Seizing on Momentum for Mother Tongue in Asia-Pacific: 5th International Conference on Language and Education Conference Opens in Bangkok

Seizing on Momentum for Mother Tongue in Asia-Pacific: 5th International Conference on Language and Education Conference Opens in Bangkok

Seizing on Momentum for Mother Tongue in Asia-Pacific: 5th International Conference on Language and Education Conference Opens in Bangkok

BANGKOK – 19 OCTOBER 2016: Asia-Pacific is quickly becoming a global leader in mother-tongue based multilingual education (MTB-MLE) – momentum an international conference that opened here today looks to seize and build upon for the benefit of millions of ethnolinguistic minority learners in the region.

The 5th International Conference on Language and Education: Sustainable Development Through Education brings together more than 300 participants from 34 countries to discuss challenges and showcase solutions related to MTB-MLE.

In his welcoming remarks, Gwang-Jo Kim, Director of UNESCO Bangkok, the Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, noted how central the approach is to global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Our ambitious universal education agenda is rooted in SDG 4, which calls on all countries to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,’” he said. “MTB-MLE is vital in this regard, as it makes education systems more relevant and responsive to cultural and linguistic diversity. This approach is undeniably at the heart of inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.”

Dr Kim also took a moment to remember and pay tribute to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, who passed away on 13 October at the age of 88. He highlighted, in particular, His Majesty’s efforts in improving the lives of those living in some of the most remote reaches of Thailand, many of whom are ethnolinguistic minority speakers. “In addition to his tireless development work, His Majesty was also a passionate advocate for education and his ceaseless pursuit of knowledge exemplified the spirit of lifelong learning,” Dr Kim said. “His legacy is an inspiration – let us carry it forward.”

Opening the conference, Thai Deputy Minister of Education Dr Teerakiat Jareonsettasin spoke of the need to develop language policy in Thailand, calling language, "tool to access culture, probably the greatest tool that human beings have to make good progress in education."

 "The Ministry of Education is committed to including all Thai citizens in national development, and to be proud of our cultural and linguistic diversity,” he said. “The Ministry of Education is also committed to maintaining cultural diversity, strengthening education, and upholding the human rights and educational rights of ethnic minority children as enshrined in the United Nations declarations Thailand has signed, as well as in the Royal Society of Thailand’s proposed national language policy.”


Both Dr Kim and Dr Teerakiat highlighted a Thailand-based programme that was recently celebrated at UNESCO headquarters. The Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia of Mahidol University in Thailand was awarded the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize for its “Patani Malay-Thai Bi/Multilingual Education Project”.

The programme, which is supported by UNICEF and the Thailand Research Fund, aims to boost the academic performance of students in the deep South, where most learners speak Patani-Malay. The successful approach was lauded by jury members for its "success in sustaining the performance of Malay-speaking students in the primary schools of southern Thailand”.

In her keynote address, Dr Susan Malone, Senior Consultant for Literacy and Education at SIL International, noted some of the lessons learned in more than three decades of the MTB-MLE movement, providing a detailed reflection on essential components of successful programmes.

"MTB-MLE is the only way to ensure that SDG4 will be achieved in non-dominant language communities," she says. "At this moment in time we can say we're getting there... We’ve learned a lot. Let’s work together on getting what we have learned out to the world."  

Asia-Pacific is home to some of the most comprehensive MTB-MLE policies in the world, including in the Philippines, a regional leader in institutionalizing the approach, and Cambodia, where the Multilingual Education National Action Plan (MENAP), launched in March, provides a detailed roadmap to reaching ethnic minority children. 

The three-day conference will aim to learn from and build on the region’s notable recent successes in MTB-MLE policy, practice and research by covering four key themes: 1) Towards Sound Policies on Multilingual Education: Language and Language-in-Education Policy and Planning in Asia and the Pacific; 2) MLE Teachers and Teacher Training for MLE; 3) MLE Practice/Praxis in Early Childhood and Primary Education; 4) Language and Cross-Cutting Issues of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

The 5th International Conference on Language and Education is an initiative of the Asia Pacific Multilingual Education Working Group, a consortium of UN agencies, intergovernmental organizations and academics advocating on behalf of ethnolinguistic communities through multilingual education initiatives and related policy advocacy throughout Asia-Pacific.

UNESCO Media Contact: Noel Boivin, UNESCO Bangkok Media and Communications Officer,

Conference website: