Saturday, October 8, 2022

Language barrier

President of India Daupadi Murmu has reiterated that talent development in science, literature and social science can be more effective when taught in one’s own mother tongue in her speech on the eve of Teacher’s Day. What Murmu had said goes in line with the New Education Policy 2020 which recommends that higher education institutions should use the mother tongue/local language as a medium of instruction, and/or offer bilingual programmes. Bilingual education is defined as approaches in the classroom that use the native languages of English language learners for instruction. In other words, bilingual education is a concept that involves teaching academic content in two languages, in a native and secondary language with varying amounts of each language used in accordance with the program model. The basic goal of the bilingual education program is to help out the students having limited English proficiency and empower them to master the state curriculum as well as to teach English to all the students participating in the program. The official language of the Union of India is Hindi, with 21 other regional languages holding co-official status. Besides that there are 121 languages which are spoken by 10,000 or more people in a country with a population of around 131 crore. There are also more than 19,500 languages or dialects are spoken in India as mother tongues, according to the latest analysis of a census released in 2018. The NEP has been lauded by all and sundry for its innovative ideas. However with regard to the use of mother tongue as medium of teaching even in higher secondary levels, NEP appears to be a sugar-coated pill. As mentioned above, there 21 officially recognised regional languages categorised as mother tongue in several states. It is not possible for each every language to all the students, hence region-wise the local language is the third language to be taught. In almost every state excluding Tamil Nadu, 3 languages, Hindi, English, and a regional language is taught. The experiment of promoting mother tongue of other languages has proved a very costly experiment in West Bengal during the 80s under the Communist rule. The experiment of Bangla over English should serve as an example against trying to gain political mileage out such matters. Bengal suffered tremendously at the national level, when its literacy rate plummeted. Once known as the land of Bose and Tagore, Bengal was taken backward by decades. In India lakhs of people with different languages and cultures live alongside each other in towns and cities. The use of a particular language can be beneficial at the primary levels to help in catching up with learning etc. However, when it comes to science and maths, it is not going to be easy to adopt a regional language as medium of instruction. The particular regional language of mother tongue will have to be first enriched with new science vocabularies. Mother tongues, unlike Hindi, have limited vocabularies and so they would need to be updated. In science, words such as ‘micro’ instead of ‘small’ and ‘photo’ instead of ‘light’ make complicated words like ‘photosynthesis’and ‘microorganism.’ Unless regional languages can reach the standard of Hindi, it will be a very difficult task to simply say that using mother tongue will be a panacea for development.