Strength in diversity

Today’s story out of Willemstad about two high schools in Curaçao becoming Language Friendly Schools is intriguing. It regards an international network of schools dedicated to promoting language-friendly education, including institutions in Saba, Suriname, Europe, the US and China.

Until fairly recently, the use of other languages than the one of instruction in education was mostly frowned upon and even forbidden, because it would cause confusion. However, times have changed and this initiative, supported by the Rutu Foundation from the Netherlands, recognises schools that embrace multilingualism and create an inclusive environment where all languages are welcome.

In today’s global village with instant communication, diversity and multilingualism have increasingly become assets. Certainly on the Dutch Caribbean islands, with considerable immigrant populations and due to their geographic locations, a working knowledge of not only English and Dutch but also Papiamentu, Spanish and – especially in St. Maarten – French may be considered an advantage.

Exactly what it all means in practice for lessons, teaching materials, etcetera remains unclear, but the idea is to recognise the value of other languages spoken by their students, including Arabic and Mandarin. To join the network both schools had to meet stringent criteria demonstrating their dedication to language diversity and inclusion. They developed and implemented an action plan promoting respect and appreciation for all languages and cultures in the school community.

Using various languages is seen as a means to enhance academic performance, based on research indicating positive effects of multilingualism in the classroom. Parents may continue to speak their native language with the children at home, while the schools are committed to combating exclusion and bullying related to language differences.

It seems like an interesting approach of which more details are needed to from a qualified opinion, but the initiative in any case highlights the crucial role of language in connecting cultures as well as supporting the academic and social development of students. It might be worth looking into further because there is growing strength in diversity, which should not be discouraged.

The Daily Herald

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