September 8 is International Literacy Day (ILD), as proclaimed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

ILD 2019’s theme will be “Literacy and Multilingualism.” According to UNESCO, embracing linguistic diversity is a key factor in addressing the challenges the world is facing when it comes to literacy.

Embracing diversity

Due to increased human mobility, UNESCO said that multilingualism is becoming common.

Multilingualism is more than just having a community that is able to speak multiple languages — language is one of the ways for culture to flourish.

With multilingualism becoming more prevalent, societies now become more inclusive, they now accept multiple cultures and views. Some of these cultures and views they even allow to mingle with their own. This mingling enriches these societies further.

Multilingualism and literacy

There are several dimensions UNESCO discussed in their concept note in which multilingualism interacts with literacy. Here are some of the most relevant issues cited:

01. Evolving shape and patterns or multilingualism: globalization and digitization greatly influence the socio-economic, cultural, and political aspects of the society. These aspects, in turn, impact the education sector, as well as the existing literacy policies.

02. Multilingualism, literacy and inclusion: Mother language-based education serves as a foundation to an inclusive and equitable education. By embracing language diversity, the young, the adult, the vulnerable, the disabled and the marginalized will all be able to access learning.

03. Conducive environments and effective partnerships to promote literacy in a multilingual standpoint: In order to fully maximize national efforts to promote literacy in a multilingual context, partnerships that will help in terms of finance and accountability. Policies, on the other hand, should mould an environment conducive for multi-linguistic learning.

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A time to reflect

ILD 2019 is a time to revisit how multilingualism is incorporated into our policies. Our current global literacy rates are record breakers. However, if we want to maintain this upward trend in literacy, we should also start considering inequalities that are still entrenched today.

Embracing diversity is another step we can take to grow even further. We should ensure that literacy is enjoyed not only by the few but by everyone.

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