Learning Language: Tertiary education in regional languages can’t be enforced by fiat

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December 17, 2020 5:00 AM

Tertiary education in regional languages a good idea, but can’t be enforced by fiat; develop foundation first

Besides, a regional language focus would not be meaningful in a scenario where an IIT Delhi or Madras sees entrants from across the country.

The government directing IITs/NITs to arrange for teaching in Hindi and regional languages is well-intended. The argument for this goes it will help students from rural areas, or from boards where the instruction was in a regional language. Poor grasp of English has been tied by many educationists to dropout rates at the premier engineering education institutions as well as poor performance of some students.

And, there are many countries where tertiary education is conducted in the local language—China, Japan and Germany—that have succeeded in a globalised world with English as the de facto language of communication. However, promoting regional languages by the kind of fiat that the government has adopted is problematic. A foundation needs to be built first, for instance, through grants to popularise science and technological education in the regional language, etc.

As the director of IIT Delhi, V Ramgopal Rao pointed out in a social media post, the decision to promote regional language in tertiary education will interfere with the hiring decisions of the premier institutions as they will be forced to consider language proficiency as a primary criteria as opposed to subject matter expertise, and may have to give up on looking from the global talent pool for teaching. Besides, a regional language focus would not be meaningful in a scenario where an IIT Delhi or Madras sees entrants from across the country.

Will teaching in Tamil come to the aid of a student from Uttar Pradesh lacking proficiency in English, but without any exposure to Tamil? Wouldn’t a bridge course and hand-holding through digital tech for English competence not be a smoother path? The examples of China, Japan and Germany are fine, but India’s linguistic diversity may be far more complex than that of these countries.

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