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Engaging ‘head and mind’, key for effective learning, says UNESCO chief on Literacy Day

In her message for the day, Audrey Azoulay pointed out that there are some 7,000 living languages being spoken today, and called them “instruments for communication, engagement in lifelong learning, and participation in society and the world of work”. 

“They are also closely linked with distinctive identities, cultures, worldviews and knowledge systems”, she continued. “Embracing linguistic diversity in education and literacy is, therefore, a key part of developing inclusive societies that respects ‘diversity’ and ‘difference’, upholding human dignity”. 

With greater mobility and the growing ubiquity of instantaneous communication, multilingualism in daily life has become much more common. It is also being shaped by globalization and digitalization.   

And yet, “many languages have been endangered”, she lamented, noting that negative trends, such as these, have “implications for literacy development”. 

“Building a solid literacy foundation in a mother language, before moving to a second foreign language, has multiple benefits”, Ms. Azoulay maintained, however, “about 40 per cent of the world’s population does not have access to education in a language they speak or understand”.

She underscored to need to change this by making policies and practices more linguistically and culturally relevant and by exploring the potential of digital technology. 

“Engaging with both head and mind is a key for effective learning”, maintained Ms. Azoulay, flagging that “for more than seven decades, UNESCO has supported mother-language-based, multilingual approaches to education and a better understanding of intercultural understandings”.

Literacy in the fore

This is also the International Year of Indigenous languages and marks the 25th anniversary of the World Conference on Special Needs Education, where the  Salamanca Statement on Inclusive Education was adopted.

The Day is being celebrated worldwide to promote literacy as part of the right to education, as well as a foundation for individuals’ empowerment and inclusive and sustainable development. With the specific theme of ‘Literacy and Multilingualism’, it offers an opportunity to rethink the fundamental importance of the language and its diversity for individuals and society.

“UNESCO prompts you to rethink literacy in our contemporary world as part of the right to education and a means to create more inclusive and linguistically and culturally diverse societies”, concluded the UNESCO chief.

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