On November 13, 2019, teachers, teacher trainers and students joined our international guest lecture in Ghent. They learned about the positive effects of multilingualism in education and about how to integrate mother tongues in their classrooms. Below you can read a short recap, find all the presentations and watch the entire guest lecture.

Multilingualism as a useful learning tool

In the morning, we gave the floor to Kathleen Heugh from the University of South Australia and Piet Van Avermaet from the Centre for Diversity & Learning (Ghent University). They proved by using evidence-based information that multilingual education is the most effective model for learning, and it does not have to be difficult at all.

As an expert in the field of bilingual and multilingual education, Kathleen was the perfect person to invite to our international guest lecture on multilingualism. She advocates the use of the home language in the classroom.

Kathleen Heugh: “Functional multilingual learning ​​in the classroom is very useful. On the one hand, learners feel prioritised and included, on the other, it enriches the children who speak the dominant or official language. After all, one language contains different knowledge than the other language. This way children can learn a lot from each other. We just need to find ways and opportunities to recognise and work with the languages and the knowledge that students bring into the classroom. Moreover, this does not have to be difficult at all. The solutions we came up with were very inexpensive because in the Global South we didn't have money for glossy brochures and high-tech solutions. These are simple thing things that happen in the classroom. Teachers have developed many of these pedagogy’s themselves and they just used their common sense. Furthermore, mother tongue-based multilingual education does not mean that instruction language is no longer taken into account. In the beginning, the mother tongue is dominant. Its use fades gradually over time as it makes more room for the language of instruction.”

Multilingualism in education is one of Piet’s areas of expertise. During his presentation, he framed multilingualism within social inequality in education. He pointed out that a change of vision is necessary in order to properly address the challenges in practice.

Piet Van Avermaet: “For years, the Flemish policy has focused on language as the most important aspect of school success. Language is the keyword for integration. Moreover, an exclusive submersion model or a Dutch language policy is used in many schools. However, international research seems to indicate that this model is less effective than assumed. Despite the strong focus on Dutch, research also shows that the inequality gap is not closing. Banning the mother tongue is not the best choice. A multilingual model allows children to use their mother tongue in a useful way in the classroom. It has a positive impact on their development, school success and social participation.”

Multilingualism in practice

After a short break, Ayse Isçi from the Education Centre Ghent and Sven Gatz, Brussels Minister for Multilingualism, joined the panel. Jill Surmont (University Brussels) led the conversation between the guest speakers and the interaction with the audience. They used the following statements and some videos with practical examples to discuss and interact with each other and the public.

These three statements gave food for thought for the panel and the public. What about you: are you pro or contra?

  1. To achieve SDG4, attention to multilingualism in education is key. Therefore, every teacher should be able to apply language-oriented subject education in order to deepen the learner’s prior linguistic knowledge as well as the development of their language skills in the new language.
  2. Quality education can only be reached when the policy, research and practitioners work together. With regards to multilingualism, this collaboration lacks today.
  3. Collaboration between schools and the community should focus more on multilingualism and language development.

The importance of collaboration was one of the main messages. Only by building bridges and creating interaction, we can implement multilingualism in education in a sustainable way. Furthermore, we must see multilingualism in a bigger context. It is intertwined through all layers of our society.

In the afternoon, the participants were even more inspired by five international workshops.

After a very inspiring day, the participants left home with a lot of new insights and ideas. It is very hopeful that so many teachers, teacher trainers and students want to help ensure that multilingualism will be integrated into the education system. 

Below you can find the pictures, download all the presentations and watch the entire guest lecture.

In the picture

Part 1 - Kathleen Heugh

Part 2 - Piet Van Avermaet

Part 3 - Panel