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Regional languages or English: which medium is better for kids?

Whether education should be in the regional language or in English is a question posed before many parents when admitting their children to schools for the first time.

mumbai Updated: Jul 19, 2013 10:13 IST
Puja Pednekar
Puja Pednekar
Hindustan Times

When Trupti Nimbkar wanted to enrol her child in a school two years ago, she was faced with a dilemma: Nimbkar, a marketing consultant in a multinational company, who studied in a Marathi medium school, wanted Anita, then 4, to have an education in her mother tongue.

“I never felt left behind. In fact, it helped me get an edge over others in math, and express concepts better,” said Nimbkar.

“Though I seriously wanted my child to study in a Marathi-medium school, there was not a single good quality one in the vicinity.” Anita was enrolled at an English-medium school at Borivali.

Whether education should be in the regional language or in English is a question posed before many parents when admitting their children to schools for the first time.

Recently, the Karnataka state government passed an order asking schools to teach primary classes only in Kannada.

The Supreme Court has referred the matter to a higher constitutional bench and the judgement is pending.

The apex court has also asked all state governments to put forth their stance on the issue.

“Studying in the mother tongue is advantageous to the child’s development. A child is able to understand concepts and subjects better and they can express themselves more fluently when taught in their mother tongue,” said Deepak Pawar, head of the Marathi Abhyas Kendra and assistant professor of civics and political science at the University of Mumbai.

Comprising a group of academicians, the Marathi Abhyas Kendra plans to file a petition in the apex court on making the mother tongue as a primary medium of instruction in schools.

According to Pawar, there is a misconception among middleclass and upper middle class families about vernacular education.

“These parents look down on vernacular education because going to an English-medium school has become a status symbol. They assume that a child who studies in English will automatically have a good career,” he said.

But there is a difference between studying English and studying at an English-medium school, pointed out Ramesh Joshi, head of the civic schoolteachers’ union.

“English can always be a taught as a separate subject. Learning in a regional medium does not mean that students will not be able to speak proper English,” said Joshi.

“Studying in one’s mother tongue helps students get a better understanding of the subject. There is no room for doubts and it also encourages divergent thinking.”

Many parents feel that if their children study in vernacular mediums, they are at a disadvantage in various competitive exams, studying abroad and choosing careers.

Agreeing that learning languages at a young age strengthens new networks in the brain, Lina Asher, founder of Kangaroo Kids Education Limited and Billabong High International Schools, said most kids today are more comfortable speaking English than their mother-tongue.

“Most of our kids prefer speaking English since their parents also speak English at home,” she said.

“Teaching in the mother tongue is not a good idea these days because people don’t always remain where they were born.

In such a situation, children might find the transition to English difficult later.”

First Published: Jul 19, 2013 10:07 IST