By: Priyanka Saurabh
According to the Language Census, there are 19,500 languages or dialects in India, out of which 121 languages are spoken by 10,000 or more people in our country. The National Education Policy released in 2020 strongly advocates providing elementary education in the regional language or mother tongue. The Mother’s tongue has a very powerful effect on the formation of a person. A child’s first understanding of the world around him, the learning of concepts and skills, and his perception of existence begin with his mother tongue which is first taught to him. When a person speaks his mother tongue, a direct connection is established between the heart, brain, and tongue.
As more and more languages are becoming extinct, the threat to linguistic diversity is increasing. Around 40 percent of the population globally do not have access to education in a language they speak or understand. Although mother tongues have been used as a medium of instruction in school and higher education since pre-independence times, unfortunately, the number of people wishing to study English is increasing rapidly. It has dominated monolingual educational institutions governed by the English language and is creating a society that is sensitive, just, and not equitable. The nature of the dominance of English over all other mother tongues is tied to the power, status, and identity of the students. Students speaking different mother tongues come together to study in an educational institution where they interact with each other without any difficulty at both the school and higher education levels. Yet they are being taught through a foreign language in a language that not all students can relate to. The whole process has led to ignorance of mother tongues and a sense of alienation among the students.
According to the National University of Education, Planning, and Administration, the number of children attending English-medium schools in India increased by an astonishing 273% between 2003 and 2011. Their parents think they know exactly what they are doing and why. They believe knowledge of English is the key to job security and upward mobility, and they are convinced that their children’s opportunities will increase in direct proportion to their English vocabulary. They are right, but they need to understand that knowing English helps a lot to get a good job, but only if English is meaningful, with understanding and basic knowledge of all other things kids go to school to learn. The English used in most Indian schools does not allow anything to be learned realistically.
India’s primary education is notorious for rote learning, poorly trained teachers, and lack of funds (India spends only 2.6% of its GDP on education; China spends 4.1 and Brazil has more than double that of India at 5.7). English as a language of instruction makes it worse – from the point of view of development, it is a disaster. Consider the school from the point of view of the child. Most children are young when they leave the house. For the first time in their lives, they are confronted for several hours in a strange environment with a large number of other children they do not know. They should sit quietly, remain silent, and speak only on command. The teacher, who is also a stranger, expects the children to master completely new concepts: reading and writing; addition and subtraction; Photosynthesis; the difference between a city and a state and a country. Other countries do not do this to their children – China, France, Germany, Holland or Spain, etc.
The language of instruction should simply be a vehicle, grammar, and a smooth flow of words that everyone can understand without having to puzzle over meaning and definition. The country needs its next generation of leaders to fully master their fields so that they can practice medicine, build bridges, install plumbing and design solar lighting systems. And kids can learn second, third and fourth languages all in good time. But it will be only when they grow up young loving a language, they will not feel threatened and will be judged by this. We need them to write poetry and songs and novels. We want them to be proud of their mother tongue, not apologetic and ashamed as if their success is based on how much English they know.
At a basic level, ensuring learners’ understanding of literacy and numeracy is more important than emphasizing the language of commerce. In a 1953 report by the United Nations titled “Use of Local Languages in Education”, two aspects emerged. One is the repetition that every child of school age should attend school and that the best medium of instruction is the student’s mother tongue. And second, it emphasizes that “all languages, even the so-called primitive languages, are capable of becoming mediums for schooling; some merely as a bridge to another language, while others at all levels of education.”
The use of the mother tongue in schools in the early years is a cornerstone to preventing access and drop-out. There are 121 mother tongues in India, of which 22 languages are included in the Eighth Schedule of our Constitution, and 96.72% are the mother tongue of Indians. States/ Union Territories have up to two mediums of instruction (for example, Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Hindi, English, Manipuri, and Garo), one of which is the predominantly spoken language of the state and Second English/Hindi. More than 25 languages are practiced in schools as the first medium of instruction. 95% of students receiving primary education in their mother tongue should not lag in pursuing higher education. Therefore, it is important to ensure technical education in the mother tongue also.
Each language spoken in the world represents a particular culture, melody, and colour and is an asset. Many psychological, social and educational experiments proved that learning through the mother tongue is deeper, faster, and more effective. Much of a child’s future social and intellectual development rests on the milestones of the mother tongue. Imperfect first language skills often make learning other languages more difficult. There is now ample research and evidence to suggest that higher proficiency and better test scores are observed if children are taught in their mother tongue, especially in the foundational years (ages 3 to 8). Given the available resources, bilingual teaching with the help of bilingual textbooks and e-materials, etc. can be a good start to secure the future of our learners and their abilities. (The author is a research scholar in Political Science, poet, freelance journalist, and columnist)