Did you know - there are 27 languages spoken in Cambodia, 122 languages spoken in Nepal and 120 languages spoken in Myanmar?

Multilingual countries across the globe face difficult decisions about languages of instruction. The more languages spoken within a country, the more complex the challenge to provide free education for all. This means indigenous ethnic minority groups often disproportionately miss out on education due to the language factor - there simply isn’t the option to attend school and receive an education in a language they understand.

On International Mother Language Day held on 21 February, we celebrated the communities we work with in South Asia, one of the most linguistically diverse regions in the world. The remote communities with whom we work in Cambodia, Nepal and Myanmar are mostly made up of ethnic minority groups whose first languages are not the national language. Myanmar alone is home to over 100 indigenous ethnic groups, all of whom have their own dialects.

We believe that education is a right for everyone, and we are working towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 to ensure inclusive and quality education for all. This is why we train teachers from the communities with whom we work, who are able to teach children in a language they understand.

It is estimated that 40% of the world’s population do not have access to education in a language that they speak or understand.

The challenge of providing education in many languages means that even highly multilingual countries often only teach in the “national language.” When indigenous language speakers are taught in a language they do not understand, they understandably struggle. These children are placed at a disadvantage compared to other children who speak the national language as their first language. By employing community teachers in our schools who speak the same languages as the children, we help our students learn the national language whilst also protecting indigenous languages and cultures.

Of the world’s 7,000 or so languages (the exact number is highly contested!) 2,680 are considered to be in danger. The UN has recognised this year as International Year of Indigenous Languages in a bid to promote the importance of these languages which are under threat. This is also a question of human rights. There is no reason not to protect indigenous languages and promote an education that is multilingual – after all, there are many advantages to being able to converse in several languages – from greater cultural understanding to improved job prospects….all languages matter!

Donate today to United World Schools and help us ensure inclusive education for children across Cambodia, Myanmar and Nepal. With your help we can help put a stop to language being a barrier to education. 

Meet one of our local teachers 


Global Education Monitoring Report 2016

Ethnologue: Languages of the World

International Year of Indigenous Languages