Bilingual education could improve lives of Viet Nam’s ethnic minorities – UN expert

21 July 2010
Viet Nam's ethnic minority children study together

Despite Viet Nam’s progress in boosting economic growth and reducing poverty, the country’s ethnic minorities continue to remain the poorest of the poor, says a United Nations human rights expert, adding that bilingual education could play a major role in redressing this situation.

“Access to quality and appropriate education is a gateway to development and poverty eradication for minorities, and it is equally essential for the preservation and promotion of minority cultures, languages and identities,” Gay McDougall, the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, said following a 10-day mission to the country.

She noted that Viet Nam has enjoyed a period of economic growth, as well as progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the globally agreed targets for slashing poverty, boosting school enrolment rates, improving maternal health and increasing access to clean water and decent sanitation, all by 2015.

Despite these developments, “persistent problems” remain for many members of the country’s minority groups, she added.

Ms. McDougall stressed bilingual education as an area of “high priority” for Viet Nam, where there are 54 recognized distinct ethnic groups with unique religious, linguistic and cultural characteristics and identities.

“Minorities lack adequate opportunities to be taught in their own minority languages from the earliest years of education and struggle with being taught only in Vietnamese,” said the expert, who reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in an independent and unpaid capacity.

“Bilingual education helps minority children to make better early progress and provides a strong and culturally appropriate foundation for their future schooling,” she stated, citing a successful pilot project for bilingual education carried out by the Ministry of Education and Training and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

In addition to highlighting the merits of bilingual education, Ms. McDougall emphasized that the rights of minorities include freedom to practice their religions without restriction, freedom of association and expression, the right of peaceful assembly, the equal right to own and use land and the right to participate fully and effectively in decision-making regarding issues that affect them.

She will present her full report to the Human Rights Council in March 2011.


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