Modi backs mother tongue medium in schools
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said the mother tongue should be the sole medium of instruction at schools at least till Class V, pushing his government’s efforts to sell the idea to the schools and school boards.
In most schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education and the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (which conducts the ICSE and ISC exams), English is the medium of instruction right from pre-primary classes.
Most of these schools are in urban areas and draw students from various linguistic communities who have different mother tongues. The Kendriya Vidyalayas, many of them situated away from cities, too teach in English from Class I because they cater to children of government employees hailing from different regions.
Union education ministry officials said the Centre had asked the Central Institute for Indian Languages (CIIL) to suggest ways in which these schools can teach children in their mother tongue or the regional language.
Some CBSE-affiliated schools like the Delhi-based Sardar Patel School do teach in the local language for the first five years.
While state government schools largely teach in the dominant regional language, some states like Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are likely to oppose the Centre’s policy. In these states, government schools are looking to shift to the English medium keeping in mind the views and aspirations of most parents.
The National Education Policy (NEP), approved in July, favours the teaching of children in their mother tongue or the regional language till at least Class V. The same suggestion had come from the NEP of 1968 and the National Curriculum Framework, the document that guides textbook preparation, in 2005.
But this is the first time the government is itself making such a strong pitch for this policy. This is the second time this week that Modi has advocated the teaching of children in the mother tongue, after doing so at a governors’ conference on Monday.
“A lot of discussion is taking place on what the medium of instruction should be,” Modi told a conclave on “School Education in 21st Century” on Friday.
“Language is a medium for teaching but language is not all that education stands for. People caught in bookish knowledge forget this difference.”
Modi then said that the language the child is comfortable with should be the language of learning. “Otherwise, when children hear something in another language, they first translate it into their own language, then understand it. This creates great confusion in the child’s mind; it is very stressful,” he said.
Modi said that Estonia, Ireland, Finland, Japan, South Korea and Poland tended to top the Programme for International Students Assessment, an internationally acclaimed competency test for 15-year-olds in mathematics, reading and science. Primary education is imparted through the mother tongue in these countries, he said.
The Prime Minister clarified that there would be no restrictions on learning languages other than the mother tongue in the lower classes. He set 2022 as the target year for the NEP’s overall implementation.
“In 2022, when India celebrates the 75th year of its Independence, children should study according to the new curriculum. It’s our collective responsibility,” he said.
A government official said that under the plan, “textbooks for subjects like mathematics, environmental studies or social science should be in the mother tongue or the regional language”.
He added: “The states may think of shifting to English as the medium of instruction from Class IX or VI.”
Some experts questioned the policy. “What is the mother tongue of a child whose father is Telugu and mother a Bengali and the child is fluent in Telugu, Bengali, Hindi and English?” Panchanan Mohanty, who taught at the Centre of Applied Linguistics and Translation Studies at Hyderabad Central University for over three decades, said.
Another linguist, who asked not to be quoted, supported the idea of teaching through the mother tongue. He said the CIIL had done a survey of 10 states on the quality of English teaching in schools.
“It was seen that the teachers were teaching English through the local language. The situation was same in English-medium schools,” he said, adding that such teaching didn’t help the child.
Sudhish Pachauri, a Hindi litterateur, said five years of learning of concepts in the mother tongue would place the child in a position where she can smoothly shift to another medium of instruction.
“A child proficient in one language is better placed to learn another language. By learning in a language for five years, the child also gets connected with the language and the culture associated with the language throughout his life,” Pachauri said.