International Mother Language Day 2016 - ‘Why learning in their own language is vital for Syrian refugee children’
International Mother Language Day has been observed by the United Nations every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The date represents a day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.
This year’s theme is ‘Quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes’
is in line with Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education of the Agenda 2030. The theme emphasises the importance of learning in appropriate languages, usually mother tongues, in early years of schooling.
The work we support for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon does just this. Children in the tent schools set up in Bekaa Valley refugee camps are taught in Syrian Arabic by Syrian teachers. This is key to help them recover from trauma and to help them to re engage with learning, making education materials familiar and easy to understand.
Learning in mother tongue language facilitates access to education, while promoting fairness for population groups that speak minority or indigenous languages, in particular girls and women. It also raises the quality of education and learning by focussing on understanding and creativity, rather than on rote and memorisation.
Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. For the children we working with, continuing to learn in their own language with a Syrian curriculum is crucial to retaining a sense of self and knowing their own identity and history. As time passes in the camps the children can easily become disconnected to their home.
All the Syrian refugees we speak to in the camps say that all they want is to go home and to help rebuild their country. They see their situation as temporary, so having their children learning in Syrian is the most logical solution for them. They want to ensure that their children are educated for their own future and wellbeing, but also with the hope that in the future they are able to help Syria to get back on its feet.
Read more about our work with Syrian refugee children in Lebanon
Donate to the project