UNESCO Office Bangkok
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a set of shared aspirations and efforts to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place. At the heart of the goals is the recognition that for this global initiative to be effective, all people need to be included. Language is the key to inclusion. Language is at the center of human activity, self-expression and identity. Recognizing the primary importance that people place on their own language fosters the kind of true participation in development that achieves lasting results. In 2010, this insight brought together hundreds of educators, development workers, linguists, government workers and civil society delegates at a conference in Bangkok. Convinced that language is a vital tool for the achievement of the MDGs, they reported on the many ways in which initiatives that promote local languages are making a real difference to people’s lives across Asia and beyond. The conference showcased, in particular, impressive evidence for how early education in the mother tongue improves the lives of children and their communities. Participants also reported that recognizing the role of languages is highly significant for work on all of the MDGs, including tackling poverty, gender inequality, HIV and AIDS and maternal and child health. As well as pointing to successes, the conference revealed many challenges and gaps in current understanding of the role of language in development and education. Thus, the Bangkok forum represented an early contribution to an emerging and exciting field that has the potential to contribute much more to the MDGs. It is hoped that the conference and this publication, which includes and expands upon many of its themes and findings, will help spur more thought and action on the challenging work ahead.