‘The priceless heritage of humanity’

Diplomatic Correspondent

22 February, 2021 12:00 AM printer

The UNESCO has encouraged people everywhere to celebrate the world’s diversity by supporting multilingualism at school and in everyday life, marking the International Mother Language Day observed on Sunday.  

The annual commemoration honours linguistic diversity and multilingualism, which UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay called “the priceless heritage of humanity”. The focus this year is on inclusion, both in the classroom and in society.

“This is essential, because when 40 percent of the world's inhabitants do not have access to education in the language they speak or understand best, it hinders their learning, as well as their access to heritage and cultural expressions,” Azoulay said in her message for the day.               

“This year, special attention is being paid to multilingual education from early childhood, so that for children, their mother tongue is always an asset,” she added.

International Mother Language Day was celebrated amid the ongoing battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, which has widened inequalities in education. Azoulay said many of the 1.5 billion students worldwide unable to attend school at the peak of the crisis had no access to distance learning. 

The pandemic is also threatening cultural diversity, as festivals and other events have been cancelled, with the impacts affecting creators and the media.

Azoulay underscored her agency’s commitment to promoting multilingualism, including on the Internet. UNESCO is also the lead agency for the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, which begins next year.

She said the International Day, like the Decade, presents the challenge of ensuring the diversity of the world’s languages is preserved as a common heritage.

“For when a language dies, a way of seeing, feeling and thinking the world disappears, and all of cultural diversity is irretrievably diminished,” she said.