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Assam CM flags steep challenges posed by language diversity

The BJP leader made a strong pitch for the Centre and the northeastern states to 'work closely' to develop a proper framework for the execution of the policy
Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Himanta Biswa Sarma.
File photo

Umanand Jaiswal   |   Guwahati   |   Published 21.11.21, 03:04 AM

Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Saturday flagged the steep challenges posed by the language diversity of the Northeast in implementing the new National Education Policy (NEP).

The BJP leader made a strong pitch for the Centre and the northeastern states to “work closely” to develop a proper framework for the execution of the policy.

Addressing the inaugural session of the two-day North-East Education Conclave (In the Light of National Education Policy-2020) in Guwahati, Sarma said the Northeast faced “bigger challenges” over implementing the NEP compared to larger states or states that have a multi-ethnic society.

“The NEP says children have the right to get educated in their mother tongue till Class V. It is a very good concept when we are in Lucknow or in Delhi. It is very easy... everybody knows Hindi, everybody will say what is the harm if we introduce mother language till Class V.… But when it comes to a diverse region like the Northeast, we have 180 languages. Now the state has to recruit teachers in 180 languages or motivate teachers in 180 languages,” the chief minister said.

“If at all we go by the spirit (of the NEP)..., if we are actually interested in implementing this policy, we have to create syllabi and create and print textbooks in 180 languages every year.… Today, when we (Assam) print textbooks in four languages we face a very difficult situation…. People are very sensitive about their language in the Northeast. Not even a minor human error is accepted,” Sarma added.

The Union cabinet approved the NEP on July 29 for carrying out widespread reforms in schools and higher education to meet the needs of the 21st century with special focus on access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability. The policy is to be implemented in phases by 2030.

Lauding the NEP, Sarma said Assam had started work on several aspects of the policy and would notify it in a cabinet meeting to be held on November 25. He said that as part of the policy, Assam would upgrade five colleges to universities in two years. The state will also delink Class XI and XII from degree colleges by 2022.

In his nearly 27-minute speech, Sarma spent over 10 minutes explaining the challenges posed by language diversity because “we don’t have a single mother tongue”.

“We have different languages for different tribes and communities. In Assam we speak Assamese, everybody knows Assamese but when we say children have the right to be taught in their mother tongue..., it is a different ball game,” the chief minister said, adding it was not immediately possible for anybody to overcome the language diversity.

“There are so many other challenges. I am just elaborating on only one challenge when we are talking about the NEP. So the role of the central government will be very very important. It is not about finances or giving money. The central government and the northeastern states have to work very closely in developing an implementation framework so that we can also go equally with the other states of this great country because we know we need this NEP. To implement it for the future of the country, there is no option,” Sarma said.

Union education minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who spoke after Sarma, said the diversity of languages could not be witnessed better than in the Northeast.

“The NEP has amplified the potential of language in education. Assam is going to be a laboratory for mother tongue-based education in India.… We are deliberating on several aspects of the NEP 2020 for developing a road map for early implementation of the policy in the Northeast,” Pradhan said.

“The NEP is a unifying factor in stimulating Indian knowledge systems, regional languages, art and culture and in celebrating our diversity and strengths as a civilisation,” he added.

The inaugural day was attended by several education ministers of the region, academics and resource persons, among others. The chief minister urged the resource persons from Assam and the wider Northeast to “help us by creating a proper implementable framework” for the NEP.

A statement from the chief minister’s office said Sarma hoped the conclave would help finalise a road map to implement the NEP in the Northeast in a time-bound manner.

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