Since 2000, significant progress has been made in the Asia-Pacific region in expanding learning opportunities for all. Progress is reflected in improved school enrolment ratios, fewer out-of-school children, higher literacy rates, and improved gender parity. Despite this progress, retention, successful transitions from the home or preschool to primary school and then to secondary education, and the quality of education remain substantial challenges. There are still 17 million out-of-school children and close to 499 million illiterate adults in the Asia-Pacific region.1 At least 250 million children worldwide are still not able to read, write, or count adequately even after at least four years in school.2
In order to complete the unfinished Education for All (EFA) goals, Target 4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development3 has been developed to achieve "inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all." The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will need to address all forms of exclusion and marginalization, disparities and inequalities in access, participation, and learning outcomes. However, in many cases, language and education policies fail to take into account the inherent linguistic diversity in schools and society and prevent ethnolinguistic minority learners from accessing quality education. An estimated 2.3 billion people, nearly 40 percent of the world's population, lack access to education in their own language.4 Experience in the Asia-Pacific region has shown that mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE) can help break this cycle of marginalization in education. MTB-MLE ensures that all learners have equal opportunity to build strong foundational skills of literacy and numeracy as well as analytical, problem-solving, interpersonal, and social skills for further learning in a complex and rapidly changing world. Cambodia and the Philippines are examples of countries with new, pro-active, and evidence-driven MLE policies that strive towards increased quality education for all.
Since 2003, members of the Asia-Pacific Multilingual Education Working Group have been co-organizing international conferences on language and education every two to three years.5 These conferences bring together hundreds of policy-makers, researchers, practitioners, and development actors. The conferences facilitate MLE advocacy, create momentum for stronger MLE programs, and contribute to the mainstreaming of MLE policies around the region. They also function as a platform to share views, good practices, and experiences, as well as to explore issues concerning the importance of mother tongue-based learning and broader language issues in sustainable development. The conferences also encourage researchers and practitioners to provide evidence to support MLE advocacy efforts in the region.
The 5th International Conference on Language and Education will take stock of recent developments in MLE policies and practices in the Asia-Pacific region, with a special focus on multilingual education in early childhood and primary education. It will likewise look at innovative pedagogies in the training of MLE teachers. Finally, it will examine challenges and lesson learned from the EFA experience and give opportunities for forward-looking discussions on both the role of language in achieving the new SDGs and preserving a harmonious relationship between the global and local contexts.
1 UNESCO. 2015. Asia-Pacific Regional Education for All Report: A Synthesis of the National EFA Reports. Bangkok, UNESCO.
2 UNESCO. 2014. Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All: EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013-2014. Paris, UNESCO.
3 The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes a set of 17 SDGs to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030. The new SDGs, and the broader sustainability agenda, go much further than the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), addressing the root causes of poverty and the universal need for development that works for all people.
4 UNESCO UIS and UNICEF. 2015. Fixing the Broken Promise of Education for All: Findings from the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children. Montreal, UIS.
5 2003, 2008, 2010, and 2013.