New Delhi: One of the biggest talking points to emerge out of the new National Education Policy released Wednesday is having the ‘mother tongue’ as the medium of instruction up to class 5.
The NEP states: “Wherever possible, students till Class 5 in schools should be taught in mother tongue/regional language/local language.” The idea is drawn from various studies that show young children best understand things in their mother tongue or home language.
Officials in the Ministry of Human Resource Development insist that “no language will be imposed”. “The idea behind mother-tongue teaching is not to stop, hamper English-medium teaching. There is a line in the policy document that says teachers can be bi-lingual with their medium of instruction,” a senior ministry official said.
The NEP, in its current shape, is only an instructional document and the government will have to come up with a way to implement it in the coming days.
However, even before schools figure out a way to implement this new policy, parents have started questioning it, while experts have given mixed responses.
Krishnika Bhattacharjee, a parent whose daughter studies in Class 2 in a Mumbai school said: “My mother tongue is Bengali and my daughter goes to a school where her classmates come from various cultural backgrounds — there are children whose parents speak Tamil, there is a Kashmiri girl … So how will the school decide what tongue to teach in?
“Living in Mumbai, everyone speaks Marathi as a local language, but we don’t speak it at home. So how will my child be taught?”
Kavita Phandse, also from Mumbai, whose child studies in Class 5, added: “What is the point of an English medium school if children are taught in their mother tongue? I mean it’s good to explain the concepts to them in a language they best understand, but if teaching happens in the local language, when will my child learn English? You cannot grow and prosper in today’s world without learning English.”
Those who studied in regional languages till Class 5 in the past say this new policy will be a bigger problem for underprivileged families or those who don’t speak English at home.
Jessie Joseph from Ernakulam, Kerala, said: “I studied in a Malayalam medium school till Class 4. I learnt my first English alphabets in Class 5 and will not shy away from saying that I did have issues picking up English later in my life. My parents are both Malayalam speakers, so I did not have that environment at home.”
A successful model
Those who applaud the idea of teaching in the mother tongue at a young age have cited the example of Sardar Patel Vidyalaya (SPV) in New Delhi as a model of success — the school is Hindi-medium till Class 5 and then switches to English in the higher classes.
“My children studied in SPV and they were taught in Hindi till Class 5; they learnt maths, science, everything in Hindi. But that did not mean they were not learning the English translations of those words. They were taught that as well,” said Yugandhara Pawar Jha.
“Their transition from Hindi-medium to English-medium was not a difficult one. In fact, I would say that teaching in the mother tongue during the early days is not a bad idea. A child is able to understand things better that way,” Jha said.
An alumnus of SPV who did not wish to be named added that in families where English is spoken at home, there wouldn’t be a problem. “We spoke English at home, so I did not have much of a problem in transitioning after Class 5. In fact, most of my classmates did not … they all came from families that could provide them an environment where they learnt English,” the alumnus said.
Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav, who has helped the NCERT prepare political science textbooks, has hailed the idea as the “best way to teach”.
“Instruction in mother tongue is something that has always existed in every policy document, and it should be hailed. Every researcher will agree that teaching students in their mother tongue is the best way to teach,” Yadav said.
Many schools in India, mostly in metropolitan cities and tier-two cities, use English as a medium of instruction, but Yadav said instead of that, it should be taught as a language.
“In India, where you have such a diverse population and people who understand so many languages, why should we stick to just one language for teaching?” he asked.
Ashok Pandey, director of the Ahlcon Group of Schools, also praised the idea.
“When we talk about instruction in English, we are talking about a very small number of schools, mostly private schools. There are many schools in states that are comfortable in teaching students in their mother tongue or regional language,” Pandey said.
Of course, it will be challenging to implement it in a place like Delhi, where students come from diverse cultural backgrounds, but I am sure there will be an option to tackle that issue as well,” he added.
However, some experts said the move would hamper a child’s future prospects.
“Teaching in the mother tongue is not a great idea. With globalisation expanding its roots everywhere, our students in the future won’t be representing a community or state but could be working anywhere in the world representing India. Teaching in the mother tongue will severely affect the preparedness of children to communicate in English, and tomorrow, they will never be ready to compete in the real world,” said Swoyan Satyendu, director of the ODM Public School in Odisha.
“A mother tongue subject can be made compulsory for students to promote our community and keep its roots strong, but teaching all the subjects in that language is a big no from my side.”