Redressing language-based exclusion and punishment in education and the Language Friendly School initiative
Hurwitz, Deena R.
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Despite decades of scientific literature showing the benefits of multilingual programmes that allow children to learn through their mother tongue, millions of children around the world continue to be denied the right to be educated through a language they understand. Not only are home languages largely excluded from the official curriculum, but children belonging to ethnolinguistic minorities often are also prohibited and sometimes even punished for speaking their mother tongue on the school grounds. Contrary to what is generally believed by educators, preventing children from using their home language does not improve their educational performance, but rather has harmful social and emotional effects. After presenting examples of these practices in various countries, this article examines the human rights implications when students are banned from using their home language at school, by referring to the international instruments in force regarding children’s rights in education, with a focus on the European context and its relevant framework. We find that such practices violate the right to education, freedom of speech, and the right to be protected against direct and indirect racial and language-based discrimination. The Language Friendly School is introduced as a new initiative with the explicit aim of ending language-based punishment in education by 2030, the ‘deadline’ of the Sustainable Development Goals. While schools are the primary location where these practices take place, tackling the deep inequalities in education cannot be left to schools alone. We end our analysis with a call to action on governments to redress these violations of children’s rights, and to human rights educators, advocates and lawyers to hold them accountable. Key words: right to education; language-based exclusion and punishment; ethnolinguistic minorities; racial discrimination; mother tongue education; multilingual education