On 5 June, the Director-General opened the International Conference on “Enhancing Language Ability and Education for the 21st Century,” along with Her Excellency Ms Liu Yandong, Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Minister of Education Yuan Guiren, Mr Li Xueyong, Governor of Jiangsu Province, as well as the Chair of the UNESCO Executive Board, HE Mr Mohamed Amr.
Organized by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China in partnership with UNESCO, the Conference brings together ministers of education, linguists, educators and international development partners from some 93 countries across the world -- with the goal to reflect on challenges and new options for effective language ability and language education.
The Conference was held in the historic city of Suzhou, known as the 'Venice of the East,' with its stunning gardens inscribed as a World Heritage Site.
Vice Premier Liu Yandong spoke about the importance of language abilities for all societies and the need to support linguistic diversity.
"Languages hold the key to mutual understanding," said the Vice Premier. "They are a force for historical development and social progress."
On this basis, Ms Liu Yandong stressed the need for stronger language education, innovative teaching methodologies, and encouragement to learn foreign languages as a way to strengthen what she called "the shared destiny between the Chinese dream and the dreams of the world."
She highlighted the Chinese Government's language policies, including to protect minority dialects and promote international exchanges.
Ambassador Mohamed Amr spoke in his opening intervention of language education as the way to empower communities and nations and a channel to foster mutual understanding and intercultural dialogue.
In her opening speech, the Director-General stressed that every language is equal and linked and also a unique source of meaning for understanding, writing and expressing reality.
“Languages provide the lens through which the world is understood and the material through which it is voiced," she said. "They express the values we share and give shape to ideas, linking the past with the future.”
Irina Bokova presented UNESCO’s work to support language education, especially multilingual education, through the teaching of mother-tongue languages and the learning of foreign languages.
These are she said, indispensable features of any strategy to lay the foundations for poverty eradication, sustainable development and lasting peace.
The Director-General underlined the importance of this work for shaping the post-2015 development agenda.
“The new development agenda should be universal to be sustainable, engaging all countries equally and reflecting their cultural diversity, including linguistic diversity.”
Irina Bokova said that language education was an issue of human rights, for poverty eradication and sustainable development, as well as, ultimately, for lasting peace.
“The only way to build a development model that is universal is to take into account the cultural diversity of humanity, and this includes multilingualism.”
She gave examples of UNESCO's work in this field with countries across the world, from Latin America to the Arab world and the Asia Pacific. She underlined the importance of multilingualism online also, to promote local languages and local content.
Thanking the Government of China for its leadership, the Director-General drew attention to UNESCO's strong engagement in supporting language education, embodied at the conference by the presence of the President of the General Conference and the Chair of the Executive Board.
In the margins of the conference, the Director-General witnessed the signature of two agreements -- between UNESCO and the Shenzhen Municipal People's Government on support to activities for higher education, and between UNESCO and the Wei Dong Group on harnessing ICTs for inclusive, quality education.