Should we rethink English as a “medium of instruction”?



Education is a subject of the competing list in India.

The concurrent list includes topics that are of common interest to both central government and state governments. This means that both can enact laws on these matters. However, in the event of a conflict, the Constitution provides that the central law prevails over the law of the State.

The Modi government announced the New Education Policy 2020 (NEP) which brings about several major education reforms in India. The NEP, however, only provides guidelines and is not mandatory.

The 10 + 2 structure in the school system has been replaced by a 5 + 3 + 3 + 4 structure, which corresponds to the age groups 3-8 years (elementary level up to level 2), 8-11 (preparatory up to ‘at level 5), 11-14 (from middle to grade 8) and 14-18 (secondary to grade 12).

This is a good initiative because it places preschool education for children aged 3 to 5 within the framework of formal schooling. The midday meal program will be extended to preschool children.

Under the four-year bachelor’s program offered in the NEP, students can graduate after one year with a certificate, after two years with a diploma, and after three years with a bachelor’s degree.

This is a welcome change as it allows deserving students to take a break from their studies, depending on their life situation, while having the opportunity to resume their higher education.

Mother tongue as a medium of instruction

The NEP says that, as far as possible, the language of instruction in schools up to grade 5 (ie up to age 11); preferably up to the 8th grade (up to 14 years) must be the mother tongue or the local or regional language. This is based on numerous studies which show that children learn best in their mother tongue or their original language.

Undoubtedly, the government has noble intentions to improve learning outcomes and classroom participation among young children with better self-esteem due to easier and better understanding of concepts in a language familiar to everyone. the child.

The aim is also to make education more inclusive with better assessment scores and to reduce dropouts.

The argument against English as the language of instruction is that parents send their children to English-speaking schools due to peer pressure and that is not ideal for early learning.

Early learning in a child’s native language can also lead to greater parent-child collaboration in learning, as the parents themselves would be comfortable in the native language. This would indeed lead to preserving our languages ​​and our rich cultural heritage.

But should we rethink the teaching medium from the point of view of higher education and not focus only on early learning?

While one cannot deny the benefits of early learning in one’s mother tongue, we must take a pragmatic view on the subject, especially in the context of the diversity of our country.

Let’s look at the diversity of India. Every few kilometers the language changes in India. Metropolitan cities have become a melting pot of cultures where people of different dialects live together.

According to the latest census, there are 121 languages ​​spoken by 10,000 or more people in India. The eighth annex of the Constitution comprises the following 22 languages: Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepalese, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Bodo, Santhali, Maithili and Dogri.

Given so many mother tongues, if the language of instruction is based on the region (for example, Marathi in Maharashtra or Gujarati in Gujarat), it would defeat the goal because a Gujarati child in Maharashtra who will study in a middle school a post similar to that of his studies in an English middle school.

Why should we dilute our advantage of being a largely English speaking nation?

Fluency in English has given Indians an advantage over other nationalities who are not proficient in English. China and Japan lag behind India in medical and IT fields due to Indian fluency in the English language. India is a global call center hub.

Most of the speeches in India on economic, social and political life are conducted in English. The best literary, scientific, technological, managerial books, etc. are written in English. Most of the best books in the world are translated and available in English.

Will this not further increase the disparity between public and private schools?

Private schools are unlikely to change their language of instruction to their mother tongue and continue teaching in English.

It cannot be denied that a good command of English is necessary for success in higher education, postgraduate courses (Medicine, Law, Finance, Engineering, etc.) and also in business careers.

Although it may be easier to have teachers in local languages, it will not bring the best results for the child in the higher education years. An English speaking student will always have an advantage over these children in terms of language proficiency.

It will take a Herculean effort for the vernacular child to switch to English after 5th or 8th grade. While in the upper classes the level of education and study itself becomes quite complicated and difficult, it would be unfair to put the added burden of switching to a not so familiar language on the student.

Let’s look at the scientific argument. Neuroscientists tell us that a baby is born with around 86 billion neurons, almost everything it will need. At certain times in a child’s life, the brain is active, forming connections for specific abilities called critical or sensitive periods.

During a critical period, the synaptic connections in these brain regions are more elastic and malleable. Skills can still be learned after a window of opportunity closes, but with more time and effort.

The sensitive period for mastery of language skills extends from birth to puberty. A young child can learn a new language and master it more easily before puberty. Therefore, if the child is expected to switch to English after the age of 11 (5th grade) or 14 (8th grade), it will take much more effort.

Children’s brains are designed to be multilingual. It would be much more difficult for a child to switch to English as the language of instruction after 5th grade (11 years old) or 8th grade (14 years old) as proposed.

If the child learns English from the start, he will naturally master it by the time he reaches the next level, so that he can then only focus on the concepts and not struggle with the language.



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