In higher education, it is time to prioritise Indian languages
Indian languages have never got the importance they deserve in the higher education system. Teaching and learning have largely been in a foreign language. But a change is in the offing, with the advent of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi recently tweeted: “Taking inspiration from the National Education Policy, it will now be tried to teach all technical courses including medical, engineering in mother tongue.”
It is time we focused on the use of the mother tongue or regional language as a medium of instruction in higher education. The discussion on the use of the mother tongue in education goes back to the time of Lord Macaulay. This debate continued in post-independent India with the release of the Radhakrishnan Committee report of 1948-49, known as the Report of the University Education Commission. It recommended that English be replaced by an Indian language as the medium of instruction for higher education as early as practicable. This was followed by the Official Language Commission, Emotional Integration Committee, NEP (1968), NEP (1986/1992) and NEP 2020.
Each report also pronounced that Indian languages are a sine qua non for educational and cultural development since they strengthened equity in education.
The current NEP recommends that higher education institutions should use the mother tongue/local language as a medium of instruction, and/or offer bilingual programmes. This will help provide quality teaching to more students and thus increase Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education. It will also promote the strength, usage, and vibrancy of all Indian languages. This way, private institutions too will be motivated to use Indian languages as a medium of instruction and/or offer bilingual programmes. This will ensure that there is no difference between government and private institutions.
The teachers’ training programme, the four-year Bachelor of Education dual degree, will also be bilingual. This will facilitate the training of cadres of teachers across subjects. Science and math teachers will also adopt the bilingual approach to teaching.
To translate recommendations into action, high-quality learning and print material in Indian languages, including textbooks, workbooks, videos, plays, poems, novels and magazines, will be developed. This will be done by creating quality programmes in translation and interpretation. To this end, an Indian Institute of Translation and Interpretation (IITI) will be established. This will employ numerous scholars in Indian languages, subject experts as well as experts in translation and interpretation. Technology will be used to aid in these translation and interpretation efforts.
Teaching in the mother tongue/ regional language will help in building an equitable education system. The ministry of education will work to develop an equitable system based on the principles of fairness and inclusion. For the system to be fair, we should ensure that the personal and social circumstances of students should in no way be obstacles to realising their full academic potential. At the same time, to ensure inclusion through the use of the mother tongue/ regional language, we should set up a basic minimum standard of education which eliminates all disparity.
While it is necessary to strengthen Indian languages as medium of instruction while enhancing the principle of equity in education to improve educational standards, it is equally imperative for students to have a good command over the English language since they are global natives in the 21st century. But this cannot be at the cost of Indian languages as a medium of instruction. Indian languages must be supplemented by English. It is heartening to note that institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, Kharagpur and Roorkee, and Banaras Hindu University, among others, have come forward to promote the use of Indian languages. These initiatives will prepare students to live in a local, national and global society utilising a harmonious blend of Indian languages and English as recommended by NEP.