Lessons from Africa prove the incredible value of mother tongue learning

Sixty-five years ago a group of students paid with their lives in a fight for language. A number of students were shot and killed by police while demonstrating in defence of their language, Bengali (also called Bangla). The students wanted Bengali to be formally recognised as one of the two national languages in what was then Pakistan and is today Bangladesh.

Since 1999, the anniversary of the tragedy has been marked every year on February 21 by UNESCO as International Mother Language Day.

African research has made a valuable contribution to the framing of 2017’s International Mother Language Day theme: “Towards sustainable futures through multilingual education”.

This makes sense; after all, it was in Africa that the first sustained research about mother-tongue education in multilingual countries began 100 years ago. The continent was also the site of UNESCO’s early interest in multilingualism in education. In 1953 the global body produced a report that explored…

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