International bilingual education conference to take place in China

Strong [multilingual education programs] enable learners to gain competence and confidence in using the new language(s) for communication and for learning new and increasingly more abstract concepts. Rather than being forced to memorize what the teacher says, learners grow in their ability to understand, apply, analyze, evaluate and, most exciting and rewarding of all, create new knowledge.

- From Promoting Literacy in Multilingual Settings, by Kimmo Kosonen, Catherine Young and Susan Malone

(August 2011) In connection with the Yunnan Province Zero Barrier Bilingual Education Project, the First International Zero Barrier Bilingual Education Conference will be held from 25 to 27 October in Jinghong City, Yunnan, China. The aim of the conference is to spread the vision and values of the Zero Barrier Bilingual Education Project among policy-makers, policy-implementers and others in the education sphere. Following the conference, attendees will be invited to visit and observe one of the local Zero Barrier projects.

This event is a joint effort of the Yunnan Provincial Education Ministry, the Yunnan Provincial Ethnic Affairs Commission and SIL East Asia. Organizers expect 250 to 300 participants to attend, including education ministry officials, minority affairs officials, scholars, academics and representatives of international organizations with an interest in China’s bilingual education efforts. Sessions will be conducted in both Chinese and English.

The Zero Barrier Bilingual Education Project is a teaching method that begins with the mother tongue and bridges into the national language. Some key features of the Zero Barrier approach:

  • Child centered
  • Appropriate for the local context
  • Community owned
  • Culturally sensitive
  • Uses teaching materials which are age-appropriate and produced in cooperation with local community leaders and teachers
  • Incorporates best-practices for enjoyable, interactive classroom activities


In June 2010 the Minority Education Committee of the Yunnan Provincial Education Association, the Minority Language Guidance Committee of the Yunnan Provincial Ethnic Affairs Commission, and SIL East Asia signed a memorandum of understanding for a ten-year Zero Barrier Bilingual Education Project. This project will serve as a model for future bilingual education work in other provinces of China.

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