Children from linguistic minorities should be taught in their own mother tongue, said the UN independent expert on minority issues, presenting his latest report on Wednesday to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
According to Fernand de Varennes, this is not only necessary for inclusive, quality education but also to respect the human rights of all children.
The Special Rapporteur said that: “Education in a minority’s mother tongue, combined with quality teaching of the official language, is more cost-effective in the long term; reduces dropout rates; leads to noticeably better academic results, particularly for girls; improves levels of literacy and fluency in both the mother tongue and the official or majority language; and leads to greater family and community involvement.”
Learning in one’s first language can help mitigate the risk of “ending up later in life with the lowest paying jobs and highest unemployment rates”, he said.
The language of education can also have an impact on the self-esteem and development of minority students, according to the report.
The independent expert, a Canadian legal specialist in the rights of minorities, recommended that quality public education in the mother tongue should “be extended to as late a stage in education as possible, up to and including public university education where practicable, and at the very least be taught as a subject”.
In terms of international law, the failure to use minority languages where reasonable could be construed as “discriminatory”, and contrary to “human rights obligations such as the right to education”, the expert said.
In addition, the expert argued, the use of minority languages would support the social inclusion of persons with disabilities, indigenous people and ethnic minorities, thereby making an important contribution to the world’s development agenda, which calls for ensuring “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (Sustainable Development Goal 4).
Mr. de Varennes also called for the drafting of practical guidelines to provide concrete guidance on the implementation of the human rights of minorities and the use of their languages in the field of education.