Saying it in plain language: How India can become ‘Vishwa Guru’ in education sector

December 29, 2020 6:15 AM

Technical education in mother tongue: Lessons from Germany and Japan

While participating in a round table on the pros and cons of imparting technical education in English to international students held in the Technische Akademie Esslingen, Germany, on November 20, 2015, I gathered several insights.While participating in a round table on the pros and cons of imparting technical education in English to international students held in the Technische Akademie Esslingen, Germany, on November 20, 2015, I gathered several insights.

By Ashok Pandey

In a high-level meeting, the Ministry of Education has decided to set up a task force to prepare a road map to pursue medicine, engineering and law courses in the mother tongue. The move ensures that no student should miss technical education due to lack of knowledge of English. The context of such a move draws from the National Education Policy 2020.

Research also suggests that the learning quality is indicated more by instruction in the mother tongue than in any other language.

There are examples of tweaking instructional language across the world. Students in China, South Korea and Japan are in a race to produce students with the best English language skill. But these countries also have developed their educational infrastructure anchored in the mother tongue. Other countries, such as Germany, Poland and Vietnam, have a track record of success without importing English or any other foreign language.

The Indian approach, on the other hand, has taught us the following. One, the English language is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is also not the only route to a bright future. Two, architecture of education built around mother tongue education in the early years is cognitively sound. It is also sociologically, psychologically and culturally enabling. There should be no stigma around it. Three, parental aspiration in a democratic setup, such as ours, allows a wide range of choices without any attempt to either restrict those choices or impose a particular option. Fourth, there must be a clear distinction between learning a language and language as a medium of instruction. The two are separate. Fifth, the larger context of India and Indianness makes it obligatory that most children learn about Indian languages.

Coming back to the ministry’s vision of preparing courses, material and teachers to offer technical courses in the mother tongue, we must again draw from the experience of other countries, Germany and Japan in particular. Both these countries implemented trans-languaging in higher education for international students. The motive behind setting up courses in English to facilitate international students was to attract the best and the brightest from across the world to the acclaimed universities without subjecting them to learn the local language. The imperatives of demographic status, economic sustainability, academic excellence and a multicultural student population on the campuses were other motives. There is a strong base of education in native languages with a success-at-scale in both Japan and Germany. Drawing on this analogy, we must ensure that in India the best and the brightest are not deprived of high-quality tertiary education for want of English knowledge. The NEP 2020 proposes equitable access to quality education.

While participating in a round table on the pros and cons of imparting technical education in English to international students held in the Technische Akademie Esslingen, Germany, on November 20, 2015, I gathered several insights. One, while it is true that courses in English will benefit foreign students, it will also deprive them of the opportunity to assimilate the German culture and ethos. Two, many German universities offer international students a chance to master the technical language requirements of engineering and other subjects in German, through their Studienkolleg system. Three, universities offer intensive, intentional and consistent tutorials to bridge the learning gaps international students face due to language barrier.

These lessons are instructive for engineering colleges in India. Instead of going the whole hog in creating courses in the mother tongue, it would be prudent to rely on data, analysis and projection to establish requirements. As the NEP 2020 goes into a roll-out and the introduction of mother tongue education finds traction at early stages, we will be in a better position to build up the momentum to redesign courses at tertiary level in the mother tongue. The efforts, energy, time and funding should rather be expended on strengthening the base.

The NEP 2020 ambitiously sets the target to make India a Vishwa Guru, a preferred educational destination. We must leverage our gains in the English language to achieve these goals.

The author is director, Ahlcon Group of Schools. Views are personal

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