Students and parents have raised questions over the relevance of mother tongue learning in a competitive job market as they consider the policy will make children lag behind. The fears come after the government enshrined mother tongue instruction at the primary school level in its National Education Policy,
Other aspects of the education policy are facing flak for “systematically evading social justice”.
On Thursday, school managements in Karnataka pointed out that the new education policy goes against the country’s apex court verdict stating that imposition of the mother tongue as the medium of instruction in primary classes was “unconstitutional”. Karnataka is one of the states which fought long court battles for making government run schools teach only in English medium, a policy which is yielding good results.
Shweta, a 22-year-old banking exam aspirant from Mohali, is infuriated with the reform as she studied in a school affiliated to the state board where the medium of instruction was the regional language Punjabi. Along with this, she says the environment was not conducive for learning, it was challenging to pursue higher studies with English textbooks as her entire education up to mid-level was in her mother tongue.
Shweta, who is now facing difficulties preparing for competitive exams in English, points to a lack of confidence in those who cannot speak the language because they are not taught it from the beginning of school.
The move is also being seen as a drawback for those from poorer backgrounds who are being pushed further backwards because English medium schools are mostly private and charge heavy fees.
While introducing English in Andhra Pradesh government run schools, state education minister Adimulapu Suresh said: “The employment opportunities are drastically changing and after 20 years, there will be altogether different kinds of jobs. In order to compete in global employment or career opportunities, one has to be prolific in English. Our government wants to provide that opportunity to students from poor and marginal backgrounds”.
Aman, a PhD student from Jawaharlal Nehru University, while sharing his experience of being taught in Hindi until graduation level, underscored the difficulties any student can face in moving to English for higher studies if their base in English is not strong enough.
Meanwhile, private schools are planning to approach the government with demands to teach lessons in mother tongue, a move that is not popular with parents.
Mandeep Kaur, who has two young daughters, is annoyed by the proposed reform. Kaur says: “My kids are already well-versed in English. They understand it better than us parents. It will be difficult for the kids to cope with this changes and further it will be difficult for them in higher classes”.
Saarthi Education Foundation, a non-profit start-up, founding director Ankit Arora acknowledges the logic behind mother tongue as medium of instruction but points out that it is problematic for low-fee private English medium schools as it will not improve their quality of education.
Research Supports Mother Tongue Learning
A study published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) called 'The Importance of mother tongue-based schooling for educational quality' states that the use of a familiar language to teach beginning literacy facilitates an understanding.
Amid harsh criticism for the reform, experts are also highlighting the research and logic behind making mother tongue a medium of instruction. Punjab University Professor Dr Kuldeep Puri, who was a committee member for Punjab’s education policy, says “pedagogically it is a sound decision. It’s an established fact that children learn better when taught in their mother tongue, they develop critical thinking skills and that always helps”.
“They don’t understand because they are not taught English properly at all. If any criticism of the public institution is to be done, that is to be done in the whole context, which is that they are not taught any of the subjects properly be it Hindi, Punjabi or arithmetic. They lag behind because they are not taught properly,” he says.
As per the 2011 Census, English is the primary language - mother tongue - of 256,000 people in India, the second language of 83 million people, and the third language of another 46 million people.