Image by ArturoChoque from Pixabay.
Image by ArturoChoque from Pixabay.

States must provide for teaching indigenous and minority children in their own language

published 16 March 2020 updated 24 March 2020

Education International warmly welcomes the declaration by the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues that children of linguistic minorities must be taught in their own language where possible. This would help to achieve inclusive and quality education, and respect the human rights of all children.

“Education in a minority’s mother tongue, combined with quality teaching of the official language, is more cost-effective in the long term,” said Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, in a report presented to the Human Rights Council on 11 March.

Such education “reduces dropout rates; leads to noticeably better academic results, particularly for girls; improves levels of literacy and fluency in both the mother tongue and the official or majority language; and leads to greater family and community involvement,” he said.


Numerous studies agreed that an appropriate and proportionate use of minority languages in education can increase inclusion, communication and trust between members of minorities and State authorities, de Varennes said.

“Children from indigenous or minority backgrounds will have better academic results and will stay in school longer when they are taught in a language with which they are most familiar – usually their own,” he noted. “When this happens, especially when they stay longer in school, they will not only acquire a stronger basis and literacy in their own language, they will also be able to gain greater fluency in the official or majority language.”


In addition, the failure to use minority languages where this is reasonable could be discriminatory or in breach of the human rights obligations of States, including the right to education, he said. Such a failure would be inconsistent with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, which calls for inclusive and quality education for all.

“Inclusive and quality education for members of linguistic minorities means, as far as it is practicable, education in their own language. Not using a minority language as a medium of instruction where this is possible means providing an education that does not have the same value or effect,” he insisted.

The Special Rapporteur has called for the drafting of practical guidelines to provide concrete guidance on the implementation of the human rights of minorities and the use of their languages in the field of education.

Education International: Enriching cultural heritage of humankind

Since its inception, Education International has recognised that the distinct cultures and languages of indigenous people enrich the cultural heritage of humankind and deserve protection as vehicles of culture and identity. It also underlines the crucial role that teachers, education support personnel, and their organisations in the education system have in ensuring the promotion and preservation of the cultural identity of indigenous peoples.

“We deeply acknowledge that the ability of each individual to learn about, access, and participate in his or her culture is the basis for sustaining and promoting cultural diversity,” said Education International’s General Secretary David Edwards. “We also firmly believe that, by teaching respect for the diversity of human cultures, educators can promote amongst the peoples of the world tolerance, dialogue, and cooperation, which are the best guarantee of peace.”

Educators globally are committed “to combatting all forms of racism and of bias or discrimination in education and society due to gender, marital status, sexual orientation, age, religion, political opinion, social or economic status or national or ethnic origin”, he added.