Multilingualism under the National Education Policy, 2020
“A rose smells just as sweet called by any other name.”
The National Education Policy of 2020 (hereinafter referred to as the “NEP 2020”) garnered much scrutiny and interest from stakeholders across the country. Many believe that the Policy is only impressive in essence seriously while doubting its viability.
Amongst the many facets of the Policy, multilingualism (the training of more than one language) is stressed upon as a crucial asset to a child’s educational growth. The Policy states that 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.
Although the Ministry of Education, in its subsequent statements, has clarified that no language shall be imposed on any student, the mandatory language (“will be the home language/mother-tongue/local language”) of the NEP 2020 tends to mystify the Government’s intent.
India has several languages, the 2011 census identified 270 mother tongues. Keeping this in mind, let us see if the NEP 2020 can play out in reality.
What challenges present themselves for educational institutions like schools?
For educational institutes (both schools and universities), the first step will be to invest in teachers speaking multiple languages. As of today, most teachers are trained to impart education in English, regional language and/or Hindi. To implement the vision of the NEP 2020, schools and colleges would have to either train the existing teachers to teach in different languages or employ additional educators. This will be an arduous task as most teachers today are trained to teach in either English or Hindi, and very few are armed with teaching expertise in a regional language.
The Policy fails to understand that cultural demarcations in India are not strictly defined. Metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata and the same are cultural melting pots with a student population composed of people that hail from different States. This means that schools of every State have to employ teachers equipped with the knowledge of not just the regional language of that State, but of every language spoken in this country. Achieving effective employment to actualise the same seems likely impossible.
Even if such employment was possible, at the school level, it will be tedious to provide teachers for every language spoken in this country. It is likely that schools shall establish a minimum quota requirement which is needed to be fulfilled if a language specific educator has to be employed. For instance, if only one student in a class of 40 opts for studying in his/her mother tongue then it will not be feasible for that particular school to appoint the required teacher.
Is the three-language policy feasible at University level?
At the higher education level, however, things are different. Technical education in the subjects of engineering, medicine, or law will prove to be much more difficult to be translated into regional languages.
“An engineering student may find it tough to get a Tamil or Bangla teacher to explain technical concepts. We just don’t have faculty who can translate pure mechanical or computer science engineering terms to the local languages. Say even if we train these teachers, won’t these graduates find it tough at an employer where English is the primary language used,” said an IIT professor.
What challenges present themselves for students?
The Policy unduly assumes that all students of this country complete their schooling from one school. The fact is many students pursue schooling from different schools in different States due to their families possessing transferable jobs. It is a serious concern for students to find relevant schools if their parents get transferred. For instance, if a student studies in the State of Gujarat with Gujarati as the medium of instruction till Grade 7, only to be transferred to the State of Tamil Nadu, they will find it almost impossible to adapt to a different medium of instruction.
Education for 20 years is what prepares us for the next 60 years. Undergoing education in a regional language will hold students back from finding jobs or applying for graduate education abroad, should they choose their mother tongue as their educational medium of instruction.
Does the NEP 2020 make multilingualism compulsory?
A subsequent statement issued by the Ministry of Education states that “no language will be imposed on any student,” it is yet unclear to what extent a student will be able to opt for a particular language.
Most students are bound to select English or Hindi as their medium of instruction due to the challenges mentioned above.
What is the alternative?
Studying all subjects at school and university level only in a regional or home language will prove to render students inept when they have to compete with a global population for jobs and graduate education. Almost all worthy job and academic opportunities in India and abroad demand a high proficiency in the language of English. The study of multiple languages independently is favorable but appointing a regional language as a medium of instruction does not seem like a bright idea.
It is true that using the language the child is most comfortable with in the early school years improves attendance and learning outcomes, and the ability to learn new languages. Effective education realises itself when children have high self-esteem, are well-adjusted in a classroom that provides a positive and fearless environment. If the child is taught in a language they are unable to comprehend, none of this will happen.