By The Nation
Deputy Permanent Secretary Watanaporn Ra-Ngubtook said the country remains committed to making cultural and linguistic diversity a cornerstone of development in Thailand.
“Our nation is home to 72 unique ethno-lingusitic groups – a wealth of diversity that is among our national treasures,” she said. “Recognising the different linguistic and cultural backgrounds among our people, the Thai government has worked hard to protect and promote this cultural diversity.”
Watanaporn highlighted Thailand’s advances in this area, including Mahidol University’s Patani Malay-Thai Bi/Multilingual Education project. Mahidol was awarded the Unesco King Sejong Prize in 2016 for the project, which proved beneficial to Malay learners in the restive southern province.
Watanaporn was speaking at an event held at Unesco Bangkok and co-hosted by the Embassy of Bangladesh in Thailand to commemorate International Mother’s Language Day 2018.
Unesco Bangkok director Maki Hayakishiwa said that globally millions of primary school-aged children are not learning the basics. For millions of them, the lack of access to learning in a language they understand remains an “invisible barrier” to education.
“Language plays a big role in realising inclusion or reinforcing exclusion in the education process,” she said.
Saida Muna Tasneem, the Bangladesh Ambassador to Thailand, related the “blood and lives lost for language” in her country. The date of International Mother Language Day, 21 February, was initially suggested to the UNESCO General Conference by a delegation from Bangladesh that sought to commemorate the memories of the students who died struggling to protect their native Bangla language in 1952.
Claire Shine, vice-president and chief program officer with Salzburg Global Seminar, paid tribute to the memory of former Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan, who died in August of last year.
“Dr Pitsuwan was a great friend of Salzburg Global Seminar and played a pivotal role [helping us connect] young and rising Asian leaders to forge a real sense of community across the region, even where there still may be historical tensions,” she said. The Salzburg Seminar is a non-profit organisation that promotes high-level discussions on global issues
The “Salzburg Statement for a Multilingual World” was launched at the event, calling for policymakers to act on the urgent need to expand mother-tongue-based multilingual education.