunity.