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  • Writer's pictureNaoko Yamamoto

“Everybody has a mother tongue”: An Iranian mother brings cultural awareness to primary school “de Rietpluim”

February 8, 2024

by Naoko Yamamoto of Yaman Text Factory

Erik Adema (left), a director of the primary school “de Rietpluim,” and Ellaheh Barzegar (right), an Iranian mother who is active in the parents’ committee.

(Photo: Naoko Yamamoto)

De Rietpluim, a primary school in a small town called Nuenen in the southern Netherlands is facing rapid internationalization of the region. In their attempt to be an international-friendly school, they are going to celebrate the annual UNESCO “International Mother Language Day” starting this year. 

The key person who brought this idea to the school is Ellaheh Barzegar.  She is from Iran, and she is raising three children who go to de Rietpluim. They speak in Farsi, an Iranian language, at home and she is active in promoting heritage language education in the region. She is also a member of the school’s parents committee, where she actively enhances the cultural awareness at the school.

A village primary school towards internationalization

De Rietpluim has 460 students now. It used to have two locations, but seven years ago they merged in a new building on one location. It is a modern school in a beautiful rural environment.

“Eight years ago, there were only three international students, but now we have students from 25 nationalities. I mean the nationalities of the parents. About 12% of our students have one or two parents with international backgrounds”, Erik Adema, a director of de Rietpluim explained how the school developed into an international one.  

The primary school “de Rietpluim” is at the edge of a residential area in Nuenen.

(Photo: Erik Adema)

The internationalization of the school happened along with the development of Nuenen. The peaceful village has grown into a town in the past ten years. This is due to the rapid growth of the global high-tech companies in the nearby cities, such as Eindhoven and Veldhoven. More and more international employees moved into the region with their families, and Nuenen also became their place of residence. The local schools are busy adapting to this rapid internationalization.

“When my oldest son entered the school seven years ago, he was the only international student in the class. But my youngest son has had a different experience because there are a lot more international students now.  Young expats who immigrated in the last couple of years started families, and now their kids have started going to school” explains Barzegar.

Reading a book in Farsi opened eyes for cultural awareness

Barzegar moved to the Netherlands in 2008. Since completing her studies at Eindhoven University of Technology, she has been working at a world-biggest chip equipment maker, ASML in Veldhoven. Her first child was born in 2012 and since then, she has been actively involved with the education in her mother language, Farsi. After her son started primary school, she became a member of the parents’ committee and actively involved with the school activities, too. 

“I am very happy that the school is very open and accepted me in the parent committee.  I can think along with the team of the school and share my ideas.” (Barzegar)

One of the contributions she made was having a workshop, “LEGO programming.” The school is trying to have more English activities, and her workshop was held in English. During the pandemic, she also read a book in Farsi for her son’s class, which was very successful and made a lasting impression on the children.

LEGO corner at de Rietpluim.  The workshop by Ellaheh was held here

(Photo: Naoko Yamamoto)

After a few years, they still remember that I read a book in Farsi.

Looking back, she comments: “The reaction of the children was very positive. I got nice comments from the parents, too! After a few years, they still remember that I read a book in Farsi. I think it also raised the level of empathy. Exposing kids to the situation where they have difficulties in understanding what you understand easily makes them realize the difficult situation of newcomer children.”

A video where Ellaheh Barzegar’s daughter mentions enthusiastically how nice it was that her mother read in Farsi at her school in Nuenen

According to Adema, one of the main goals of the region is to realize that there are a lot of other nationalities and cultures. In line with the region’s policy, the importance of heritage language was also recognized. He said, “The mother languages were not allowed to be spoken at many schools before, but recently the importance of them is acknowledged and we allow children to communicate in them. It is important that they first feel comfortable. We must respect their own languages. In the coming years, we are planning to have more activities to raise cultural awareness, including about mother languages.”

It is important that they first feel comfortable. We must respect their own languages.

Apart from the school activities, Barzegar helped start the local Farsi language school as well as helped get Farsi books into the International Children’s Book Collection at Eindhoven Library. She also helped organize the Farsi reading that was part of the “Nationale Voorleesdagen 2024” at Eindhoven Library to promote reading aloud in the mother language.

Ellaheh Barzegar at the 5th Annual HLE Networking Night in 2023, organized by HLE Network for professionals in Eindhoven/Brainport involved in mother tongue language and culture education.

(Photo: HLE Network, Brainport)

Celebrating “International Mother Language Day”

In the parents’ committee, more activities for cultural awareness were discussed.  

“We thought about Chinese New Year or Indian Diwali (festival of lights) etc., but there weren’t enough people who celebrate and organize them. Then I got to know the UNESCO “International Mother Language Day” in February through an online café organized by Heritage Language Education (HLE) Network. I thought we could celebrate it. It has more diverse cultural aspects, not just a single culture. Everybody has a mother tongue” said Barzegar.

The main hall of the school, where various events and class activities on podium are held (Photo: Naoko Yamamoto)

Since they are busy with Carnival, another school event in February, they have decided to celebrate International Mother Language Day at a different time in a smaller setting. They are now planning to have a kind of language presentation as part of a regular class activity that is held on the podium every two weeks.   

International Mother Language Day has more diverse cultural aspects, not just a single culture. Everybody has a mother tongue

“It doesn’t have to be a complicated, big festivity. Just give a chance for the kids to talk in their own languages and show the other kids what they can. For example, children can read books or poems and sing songs in other languages. It might be fun to say one simple sentence in all the different languages and ask everybody to repeat them etc.” (Barzegar)

Adema added that they were also organizing an evening, where international parents could tell something about their countries and their background. This year will be the 35th anniversary of the school, and they are also planning to organize a market where everybody can bring something from their culture. “In this way, we can bring some awareness of differences in our society and in our school.” (Adema)

Apart from the rapid internationalization of the region, the active participation of Barzegar helped to bring awareness of cultural and linguistic diversity at school. Her advice to international parents: “I would recommend that everyone actively participate in the parent committee at school. Just step in and be part of it! Then you see the change will happen.”

You might also be interested in:

HLE Network's "9 Myths" infographic was translated by a Farsi HL program in London, which caught the attention of an online news site Kayhan London, which reported about it to Iranian communities world wide.

Information sessions about heritage language education are part of HLE Network's Outreach Services, which now appear on Brainport's page listing *possible teacher training options. Brainport's list is meant to inspire schools to build expertise surrounding the theme of internationalization.

HLE Network and the Polish School in Eindhoven were featured in Dutch News on International Mother Language Day in 2022. The article was adapted to Dutch by Drongo in 2023.


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