The push given by the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 to regional languages may be perceived by some as a blow to English, but is there any harm in being multilingual?
Growing up in Ambala, a small city in Haryana, I often dreamt about studying in an English-medium school. But as an 11-year-old, I did not fully understand the meaning of this desire. I just had a strong notion that there was something ‘good’ about being from an English-medium school. Despite scoring really well in my class 10 board exams, no English-medium school in my town was ready to offer me admission to join in class 11, merely because the medium of instruction for my entire school life up till then had been Hindi.
The feeling of exasperation of being from a ‘lesser school’ did not leave me until quite recently. I joined Delhi University to study Physics with many hopes, which momentarily came crashing down when I saw that all the lectures were conducted only in English. Although I understood the language well, it was a conscious effort for me to constantly translate things in my mind and grasp the knowledge of my subjects. However, this exercise made me learn a great deal about the science of language.
Years later, I joined a prestigious liberal arts university where I had the privilege to learn from several international professors. Again, English was the chosen mode of instruction, despite the fact that my class was made up of students from all over the country. It was here that I started asking myself why studying in regional languages is still seemingly looked down upon. I realised the answer had a lot to do with the idea of social capital. Students from well-to-do families rarely study in schools where the mode of instruction is a regional language. And middle-class families burn the midnight oil just to be able to send their kids to ‘top English-medium’ schools, assuming that the quality of education will be better compared to regional-medium schools.
It’s time that students from the regional-medium get the same respect, and are able to build the same confidence, as students from English-medium schools. The hierarchy of languages in India, is another form of discrimination, which has done no good.
The NEP debate
Parents who themselves might have studied in regional languages, and are now doing financially well-off, will mostly choose to send their children to English-medium schools. Their rationale being that they want their kids to ‘be ahead’ from the very beginning, as English, being a global language, gives them an edge.
The national vs international debate has been rekindled after the announcement of NEP 2020 by the Modi government Wednesday. Apart from many other proposed reforms, the policy advises the use of mother tongue/regional language/ local language as the medium of instruction in all schools, until the fifth grade.
“Wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother tongue/local language/regional language,” the document noted. However, this recommendation has invited strong reactions and debates over the definition of mother tongue and regional language.
The document further states, “the three-languages learned by children will be the choices of States, regions, and of the students, so long as at least two of the three languages are native to India.”
More the merrier
First of all, we must understand that this is a suggestion, not a binding order that seeks to change the medium of instruction of students overnight. However, studies have shown that education in regional languages improves learning and critical thinking, and helps students develop a sense of confidence during early days of learning because of their familiarity with the language.
From a learning point of view, I believe that it is good to learn as many languages as possible. India is a multilingual and diverse country, and if a child gets an opportunity to learn a regional language other than her/his mother tongue, there is no harm in it. If anything, it is certainly better than being monolingual.
Despite being from a Hindi speaking family, I learnt to read and write in Punjabi because it was the local language. In addition to this, I learned English and Sanskrit in school. Being a multilingual never hindered my growth as a student one bit.
However, the implementation of the policy might prove to be difficult for children whose families keep moving, and those who come from multilingual backgrounds. English is still going to be a part of the curriculum. Many school students, who can afford it, transition from one language medium to school to another after the 5th or 8th grade itself. This might seem difficult, but it is not impossible.
Views are personal.