Category Archives: education

International Year of Moderation, 2019

The International Year of Moderation 2019 (IYM2019) was declared in a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution in December 2017. It is one of three UN international years being observed in 2019 – the other two concerning Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019) and the Periodic Table (IYPT2019) – but so far the one getting the least attention.

IYM2019 was an initiative proposed by Malaysia, and was framed by former Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in terms of an effort to “combat the spread of extremism and radicalism by adopting moderation.”

The UNGA resolution cast the Year’s purpose formally as “an effort to amplify the voices of moderation through the promotion of dialogue, tolerance, understanding and cooperation.”

However, the IYM2019 observance does yet not appear to have as well-developed a public (social media) presence as the other two international years. The UN Alliance of Civilizations, which was “invited” in the UNGA resolution to “facilitate the observance” of IYM2019 “in collaboration with other relevant organizations” has nothing on its website. I found only, on Facebook, a page entitled “2019 as the International Year of Moderation,” and an associated event from the beginning of the year (from which I found the image above).

The slow start may be related to former PM Najib’s political and legal problems, and to the closure of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation in mid-2018. Presumably these would have been prominent in organizing the IYM2019 observance.

Another factor could be the UNGA resolution’s stipulation that “the cost of all activities” in connection with the Year “should be met from voluntary contributions.” Should we conclude that IYM2019 has not (yet) generated sufficient donor interest?

A personal comment: It seems that a year devoted to “moderation” might also, beyond the aims stated above, encourage discussion of moderation as a virtue in other ways. It is for example discussed in philosophy and religious teachings. But it also has very practical benefits, such as in resource use or habits relating to health. If observance of IYM for the rest of 2019 is too narrow in its conceptualization, an opportunity for wider learning would be missed.

(Further edits were made to this post on 30 June 2019)

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International Year of the Periodic Table, 2019

Another of the three United Nations (UN) year-long observances for 2019 is the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (IYPT2019), which has its opening ceremony today at UNESCO in Paris.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Dmitri Mendeleev‘s discovery of the periodic system and publication of the first periodic table (1869). It was on this basis that in 2017 the UN General Assembly and UNESCO designated 2019 as the IYPT.

The tagline for IYPT2019 is “a common language for science.” The official website explains:

The Periodic Table of Chemical Elements is one of the most significant achievements in science, capturing the essence not only of chemistry, but also of physics and biology.

UNESCO’s webpage on IYPT2019 pitches it as: “A yearlong initiative to raise awareness of chemistry and its applications for sustainable development.”

The National Informal Stem Education Network in the US has a short page with links to some resources related to IYPT2019.

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International Mother Language Day 2017 & the Linguapax Prize

The 18th annual International Mother Language Day (IMLD), observed today (21 February 2017), has as its theme, “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education,” which seems to carry on the focus on language in education from last year (presumably still with an eye on Sustainable Development Goal #4).

The definition of multilingual education given on UNESCO’s IMLD page is worth copying here…

Multilingual education facilitates access to education while promoting equity for populations speaking minority and/or indigenous languages, especially girls and women:     

  • It emphasizes the quality of teaching and learning with a focus on understanding and creativity;
  • It reinforces the cognitive aspect of learning by ensuring the direct application of learning outcomes to the learner’s life through the mother tongue;
  • It enhances dialogue and interaction between learner and teacher by allowing genuine communication from the beginning;
  • It facilitates participation and action in society and gives access to new knowledge and cultural expressions, thus ensuring a harmonious interaction between the global and the local.

Linguapax Prize

This year’s Linguapax Prize, announced today (as it is annually, on IMLD), was awarded to Dr. Matthias Brenzinger, a German linguist specializing in African languages (notably non-Bantu click languages) and endangered languages, who is currently at the University of Cape Town and heads the Centre for African Linguistic Diversity (CALDi), which he founded. Dr. Brenzinger has also worked in Japan.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Two language museums in Washington

PW logoOn the eve of International Mother Language Day (IMLD), here’s a quick look at the news that the Washington, DC area will get a second museum dedicated to languages: Planet Word Museum. This project began several years ago, based on the vision of Ann B. Friedman, a philanthropist and former reading instructor, and was incorporated in 2013 as the Museum of Language Arts, Inc. On 25 January 2017, the DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development announced an agreement by which (pending DC Council approval) Planet Word and its partners will convert an old landmark school building into a museum space. Opening is planned for 2019.

PW logoThe first museum in this genre in the DC area, and in the entire United States, is the National Museum of Language (NML), which despite the name is also a private non-profit venture. Its origins go back to Dr. Amelia C. Murdoch and a “group of expert linguists, language specialists, and language enthusiasts” in 1971, but it wasn’t until 37 years later that a small museum space was opened in College Park, Maryland (Multidisciplinary Perspectives featured an article about their opening in 2008). Unfortunately, the recurring cost of the museum space turned out to be too high to maintain, so in 2014, NML closed its permanent exhibit and shifted to a strategy of moveable exhibits, an enhanced online presence, and other activities.

A tale of 2 museums

The first question that comes to mind on learning of the new language museum project in this metro area, is whether it and the older one are in communication. The answer, according to NML president Dr. Jill Robbins, is yes.

A second question or set of questions has to do with the relationship between the two – both in terms of missions (similarities, differences, complementarities), and in terms of practical links (such as connections among people working on the two different projects). These seem to me to be harder to answer. In part that is because one is new and the other still relatively young. And there are other differences between the two that would figure in any collaboration.

In terms of their respective missions, my impression is that NML is somewhat more focused on aspects of language diversity or “unity in diversity” (the themes of the museum include “universal aspects of language,” “language in society,” and “languages of the world”). Among various exhibits, they have done some interesting work presenting dialect research in the US, for example. From NML’s mission statement:

Our mission is to inspire an appreciation for the magic and beauty of language. We seek to lead our visitors to their personal discoveries of language and languages. …

My impression is that Planet Word is somewhat more concerned with language arts (note the incorporated name mentioned above) and applied linguistics. Literacy figures as “The Big Issue” on their “About” page. We can expect more details as the project develops, but in the meantime, an article in Chronicle of Higher Education by Planet Word board member Prof. Anne Curzan offers some insights into their thinking. Planet Word’s vision (from the About page):

Language is what makes us human. From earliest childhood we weave our words into speech to communicate. At Planet Word we inspire and renew a love of words and language through unique, immersive learning experiences.

On the organizational level, there are some obvious differences. For example, Planet Word is clearly able to access funding at a level several orders of magnitude above what NML has ever obtained. It also has a much larger board with a wider geographic and institutional representation than the smaller NML has.

On the other hand, NML has a significant experience with the practicalities of running a language museum – albeit on a smaller scale than Planet Word evidently aspires to – and in developing relations with educators and institutions in its vicinity and more widely. The latter include, for example being a founding member of the International Network of Language Museums (INLM; see also addendum, below), participating in events such as the IMLD 2013 celebration at the Bangladesh embassy in Washington, DC, and having a wall exhibit – about American lexicographer Noah Webster – on display at the Noah Webster House in West Hartford, Connecticut.

From the descriptions, however, it seems that Planet Word is modeling itself on certain larger museums – the National Museum of Mathematics in New York was mentioned in one article. Also, Planet Word is expected to have a major impact on development of its immediate neighborhood (see article in City Lab, which includes a comparison with the National Building Museum in DC) – not a role that NML has had to play.

All that said, these two language museums do occupy much of the same terrain even as their emphases and some of their angles may differ. The field of study of language(s) and linguistics after all is broad, and there are diverse approaches to organizing museums. So basically, it’s no surprise that “language museum” can mean different things.

A question at this point is what kind of collaboration might be possible and make sense from the points of view of NML and Planet Word, and also for the public, for whom even one language museum is still a novelty.

We’ll see how this develops, but it will be interesting to see an interview of Ms. Friedman that I am told is planned for publication on the NML website. One question I’d like to ask of both efforts is how they would celebrate IMLD, an annual observance that is not that well known in the US.

Addendum (Feb. 21)

Thanks to NML’s Dr. Robbins for feedback on this post as originally published, leading to some corrections to copy and also a clarification on her institution’s range of activity (which I further expanded on). A key element in that range is the INLM (a list of the members of which appears in an NML blog post).

In the interests of economy, I did not get into the subject of language museums worldwide in this post, even though they figured prominently in my compilation of resources on the International Year of Languages 2008. The global dimension of this class of museums (within the larger class of “locations” about language, to use David Crystal‘s term from “LADDA“) is to a certain extent unavoidable (some articles about Planet Word have mentioned the Mundolingua in Paris, for example), but important enough to merit a separate discussion.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Literacy Day double take

UNESCO ILD2016 posterThere are two days devoted to literacy: International Literacy Day, today, 8 September 2016 (poster on right); and Indigenous Literacy Day, which was celebrated in Australia yesterday.

International Literacy Day has been observed for a half-century, with UNESCO taking the lead by, among other things, choosing a theme (this year’s is “Reading the Past, Writing the Future”) and sponsoring major events (this year over two days at its headquarters in Paris).

Indigenous Literacy Day is more recent, and organized by the Australian NGO, Indigenous Literacy Foundation. It is a “fundraising and advocacy day” on which the organization and partners “spread the word about improving literacy levels and opportunities for Indigenous children living in some of the most remote and isolated parts of our country.”

Both have important roles, though in contexts where some languages are minoritized, the question can be posed about which languages – whose languages – are prioritized. A tweet raised just that issue regarding Indigenous Literacy Day:

Another question is what are compelling criteria for setting up such separate observances for literacy, rather than concentrating efforts on the main international observance. This is not to say everyone (group, organization) has to so limit themselves, but rather that it is a good to ask what the separate observance brings to specific targeted linguistic and cultural demographics on the one hand, and global efforts to expand literacy on the other.

Literacy prizes

In the run up to International Literacy Day, the two annual literacy prizes were announced (on 31 August; the awards are given on 8 September):

The King Sejong Literacy Prize was awarded to:

  • the Center for Knowledge Assistance and Community Development’s programme “Books for rural areas of Viet Nam’
  • the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia of the Mahidol University in Thailand for its programme ‘Patani Malay-Thai Bi/Multilingual Education Project.’

The UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy was awarded to:

  • the South African Department of Basic Education’s ‘Kha Ri Gude Mass Literacy Campaign’
  • the Jan Shikshan Sansthan organization in Kerala, India for its programme, Vocational and Skill Development for Sustainable Development
  • the Directorate of Literacy and National Languages in Senegal for its ‘National Education Programme for Illiterate Youth and Adults through ICTs.

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International Mother Language Day, 2016

IMLD 2016 posterThe 17th annual International Mother Language Day (IMLD), observed today (21 February 2016), has as its theme “Quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes.” Each IMLD has had a theme, and this year’s links mother languages to Sustainable Development Goal 4 of the recently adopted 2030 Agenda, which “focuses on quality education and lifelong learning for all,” and to the implementing plan for Goal 4, the Education 2030 Framework for Action.

According to  Ms. Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, in her message on the occasion of IMLD, the Education 2030 FFA encourages “full respect for the use of mother language in teaching and learning, and the promotion and preservation of linguistic diversity.”

IMLD has been observed every year following its proclamation by UNESCO in 1999 (i.e., starting in 2000). IMLD events are organized locally, with UNESCO hosting the main annual event(s) in Paris. There is no definitive list of observances, which probably would not be possible anyway, as some are very small and not widely publicized. Nevertheless, one can get an idea of the range of activities from the internet, via searches or in social media (Facebook has several groups, pages, and event listings – see for example this one).

Although IMLD is international, a fair number of events around the world that are organized by Bangladeshi groups reflect the origins of the observance: In 1952, several students were killed in a protest over language of instruction in what was then East Pakistan, an event that has been marked as Language Movement Day in that country after it became independent as Bangladesh

TweetMotherLanguage.org logoOn the internet there is an IMLD “Tweet in your #MotherLanguage” campaign again this year (first begun in 2014?). It’s not clear what those of us whose mother language is the dominant one on Twitter should do that’s different on IMLD, but there’s always the option to (re)tweet something in another language.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail