NEP 2020: There is no escaping English – promoting teaching in local languages encourages ghettoisation

Updated: Aug 09, 2020 10:47 PM

There is no escaping English. A not-so-savoury outcome of promoting teaching in local languages is that it encourages ghettoisation.

The NEP talks of teaching in local language ‘wherever possible’.
By SS Mantha

The National Education Policy (NEP) proclaims that “curriculum and pedagogy will be transformed by 2022 in order to minimise rote learning and instead encourage holistic development and 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, creativity, scientific temper, communication, collaboration, multilingualism, problem-solving, ethics, social responsibility, and digital literacy.” These attributes in a policy are most welcome; though, for me, there is no perfect policy for education. There is nothing on the intent front to fault the NEP. Among all the policy interventions made, one that binds all skills is communication and, hence, the language formula proffered needs scrutiny.

The NEP talks of teaching in local language ‘wherever possible’. Even today, government schools operating under state boards teach only in local languages. It is the private schools that rose to cater to the aspirations of parents and students, and started English-medium teaching for students from across economic backgrounds. And so, students moved from government schools to private schools.

How will the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) function? Would they teach in local languages? Would their jobs that are transferable every three years not become redundant? What happens if students move to Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) and International Baccalaureate (IB) boards because they want to be taught in English? A problem on the demand side cannot be corrected with a toggle on the supply side.

The NEP talks of a three-language formula. I would love to see how Hindi-belt states deal with this. Can we have them learning southern languages as patriotic Indians?

I studied in a government school and, in a way, I studied five languages. Telugu, my mother tongue, Sanskrit, Marathi, Hindi and English, till the board level, besides other subjects, and appeared for all board exams in English. I was spared a board exam in Telugu.

I believe working knowledge of a local language is a must. There are several instances that seek such expertise in life. Hence, does it not suffice if it is taught as one of the subjects, till one leaves school? Though I believe the option of taking a board exam in a language other than English must be left to the student.

The dominance of the English language has snowed the Indian belief and practice, much under its own pedagogy that is further buttressed by the infallible argument of the British that leaves all other languages indefensible: “English puts every other language at an equal disadvantage.” While it sends the jury into a tizzy, the affairs of the world carry on.

Be that as it may, and whether we like or not, everything else must be taught in English, because the Macaulay Doctrine and 200 years of British rule has left us no choice. Or, at least higher education in basic and applied sciences must be taught in English, since we do not have either good translated material or adequate employment opportunities. Having said that, Thomas Macaulay, and his argument that Western learning was superior and could only be taught through the medium of English, was both positively arrogant and misplaced.

A not-so-savoury outcome of promoting teaching in local languages is that it encourages ghettoisation. There are several states that have no employment opportunities. If the education is imparted in a local language, the students will never be able to leave their boundaries. This is not to say that such students are any less intelligent, though it manifests in the way we think and perceive. Far from uniting, a long-term malice could be the distress this results to the social fabric.

A three-language formula for me, apart from English, must include Sanskrit and a local language. There is a reason for this, as at one end of that disadvantaged language spectrum lies Sanskrit. Sanskrit and its derived languages are the only ones in the world that have phonetics that read as they are written and are devoid of all deceit and silent consonants and vowels.

Sanskrit comprises five sets of five phonetics in each set, to help train the throat, the palate, the tongue, the teeth and the lips. Unfortunately, in schools, it is only offered as an optional language, with most students preferring to choose more relevant languages, including French, German and even Mandarin, which are seen as more appropriate in a globalised world.

It is not as if Sanskrit lacks admirers. It is another matter that it has more detractors than admirers who associate its use with religion—a misplaced notion. It even has great applications in developing computer programming for artificial intelligence, as NASA researcher Rick Briggs in a paper of 1985 had claimed. Another research claims its use for therapy sessions in psychology and for spiritual remissions. Whatever that is, it brings one closer to one’s culture and civilisation.

The NEP has succeeded in stirring up a debate. The implementation needs to be judged.

The author is former chairman, AICTE

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