Happy International Mother Language Day! The 21st February is a United Nations observed day to promote cultural and linguistic diversity.
Though we teach students the national language in all our schools, in Cambodia and Myanmar we often work with ethnic-minority groups for whom these languages are not the mother tongue. In fact, an additional 12 local or indigenous languages are spoken across our schools in Cambodia, whilst 4 different languages are spoken in our schools in Myanmar. These languages are a sign of rich and diverse local cultures, but they have left many communities isolated from a state education system that serves only those who speak Khmer or Burmese. Our challenge: to teach children the national language whilst preserving indigenous cultures and customs.
So how do we do this? Well, by training members of the local community to work alongside government teachers, we are able to teach the national curriculum whilst offering teaching in the mother tongue as well. This awareness of Mother Language is key in promoting good attendance, and more than 9,000 children attending a UWS school in Cambodia benefit or have benefitted from some form of mother tongue teaching. As in Cambodia, the aim in Myanmar is to give all children a bilingual education, with community teachers leading lessons in the mother tongue for younger students, and government teachers leading lessons in Burmese.
Linguistic diversity may be a challenge in our schools, but we are proud to work with local communities to preserve indigenous languages and customs.