International Mother Language Day

The United Nations International Mother Language Day celebrates language diversity and variety worldwide. The event that was quietly marked yesterday promotes linguistic and cultural diversity.

Created by UNs Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) on November 17, 1999, it has been observed every year since February 2000. The date represents the day in 1952 when students from different educational institutions demonstrated for recognition of their language, Bengali, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan and were shot dead by police in the capital of present-day Bangladesh.Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 12.56.45 PM

The United Nations General Assembly by the same resolution, proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages, to promote unity in diversity and international understanding, through multi-lingualism and multi-culturalism.

By extension, Unesco in Africa declared 2006 the year of African languages. In spite of this, the language policy in Kenya continues to be tilted in favour of English and to some extent Swahili, at the expense of mother tongue.

The importance of mother tongue in cognitive, linguistic, personal and educational development of children is crucial and this cannot be over emphasised. Granted, the question of language and identity has been a thorny issue in most African countries ever since they attained independence from their colonial masters.

There is a scenario that keeps unfolding in the country as the Education ministry struggles to assert the status of our mother tongues in the education system. The move always attracts support and dissent in equal measure.Opponents argue it will heighten negative ethnicity and may even lower the quality of education offered. But proponents see massive benefits to the child, both in the quality of learning and appreciation of themselves.

Mother tongue is important in moulding a society to be able to provide homegrown solutions to local problems.But these benefits have been shrouded by stereotypic notions, social injustices and tribalism.

The undercurrent of tribal division is undeniably gaining momentum fast. We seem to be on a slippery trajectory towards disintegration.

Cohesion must be a mutual venture. Instead of pointing fingers, we must take up the responsibility in willing to be a nation that refuses to be torn along tribal lines. We must walk towards building confidence among all communities.

(This article was published on February 22, 2015 on People Daily Kenya

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