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      /  Language   /  Towards a Multilingual Iran

    Towards a Multilingual Iran

    Today, we are launching this new website, Braanz, which means “rays of the sun” in Baluchi, with a view to shining a light on the Baluch people in Iran, promoting greater understanding of the Baluch people in Iran, help the Iranian Baluch community use their language, and promote the benefits of multilingualism in Iran. This website is a community initiative providing the Baluchi community a place to use their language and explain to Iranian society and the world who they are. We hope that it becomes a forum that helps strengthen the use of Baluchi in Iran and help contribute towards creating a truly diverse, multilingual society.

    Everyday, more research is being carried out and more studies published on the benefits of multilingualism, the importance of inclusion and diversity in education, and the consequences of exclusion of minority languages on the development of children, who are deprived of education in mother tongue. Dr. Fernand de Varennes, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issue has highlighted, for instance, that “Education in a minority’s mother tongue, combined with quality teaching of the official language, is more cost-effective in the long term; reduces dropout rates; leads to noticeably better academic results, particularly for girls; improves levels of literacy and fluency in both the mother tongue and the official or majority language; and leads to greater family and community involvement.”

    The right to education in mother tongues is reflected in various international human rights instruments. For instance, Article 30 of Convention on the Right of the Child, article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 4 of the Right of Persons Related to Ethnic, National, Linguistic and Religious Minorities are some of the international conventions that specifically refer to this right.

    In Iran, which is one of Middle East’s most ethnically diverse countries, calls to address the problem of its monolingual education system and the right to education in mother tongues are becoming louder each year. In addition to Farsi, Iran consists of five other large linguistic communities including Baluchi, Kurdish, Arabic, Turkish and Turkmen, as well as other smaller language groups such as Gilak, Mazandarani, and Luri. However, Farsi is the only official language in the country and the sole language of instruction in schools.

    This issue has a detrimental impact on non-Persian students, including harming student self-confidence and attainment, as well as causing high rates of school drop-outs, something witnessed among, for example, Ahwazi Arab students. In 2009, Hamid Reza Haji Babai, then-minister of education reported that 70 percent of Iran’s pupils are bilingual, with Persian still not a primary language after the first grade. He further stated that students who experience academic difficulties from the first grade because of language difficulties will go on facing these same issues in the later stages of their education.

    These children will become adults and have to live with the consequences of the Iranian monolingual education system that excluded them and deprived them of their human right to receive an education in their own mother tongue. The results will have a ripple effect and ultimately influence the society at large, especially when considering that more than half of Iran’s population does not consider Farsi as their mother tongue.

    In order to raise awareness about this problem a group of non-Persian activists launched the End of Monolingualism (in Iran) initiative. These activists believe that opposition to minority language education by the Persian community is due, in part, to lack of awareness and knowledge about the benefits of multilingual education and the experience with multilingual education in other countries. The aim to address this, and promote a bilingual Iran, through familiarizing Iranian society with multilingual education systems in different countries, the positive outcomes of such systems and the negatives of monolingual education and monolingual systems in multilingual countries. Recently, they launched a crowdfunding campaign in order to receive the necessary support to continue their mission and produced a video highlighting the importance of multilingual education in Iran:

    It is in this same spirit that we are launching the Braanz website today. The Baluch community in Iran face significant challenges both in keeping their language alive and in finding a place as equal members of Iranian society. These two things are interrelated. Without space to practice their language and without support from the education system to learn it, the Baluch people will remain marginalized and misunderstood. But with it, the Baluch people would find their place in a multi-ethnic, multilingual Iran, and the country as a whole would benefit.