Illustration by Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
Illustration by Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
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The report stresses “the need for an educational policy which contains a built-in flexibility so that it can adjust to changing circumstances. It underscores the importance of experimentation and innovation … the single most important thing needed now is to get out of the rigidity of the present system”. Further, there is the need for the “introduction of work-experience (which includes manual work, production experience, etc.) and social service as integral parts of general education at more or less all levels of education”. And finally, there should be “stress on moral education and inculcation of a sense of social responsibility”.

Those are not the words of Ramesh Pokhriyal, minister in the re-named Ministry of Education, but of D.S. Kothari — written in 1966 when presenting to the then-education minister the report of the Education Commission that Kothari had chaired. The commission’s recommendation of a 10+2 school system was adopted, but the ‘plus two’ stage that was supposed to introduce vocational education has turned out differently in practice, as have other hopes like getting rid of system rigidity.

Pokhriyal’s new National Education Policy is a more ambitious document than the Kothari report, with many positive features — including the stress on the mother tongue (also recommended by Kothari), the incorporation of pre-school education into the main education system, and all-round flexibility in course structures. Whether these will work out as intended depends on how 30-plus states and Union Territories respond, on whether 12 lakh anganwadis can be re-purposed, and how 15 lakh schools adapt. One gets leery when buzzwords like holistic and multi-disciplinary populate any policy document.

Also read: The mother tongue fanatics are keeping India a poor, backward country

Consider, for instance, the question of English. Will it meet the fate of French, once the language of the Russian aristocracy and court (Pushkin, generally accepted as the father of modern Russian literature, is believed to have written 90 per cent of his letters to women in French)? Or will English in India become the equivalent of Spanish and Portuguese in Latin America, conquerors’ languages that became de facto “native” to some 90 per cent of Latin Americans? Neither, one should think. The native languages of India are not going to meet the hapless fate of Quechua, Guarani, and Aymara, the pre-Colombian languages now spoken by only a tiny minority in South and Central America. Equally, with English the most rapidly growing medium of instruction in India’s schools and accounting now for more than one-sixth of the total (next only to Hindi, which accounts for a half), India is not about to turn its face away from a language that has global currency.

The Andhra Pradesh government may be mistaken in pushing for English as the primary medium of instruction in its schools, as Jammu and Kashmir did much earlier. But how do you deal with the fact that Marathi-medium schools in Mumbai are emptying out, as the demand for English grows? Or teach the children of 14 crore migrant workers in their mother tongues? With cities like Delhi, Bengaluru, and Mumbai populated more than half by people whose mother tongues are not the local Hindi, Kannada, or Marathi, straightforward propositions about the mother tongue can become complicated. How many mother tongues should Delhi cater to in its schools: Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Gujarati… in addition to Hindi and Punjabi (and not forgetting Urdu)? As the son of a father with a transferable job, I survived being taught in two languages as the medium of instruction, and failed in three different “third languages” by Class VI!

The fact is that English (like Hindi) has greater acceptance than its numerical strength as mother tongue. It remains the aspirational language — for reasons far removed from a colonial history that ended three generations ago. It will never be the language spoken in most homes, or the primary language of politics. Bear in mind that only one of the top 10 most popular daily newspapers is published in English, and the share of English in news television and in the entertainment media is similarly minuscule. But English will continue to have its place in the corporate and financial worlds, in the higher courts, and for the foreseeable future as one of two official languages. Perhaps that is as it should be.

By Special Arrangement with Business Standard.

Also read: All about 3-language formula, the bone of contention between Centre & southern states


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  1. English would stand for aspiration until India remains a developing country. For India to become a leading economy, Indians must become original thinkers, original researchers and original creators. Originality would come only when Indian childrens are taught in their mother tongue. There is one bottleneck and that is LIBRANDUS Idea of India. We must first dump Librandus Idea of India. Rest will follow.

  2. The parents should be allowed to decide on the “mother tongue” of the child. If it is English how can anyone say it is not?

  3. English remains the language of aspiration in India because Indians, unlike in Germany, France, U.K, Spain, Japan, Russia, Israel, China etc have failed to create and disseminate knowledge in the local language. All countries who give primacy to their own languages are developed and rich. The rest like India are poor, undeveloped and at the bottom on the human development scale.

  4. The party with 303 power seats by focusing on all the lesser stuff you are simply throwing away a huge opportunity of doing good to the nation’s econmically larger section of distressed people. Lift them out of poverty and then let them in turn you bask in its benefits. But you have other designs as exemplified by the way you choose to bring down one after another elected opposition ruled governments. Sad.

  5. If you want to progress, if you want a united country and if you want the World to relate to you, let this be your official goal. Harping on Hindi, Tamil etc will get India nowhere.

  6. Our politicians send their kids to costly English medium schools but for masses they want “mother tongue”

  7. Vested interests of English media.
    Actually English has kept this cultural confusion alive for many decades. English becomes an issue when it is seen as skill, a language of job. Across India this happens. Skilled but poor English don’t get job. Unskilled but English proficiency secure it. This must change for Make in India, for entrepreneurship, for removing brown sepoy syndrome, for removing this sense distrust in Indian languages.

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