Language Friendly School in Toronto, Canada

Rutu Reports to UN Race Committee on Language Discrimination in Dutch Schools

Language Friendly School in Toronto, Canada

Language Friendly Schools welcome and value all languages spoken. Image of the Silver Creek School in Toronto, Canada.

The Rutu Foundation works to eradicate all forms of language based discrimination in education. We do this by supporting Language Friendly Schools. We also encourage international human rights bodies to clarify that such acts constitute human rights violations.

On 27 March 2020, the Rutu Foundation submitted an Alternative Report on Language Based Exclusion, Punishment and Discrimination in Dutch Education to the United Nations Committee which oversees the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Although quantitative data is lacking, there are strong indications that the practice of prohibiting students (and their parents) from speaking a language other than Dutch in school is widespread in the Netherlands. This includes stopping students from speaking their home languages with each other while playing on the playground. Or asking parents not to use their mother tongue with their children when they drop them off and pick them up from school.

When children are discriminated against in school, humiliated by teachers and bullies, or regularly punished, their socio-emotional and cognitive development is greatly hindered. They feel greater shame for who they are. They feel even more like outsiders at school. And they perform worse academically than children in schools where such practices do not occur. These children drop out at higher rates. Some are even forced out of educational institutions (as in the case of a Dutch-Turkish secondary school student who was expelled from school in 2013). This significantly reduces their future earning potential. It also deepens the inequities between dominant and minority groups.

In the Netherlands, the suppression of home languages has become thoroughly internalized. This is because of the persistent belief that ‘forgetting’ one’s mother tongue and speaking the dominant language is the only way to achieve economic and social success.

The Rutu Foundation calls on the Committee to address language exclusion, discrimination and punishment against students with a migrant or linguistic minority background as part of the State’s obligation to eliminate racial discrimination in the Netherlands. We ask that the State collect data on language discrimination in education, develop an anti-language discrimination awareness campaign, and institutionalize teacher training on multilingual education.

Read the whole report here.

Update: On 25 August 2021 the Committee adopted its conclusions and recommendations on the Netherlands and recommended that the Netherlands ensure that multilingual students with a migration or minority background are not prohibited, restricted or punished for using their mother tongues at school.

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