Why languages matter for the Millennium Development Goals

IMLD quote BokovaUNESCO has long insisted that languages play an essential role in reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In a brochure released last year UNESCO explains why. Among others:

  • Languages are essential to achieving universal primary education (MDG 2).
  • the safeguarding of local and indigenous knowledge and know-how with a view to ensuring environmental sustainability (MDG 7) is intrinsically linked to local and indigenous languages.

The MDGs are expected to be realized this year. However, we already know that none of the goals will be met. In fact, “if recent trends continue, the poorest girls will not have universal primary education before 2086.” (Education International). Moreover, it is expected that of the approximately 6,000 languages spoken today, only half will remain by the end of this century.

Education which values children’s mother tongues, improves the quality of learning and keeps children in school longer (UNESCO Toolkit on Mother Tongue Education). It also helps protect indigenous children’s languages, their dignity and their self-esteem. We therefore wholeheartedly agree with UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova who said in her statement on International Mother Language Day that:

 “The focus for the post-2015 agenda must fall on the priority of advancing quality education for all… Education in the mother language is an essential part of achieving these goals — to facilitate learning and to bolster skills in reading, writing and mathematics. Taking this forward requires a sharper focus on teaching training, revisions of academic programmes and the creation of suitable learning environments.”


What are MDGs?

There are eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which range from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education. They form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions. Read more here about Education and the MDGs.