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Approach:

  1. Introduction – stating MLE in NEP 2020.
  2. Mention the bias towards English as the reason for negative attitude towards learning in regional/mother tongues.
  3. Brief reference of earlier attempts to introduce MLE.
  4. Mention major bottlenecks in implementation.
  5. Conclusion.

The National Education Policy 2020 says that wherever possible the medium of instruction in schools until grade V – preferably until grade VIII – should be mother tongue or the local regional language to bridge the existing gap between language spoken & the medium of teaching. According to analysis, early schooling in a child’s mother tongue can improve learning, increase student participation and reduce the number of dropouts.

Bias for English education: Parents prefer to send their children to English-medium schools regardless of the quality of education they offer because of the perception that mastery of English is the key to success in later life. In 2017-18, 14% in rural areas chose private English schools, while it is 19.3% in urban areas.

Experts argue that English education is not always the best, because it can intervenes with a child’s holistic understanding. Good learning happens when children have high self-esteem, are well adjusted to classroom providing positive environment. If a child is taught in a language they don’t understand, none of these can happen. The 2011 Census listed 270 mother tongues, of which only 47 languages are used as instruction mediums in Indian classrooms.

Previous attempts: The idea of using mother tongue in primary school education is not novel to India’s education system – there had been discrete attempts. Art 350 states that every state & local authority should endeavor to provide adequate facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at the primary stage of education belonging to linguistic minority groups. The Kothari Commission (1964-66) suggested that in tribal areas, for the first 2 years of school, the medium of instruction should be in local tribal language. The RTE Act 2009 said, as far as possible, the medium of instruction in school should be a child’s mother tongue.

Odisha is the only state to formally incorporate Multi-Lingual education into its system, but only for tribal areas. For this, teachers from the community have been recruited, besides, creating bilingual dictionaries, supplementary materials, handbooks, etc.

Major issues & bottlenecks:

  • It has been criticized for widening the gulf between those who can communicate in English and those who cannot.
  • There is a lack of detailed action plan in the NEP to implement this & other policy changes. For multilingual education to be successful, it must be accompanied by pedagogical changes and trained teachers. Being non-mandatory, it is up to the local governments & individual institutions if they desire to implement these changes.
  • It might not be financially viable due to lack of funds, and its administrative doability can be hampered for lack of trained staff to implement the change. There is no mention of how funding will be raised, creating uncertainty, as initial investment in bilingual programme can be high.
  • Another challenge is selecting which mother tongue can become the medium of instruction since children in a region comes from varied linguistic groups (2011 census mentions 270 mother tongues). If schooling in mother tongue is seen only as opposition to teaching in English, then the children will lose out.
  • Also, in many areas, many languages have non-standardized scripts that are not accepted by every member of a community. This is a bigger challenge in areas having ethnic violence.

Teaching in mother tongue is not a silver bullet to solve the problem of low learning outcomes. Also, there has to be a systematic outreach to parents to help them understand that studying in mother tongue is not a drawback, but it aids in a child’s overall development. Acc. to NEP, the aim of using regional languages is not just to improve a child’s learning outcomes, but also for “instilling knowledge of India, considered critical for the purpose of national pride, self-knowledge, cooperation and integration”. Hopefully, this policy will be the starting point for all other changes required for making meaningful transformations in our education system.

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