The increasing cultural and linguistic diversification of current society and the increasingly closer ties in knowledge exchange, service provisions and trade between countries and continents is irreversible and calls for a comprehensive view on this matter that can guide educational reform. Especially for a trade- and service-oriented country as the Netherlands, openness to other languages and cultures is at the heart of the learning economy. New labour immigrants from East European countries and countries outside Europe can be expected. Supporting the integration of newcomers and helping them to learn the majority language while maintaining their first language will continue to be major task of the education system.
Whereas research has shown that near-native proficiency in several languages is possible and even advantageous for general cognitive development, if adequate educational support is provided, multilingualism is still regarded a problem in many countries, including the Netherlands. Likewise, cultural diversity in a society can be an asset, as historical analyses point out, by making new ‘clever’ and ‘creative’ solutions to persisting problems available to society.
Researching the formal and informal educational conditions that support optimal multilingual development and identifying approaches to integration based on respect for people’s cultural identity and resources is critical to the necessary educational reform. Future strategies of strengthening multilingual development and cultural integration require strong collaboration between schools, parents and cultural communities. Increasing the commitment of parents and cultural communities to education is high on the national and European policy agenda, but appropriate models of culture-sensitive collaboration are lacking. ELS researchers from Humanities and Social Sciences are well-positioned to respond to these challenges. Several large grants were obtained for research in multilingual development, (foreign) language education, and parent-community involvement in education. Embedding multilingual support in a broader project of cultural integration in current education is a promising strategy for the learning society.