Peace building and language

Professor Joseph Lo Bianco has been appointed by UNICEF under its Peace Building and Education international project to conduct a research and intervention project on language, social cohesion and peace building in three SE Asian countries. The overall term “conflict affected” includes countries undergoing current conflict or major social dislocation and tension, recovering from conflict in the recent past or at risk of such conflict in the immediate future.

At present Professor Lo Bianco is working in the Southern four provinces of Thailand where a long-running insurgency in which schooling in general and curriculum in particular are involved, especially on questions of script and writing, language of instruction and culture/ religious representation. Many teachers have been directly targeted and killed in this conflict which has been simmering for many years. Project activity includes both research and intervention (especially conducting mediation dialogues) to illuminate and help resolve disputed questions of language in education, curriculum design and multicultural education.

In Myanmar the project involves ethnic and indigenous groups and their access to education, the integration of separate school systems in the border zones and refugee camps near and on the Thai border and initially in the Karen and Mon states. After initial work during 2012 and 2013 UNICEF and the government of Myanmar have requested an extension of this activity across the country, involving research and documentation of language problems, curriculum design, and facilitated dialogues to resolve disputes and negotiate practical decisions on language education in accordance with a comprehensive review of national education currently underway.

The third country involved is Malaysia where the project has three elements: indigenous education in the state of Sarawak, curriculum planning and school integration for undocumented and stateless children in the state of Sabah, and ‘national unity’ education including closer collaboration across Chinese, Indian and National schools in peninsular Malaysia.

UNICEF in conjunction with UNESCO has also commissioned a series of language planning training seminars which Professor Lo Bianco is to deliver for Asian education system representatives on Mother Tongue Multilingual Education; the most recent one was conducted on Saturday 9 November in Bangkok with the participation of 14 Asian education ministries. Vietnam has since requested inclusion in the full project and it is anticipated that the project will continue to expand. Nine facilitated dialogues are planned across the region during 2014 and early 2015.

The research and policy advising work is part-financed by the Government of the Netherlands in collaboration with the United Nations in New York, administered by UNICEF and with the collaboration of UNESCO, in both Africa and Asia. A final aspect of the project is the development of guidelines for United Nations personnel on questions of ethnic and national languages, script policy, social cohesion within UN principles of peace building and future research on ‘international conflict studies’.