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(November 2013) Recently, over three hundred educators and policy makers from across Asia and the Pacific gathered in Bangkok with one goal in mind: making effective learning opportunities available to all children. In a region with more than 3,600 languages, that goal represents a profound challenge. The Asia Multilingual Education Working Group, of which SIL is a member, convened the 4th International Conference on Language and Education to address that challenge and move towards solutions.
The three-day conference opened on 6 November with a welcoming speech from Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister, Phongthep Thepkanjana. Plenary speakers included Her Excellency Ton Sa Im, Undersecretary of State for the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport in Cambodia, and Congressman Magtanggol T. Gunigundo, Representative for Valenzuela City, Metro Manila in the Philippines House of Representatives.
The theme of the conference, “Multilingual Education for All in Asia and the Pacific – Policies, Practices and Processes,” was chosen to reflect the approaching goal date for the Education for All initiatives. Conference sessions invited participants to explore four sub-themes:
For Dr. Catherine Young, Director of LEAD Asia, some of the most significant content was part of Track Three. Presenters from across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond shared their insights on issues of quality in multilingual school programs. As mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE) has moved from theory to implementation, educators have encountered both successes and challenges. Dr. Young, who had a key role in organizing the conference, observed a notable shift in the focus of discussion, as compared to earlier conferences. She believes that progress is reflected in the fact that it no longer seems necessary to spend the bulk of conference time making the case for MTB-MLE. Rather, the conversation has moved on to the next level—how to ensure quality in current programs and the growing number of new programs being rolled out.
While education was clearly the focus of the event, that aspect is closely connected with other societal issues. Topics such as human rights, peacebuilding and the impact of globalization on minority cultures were also addressed in different sessions of the conference.
Curtis Wong, SIL’s Area Director for Mainland Asia, noted the benefit brought by speakers with different backgrounds and perspectives: “There has been a good balance of ideas and opinions, not only those supportive of MLE. All these things made this year more valuable.”
Roce Anog of SIL Philippines appreciated the opportunity to meet with colleagues: “My favorite thing is networking. Seeing possibilities and being able to connect."
The conference was made possible through the cooperation of fourteen different organizations involved in Asia-Pacific education and development.