International Conference on Language, Education and the Millennium Development Goals

conference delegates and Prime Minister







Above: Leaders of sponsoring agencies with Thai Prime Minister; SIL Associate Executive Director Dr. Clare O’Leary presenting gift to Prime Minister Abhisit
. Photos © UNESCO/ Sirisak Chaiyasook.

(November 2010) SIL delegates joined 400 participants from around the world to attend the International Conference on Language, Education and the Millennium Development Goals in Bangkok, Thailand, 9-11 November 2010. Bringing together representatives of government and intergovernmental agencies, NGOs, academics and local civil society, the conference provided a forum to enhance understanding, inspire meaningful action, and increase access to education and development opportunities for ethnolinguistic communities. The three-day dialogue focused on:

  • the state of development of ethnolinguistic minorities,
  • the relevance of local languages in achieving education and development goals, and
  • the development of programs and policies that better reach these underserved groups.


Sponsored by a consortium of nine organizations from the Asia Multilingual Education Working Group, this international conference built on foundations laid in previous conferences held in 2003 and 2008. The organizers for the 2010 Conference were UNESCO, UNICEF, the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), Mahidol University, SIL International, Save the Children, CARE, the Asia Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education, the Asian Institute of Technology, and the Royal Institute of Thailand.

Ministry officials from several countries listened as H.E. Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand, gave the opening address. He highlighted his recent approval of the Thai Royal Institute’s National Language Policy, which supports the use of ethnic languages. “We cannot be content with satisfactory MDG [Millennium Development Goal] progress on the national level. Rather, leaders must make the extra effort to ensure that all social groups within a country are able to realize the benefits of development. Ethnic languages are not only a powerful tool, but also step towards accomplishing our goals. By understanding—and respecting—differences in languages, we can better bridge communication and cultural gaps, and more effectively meet our MDGs through the promotion of mutual understanding, trust, and positive relationships.”

With regard to Multilingual Education, Prime Minister Abhisit stated, “We firmly believe that the inclusion of local languages in schools helps students improve their academic performance and strengthen their aptitude in the Thai language, while preserving the individual languages and cultures that make us unique.” In referring to local and international organizations or programs that encourage Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education, the Prime Minister said, “This project would not have been nearly as successful without…the technical assistance from SIL International.”

SIL Associate Executive Director Dr. Clare O’Leary was honored to present to Prime Minister Abhisit a copy of the Ethnologue, one of two gifts selected by the nine organizing sponsors to show appreciation for the Prime Minister’s attendance.

Reflecting on the conference, Dr. O’Leary commented, “Most encouraging for me was listening to those working within communities about the culturally contextualized ways they were approaching development using their own languages. Various practitioners representing community-based efforts (in health, early childhood education, MLE, etc.) noted the training they received from SIL, or the resources published by SIL.”

SIL International offers technical expertise and training to support local communities' decisions about how to maintain their cultures and use their languages in new ways to address their changing needs. To do this, SIL assists with multilingual education programs—for both children and adults—to help students learn effectively through both their mother tongues and other languages.

The Bangkok-based Multilingual Education Working Group (MLE WG) has worked collaboratively since 2004 to raise awareness regarding persistent inequalities in the educational attainment of ethnolinguistic minorities, and to promote good practices in increasing access and quality of education for these disadvantaged groups.

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