Webinar: Why Language Friendly Schools Don’t Punish or Prohibit their Student’s Languages

Every year on the 21st of February we celebrate the more than 7.000 languages spoken in the world. But did you know that in most countries, the vast majority of students are not allowed to use their home languages at school and are sometimes even punished for it? Punishments can take many forms. As recent as 2009, little kids from India were forced to wear a sign around their neck that they would never speak their home language.

Why schools prohibit or punish the use of home languages

There are many reasons why schools prohibit, punish or discourage the use of home languages. Often it is well-intentioned, as teachers believe that this is the best way for children to learn the school language. However, these practices are harmful and there are much better ways this can be achieved. With happier kids, parents and teachers as a result! 

One of the main goals of the Language Friendly School programme is to help ensure that by 2030, the deadline of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, no child is punished for using his or her mother tongue at school.

During our second Language Friendly School webinar, we took a closer look at why Language Friendly Schools commit to encouraging their students in using their home language, and agree never to prohibit or punish them for doing so.

A human rights violation

Deena Hurwitz, human rights attorney, provided an overview of the most important human rights at play: the right of non-discrimination, the right to education and the right to identity and culture. States voluntarily sign international treaties, and thus are bound by their provisions. This means that States – and their representatives – are accountable when human rights are violated. In this case, the representatives of the State include public school boards. They have an obligation to make teachers and principals aware that they may not prohibit, punish or discourage students from using their mother tongue. What’s more, they must actively stop them from doing so.

What are the effects on students?

Drawing on a large body of literature, Emmanuelle Le Pichon and Nidhi Sachdeva from the University of Toronto discussed the emotional and educational impact on students who are not allowed to speak the language they use at home. They emphasized that prohibition need not be explicit, but for example can be in the form of an ‘award’ for only speaking the school language. It can lead to feelings of exclusion, a lowered sense of identity, disengagement and early drop out.

Allowing home languages gives room for learning

More than 40 years of scientific studies point to the benefits of allowing home languages in education. Yet, millions of children do not receive education in a language they can understand and many more are not allowed to even speak their home language on the school grounds. It is crucial therefore that we start changing the conversation and focus on celebrating the languages rather than banning them. The Language Friendly School is an effort to do just that.

View the presentation

The slides can be downloaded here.

Language Friendly School webinars

This is the second webinar of our Language Friendly School webinar series. Information about our previous webinars can be found here.

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