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.

 

Understanding intercultural education

This is the second in a series of posts about international education. To recap, international education might be something that is not aligned with the national curriculum within which the international school exists. It could also be considered something that is offered as “the other”. That is, it is something that exists because what it has to offer students will not be or may not be found in the national curriculum of the country in which the international school is found. The last post on this subject area presented several quotes that sought to define international education. In this particular post, the focus is shifting to what is meant by intercultural education.

The intercultural education network defines intercultural education as that which:

…promotes the understanding of different people and cultures. It includes teachings that accept and respect the normality of diversity in all areas of life. It makes every effort to sensitize the learner to the notion that we have naturally developed in different ways. It seeks to explore, examine and challenge all forms of “isms” and xenophobia, while promoting equal opportunity for all. Intercultural education works to transform not only the individual but the institution as a metaphor and mechanism for the transformation of society.

H. Chad Lane, in 2012, defined it as:

the acquisition of knowledge and skills that support the ability of learners to both understand culture and interact with people from cultures different from their own.

The UNESCO Guidelines on Intercultural Education states:

In a world experiencing rapid change, and where cultural, political, economic and social upheaval challenges traditional ways of life, education has a major role to play in promoting social cohesion and peaceful coexistence. Through programmes that encourage dialogue between students of different cultures, beliefs and religions, education can make an important and meaningful contribution to sustainable and tolerant societies.

Intercultural Education is a response to the challenge to provide quality education for all. It is framed within a Human Rights perspective as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948):

“Education shall be directed to the full development of human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial and religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace”.

More recently, UNESCO has published its Global Citizenship Education paradigm and in the process it set intercultural education within the context of global citizenship. Global Citizenship Education: Preparing learners for the challenges of the 21st century (p.14) defines Global Citizenship Education to have differences in interpretation but…

…a common understanding that global citizenship does not imply a legal status. It refers more to a sense of belonging to a broader community and common humanity, promoting a ‘global gaze’ that links the local to the global and the national to the international. It is also a way of understanding, acting and relating oneself to others and the environment in space and in time, based on universal values, through respect for diversity and pluralism. In this context, each individual’s life has implications in day-to-day decisions that connect the global with the local, and vice versa.

I do not believe that intercultural education or intercultural learning is a straightforward thing to define. From the couple of definitions presented here, and I realise there are others to look at, intercultural learning rests on the notion of promoting respect for others and their culture. Its aim is to equip and encourage students to engage in dialogue with each other. This is so that there is a mutual cultural understanding that is conducive to tolerance and sustainability within societies across the world.

In some sense, this appears to be synonymous with the idea of global citizenship. Perhaps to put it another way, intercultural education or intercultural learning is the outworking of or the teaching that underpins global citizenship. In having intercultural learning in our schools we are authentically raising up global citizens.

Dangerous worldviews

“Die gefährlichste Weltanschauung ist die Weltanschauung derer, die die Welt nie angeschaut haben”.

I have set myself the task, over the upcoming weeks, of airing my take on internationalism and education. In my previous post, I said that there are three aspects to be considered: international, intercultural and interlingual. It was of interest to me, then, when this quote from Alexander von Humboldt (14 September 1769 – 6 May 1859) popped up in my Facebook feed. While it is not entirely clear as to whether he actually uttered or wrote these words, they express a sentiment that resonates with why internationalism and education should be paired together. In this sense, this post might be considered to be a preamble to the posts on international, intercultural and interlingual that will follow over the next couple of weeks. Or, at the very least, the start of a preamble to some sort of final paper on the subject.

Tangentially, von Humboldt was a Prussian, geographer, naturalist, explorer and influential proponent of Romantic philosophy and science. He was incredibly well-travelled, having been appointed to positions over the course of his career that would require his presence in different places across the globe, or driven to different places in the world on account of his research. If this utterance was really his (and I would like for the sake of argument and convenience to say that it was), then he certainly had the academic background, respect and credibility to make it.

While von Humboldt’s words give ‘internationalism’ a degree of historicity and veracity, despite the fact that it is unlikely he would have used the term ‘internationalism’ to describe the perspective he was conveying, I see in von Humboldt’s words something more. It is the fact that they can be seen as a call to action to teachers to bring the world into the classroom. By bringing the world into the classroom, teachers can help students create and maintain an identity that is informed by the world and not an identity that is in tension with it, an identity that embraces the world and does not live in fear of it. In light of events in recent days, weeks and months, the place of teachers in this world is never more important.

International, Intercultural, Interlingual – mapping out the Dreiländereck that is international education

I work in an educational world that is defined by the intersection of three different spaces: the international, the intercultural and the interlingual. It makes for an interesting environment. Living in an area of land that is often called the Dreiländereck (where Germany, Switzerland and France meet), the use of three terms to define this educational world seems entirely appropriate. In the same way that my school is made up of students of different countries, cultures and languages, so too is the geography of the Dreiländereck.

The application of the international, the intercultural and the interlingual into a teaching and learning environment can be challenging for those within it. The interactions between one’s sense of self and the national identities of those one teaches can prompt useful, in-depth discussions about teaching and learning. The same interactions can also contribute to points of friction or tension. Cultures collide in the staff room about what constitutes pedagogical ‘best practice’.

For me, this post is a starting point for a discussion about internationalism and education. Over the coming weeks I want to look at the ideas of international, intercultural and interlingual, all of which appear to be central to understanding what internationalism as it applies to education is about. So, with that in mind, and to bring this post to a close, here are some short, tentative definitions that might be used as a springboard for what is to come:

  • International – the basis for a comprehensive approach to education that intentionally prepares students to be active and engaged participants in an interconnected world.
  • Intercultural – an approach to education that seeks to develop student intercultural competence, which is the ability to act and relate appropriately and effectively in a variety of cultural contexts.
  • Interlingual – an inclusive teaching and learning approach that supports all languages and cultures present within the school by fostering an environment whereby all students are open and responsive to respecting and learning about other languages.