On International Mother Language Day

Today is International Mother Language Day. Established by UNESCO in 1999, and formally recognised by the UN General Assembly in 2008, International Mother Tongue Language Day functions to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. For UNESCO, such awareness positively contributes to global citizenship, enabling our learners to play an active role in both local and global arenas to address global challenges and, ultimately, contribute proactively in creating a more just, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable world.

If nothing less, today should be a reminder about the importance of mother tongue or mother languages. It might be a trite thing to say but for our learners, regardless as to whether they are in an international school or a national school, language is important. It is the means by which our learners express themselves. A learner in Grade 1 has the same experience with language as a learner in Grade 10; language structures their thoughts and identities.

Facilitating a learning environment that supports, or incorporates, a learner’s mother tongue is complicated. It can be ‘messy’ but there are benefits:

  • There is an emphasis on the quality of teaching and learning with a focus on understanding and creativity. The teacher has to ensure that what is going on in the classroom will promote understanding (of whatever content or concepts are being taught).
  • There is a reinforcement of the cognitive aspect of learning because facilitating a learning environment that supports a learner’s mother tongue ensures the direct application of learning outcomes to the learner’s life through the mother tongue. There is an authentic understanding that takes place about whatever it is that is being taught.
  • An enhanced dialogue and interaction between learner and teacher is allowed to take place. Promoting a “mother tongue friendly” environment from the very first day of classes allows genuine communication from the beginning. The learner sees the teacher as taking an interest in their cultural heritage and the teacher has a better capacity for reaching the student.
  • It facilitates participation and action in society and gives access to new knowledge and cultural expressions, thus ensuring a harmonious interaction between the global and the local.

Image result for mandela language quote

Mandela’s quote on language and the difference between understanding and meaning is an appropriate endpoint to this (very) brief exposition on mother tongue and International Mother Language Day. Celebrating the diversity in language heritages in one’s classroom or school may contribute to creating an environment whereby learning takes place, opportunities for communication and interaction exist, and global-mindedness is fostered. These are good things. I want to posit that ensuring that the diversity in languages in one’s classroom or school is meshed into pedagogical practice might well take things further. Rather than just going through the motions of learning and interacting in different contexts, hearing what one is to learn in one’s own language (even if it is just key concepts) could encourage a sense of ownership of the learning process. As we seek greater degrees of global citizenship and international-mindedness, having individual learners take on the ownership of the processes that seeks to promote these concepts cannot be a bad thing.

 

If you are interested, you can find out more about this year’s International Mother Tongue Language Day here.

 

Is your school perfectly prepared for a world that no longer exists?

At a recent teachers’ conference, I attended a session on the future of teaching and learning. It was a roundtable discussion session and started with a number of different questions for people to consider. The summation of those questions, which focused on assessment, on teacher qualification, on the relevance of schooling in this day and age, is the question that leads off this particular post. Be it a national school or an international school, the question is pertinent: as a school, are we perfectly prepared for a world that no longer exists?

While a roundtable discussion can be a useful exercise, I did walk out of that particular session thinking how one might actually start a process of investigating this core question of being prepared for a world that no longer exists. Certainly, coming up with an answer is  a self-reflective exercise. And starting the process is as daunting as it is uncertain. I would hazard to say that it is also exciting.

Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel’s 2009 text 21st century skills: Learning for life in our times has been useful in my own thinking through issues associated with the question about the place of schooling in the world today. As I work on strategic planning papers and presentations, Trilling and Fadel feature in my thoughts and reflections. Indeed, Trilling and Fadel (2009: xxiii) start with a series of questions, describing the questions as ones that are often aired in conversations about the future of teaching and learning:

  • How has the world changed, and what does this mean for education
  • What does everyone need to learn now to be successful?
  • How should we learn all this?
  • How is 21st century learning different from learning in the 20th century and what does it really look like?
  • How will 21st century learning evolve through the century?
  • How will a 21st century learning approach help solve our global problems?

They then pose a four question exercise which I have replicated here:

Question #1: What will the world be like twenty or so years from now when your child has left school and is out in the world?

Question #2: What skills will your child need to be successful in this world you have imagined twenty years from now?

Question #3: Now think about your own life and the times when you were really learning, so much and so deeply, that you would call these the “peak learning experiences” of your life. What were the conditions that made your high-performance learning experiences so powerful?

Before going on to Question #4, look over your answers to the first three questions and think about how most students currently spend their time each day in school. Then consider the final question:

Question #4: What would learning be like if it were designed around your answers to the first three questions?

The four question exercise, as it is called, is a great way of facilitating a discussion on the state of things in one’s school. It doesn’t purport to provide a strategic plan or some form of roadmap that provides the user with continuous school improvement. It does help leadership teams or teaching teams or those in between to see differences. It walks people through a discussion that will have its end point in: how different a place is the school you work in compared to that which you have just imagined? In light of the answers to the above questions, to what degree is your school perfectly prepared for a world that no longer exists?