Disregarding English Will Do India No Good

The Modi Government announced the National Education Policy, 2020 on July 29 which replaces the one framed in 1986 to overhaul the education system in the country. This policy, the PM tells us, aligns India's education policy with its values and introduces reforms keeping in mind national goals. He further adds that the aim is to ensure the education system can make younger generations future-ready.

One of the biggest talking points of the new National Education Policy is having the 'mother tongue' as the medium of instruction up to a certain grade. In a multilingual country like India, any policy decision related to our languages becomes a sensitive issue. One must first analyse the rationale of the policy before making up one's mind on its benefits or drawbacks.

Para 4.9 tells us that the medium of instruction until at least grade 5 shall be in the home language/mother tongue/local language. This is qualified by a 'wherever possible', and thereafter, this medium of instruction shall be 'preferable' till class 8 and beyond. The centre's logic is that children tend to grasp concepts faster in the language they speak at home and therefore will be more comfortable in the environment of the school if they use this language. This theory may hold good on paper but, as they say, the devil lies in its implementation. This part of the NEP 2020 is out of touch with ground reality and what people want.

The NEP interestingly mentions that children are most likely to pick up a language between the ages of 2 and 8; yet, it delays the introduction of English as a medium of instruction to Class 8 and beyond.

The first major hurdle will be to ascertain a single mother-tongue to be the medium of instruction in a cosmopolitan city such as Delhi, Mumbai or even a smaller but diverse Visakhapatnam. An analysis of a school in any city of India quickly reveals that students are from diverse cultural backgrounds. The 2011 census puts the number of internal migrants in India at 450 million, an increase of 45% from the previous census. Internal migrants as a percentage of population increased from 30% in 2001 to 37% in 2011. This figure could be well beyond 42% in 2021. It would be unfair to impose Marathi or Kannada as the medium of instruction on the wards of Bihari migrants. The NEP also does not account for the 5 million central government employees who are in transferable jobs. It would be devastating for a child to have studied in Malayalam Medium till Class 3 and then be shifted to Bengali Medium on account of their parent's transfer. Not only this, there is also confusion about the wards of multi-cultural parents.

Secondly, we cannot discount for the transition that shall take place from Grade 5 to 6. This sudden transition from a regional medium to any other language would be anything but smooth. It could lead to a lot of dropouts in Grade 6. Some point out that there are schools which transition from Hindi-medium till Grade 5 to English-medium thereafter but this transition is smooth only for those students who are fluent in English because they speak it at home. This sudden transition would be a challenge for students who've had minimal exposure to English.

Lastly, the people of this country fully understand the importance of English. A report authored by two research analysts with the Centre of Research and Debates in Development Policy and the National Council for Applied Economic Research tells us that those who speak English fluently earn up to 34% more than those who do not speak the language. This confirms the link between education in English and the scope of opportunities and employment. It is no secret that English helps us better integrate into the globalized organised sector and labour market; those who do not have access to the English language are at a disadvantage. English is the language of business and employment. It is the language which makes a true global citizen. The huge exodus of students from regional-medium schools to English-medium ones are proof of what people prefer.

The Andhra Pradesh government has recently concluded an exercise in which the parents of 17, 85, 669 students studying in government schools were asked to fill up a form and choose among three given options. An overwhelming majority of 96.17% of respondents wanted their children to study in an English-Medium School while only 3.05% chose Telugu to be the medium of instruction and 0.78% chose other languages. These figures are saying something which the NEP isn't acknowledging.

While I am all admiration for the Modi Government's initiative in forming a new educational policy after a hiatus of 34 years, it is with regard to the imposition of the native language as a medium of instruction in the early years of schooling of which I am skeptical. While it is important to preserve local traditional languages, one must look at things from a utilitarian and practical point of view. We live in a world which has long since transcended geographical boundaries. MNCs dominate the economy. While keeping in view that India is still a developing nation which needs to be integrated into the global fabric, we must understand that language and technical education are the two tools one needs to concentrate on . With the English-speaking population close to two billion and most publications, both technical and otherwise, being in English, this language can make every Indian a truly world-class citizen. 

If that is the case, should we not be pushing the Indian educational system towards English as being the medium of instruction which still preserving our rich and varied cultural heritage of the regional languages as something to be treasured?

Today, we are admired for our software skills, our technical expertise is well-recognised in the fact that Indian CEOs head 30% of Fortune 500 companies. Unfortunately, this advantage has been cornered by the few English-speaking and mostly urban elite. 

There is no doubt that one should be fluent in one's mother tongue and that it should be taught in school, but the distinction has to be made between teaching a language and teaching 'in a' language. Regional languages should be taught in state-run schools, as they are, possibly with better course material and teachers, but the medium of instruction for other subjects such as Mathematics, Physics and Social Sciences should be English.

The NEP is a visionary document for the most part, but as far as the medium of instruction is concerned, it needs a re-look as it has to keep up with the times and acknowledge the importance of English. The NEP, though a sincere attempt by the government, has to feel the pulse of the nation in this regard.

(Vijayasai Reddy is Parliamentary Party Leader and National General Secretary of YSRCP.)

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