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Back | Programme Area: Identities, Conflict and Cohesion (2000 - 2009)

Language, Education and Race Relations (Draft)

This paper takes as its point of departure two axiomatic propositions: (i) at the dawn of the twenty-first century, linguistic rights are inalienable human rights, and (ii) cultural diversity is an intrinsic positive value of a sustainable humane and civilized society.

In the introduction to the paper, I attempt to identify those approaches that may lead to the creation of social conditions in which these propositions can become a reality. This entails an analysis of the concepts of a 'raceless society' and of the social reality of race, as well as an understanding of the manner in which historical specificity impacts on social planning. Among other things, I contend that there can be no universal formula for bringing about situations in which potentially or actually conflictual 'race relations' can be permanently defused, and that without the redistribution of material resources, any claims about the attainment of the goal of a sustained equality of life chances is no more than palliative rhetoric. I contend, moreover, that the thin line that separates holistic social planning from manipulative social engineering can be maintained only through democratic transparency, one of the purposes of which is to enable citizens to make informed choices. Against this background, questions relating to the complex issues of social and individual identities, and to assimilationist as opposed to multicultural policies, are addressed.

The core of the paper deals with the central issues in language policy and practice in education, specifically with 'mother-tongue education', and with bilingual education as both the inevitable and desirable pedagogical norm in the era of 'globalization'. I argue that the optimal approach in the current stage of development of human societies is one in which all efforts are geared toward ensuring that every child, or learner, is educated in the language that s/he has best command of, that a local or regional language of wider communication (vehicular language, lingua franca) be learned as a subject and/or as a language of teaching and learning, where appropriate, and that at least one global language be learned as a subject, if possible. This general approach, as intimated earlier, has to be adapted to the specific historical conditions in each country or locality.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 Jan 2001
    From: UNRISD