The medium of instruction in schools is a highly contentious issue and draws strong reaction in just about every state of India. Politicians, literary personalities and other people in the State often demand that education of a child be in the child’s mother tongue. Parents and even older children demand that the medium of instruction be English.
The battle on which language a child should be taught, especially in the primary school, in their formative years, is not restricted to India alone. A quick research will tell you it is a topic of heated debate among parents, politicians, policy makers, thinkers in many other countries of the world too.
In most cases the discussion is, the mother tongue verses English. Undoubtedly, English is the 2rd most spoken language in the world and many parents feel that if their children study in the vernacular, they are at a disadvantage at various competitive examinations, when traveling abroad for further studies and when they desire to participate at a wider global level.
Regional thinkers and promoters of vernacular languages feel that a child is deprived of their collective consciousness and cultural roots if they are taught in an alien language, like English. Who is right? Should one language be chosen over the other, should students be given a choice, have students who have been taught in English instead of their mother tongue gone further in life as opposed to their counterparts who studied in the vernacular? These are just some of the questions that need to be mulled over.
Either way, if we look at these questions carefully you will notice that they actually take us away from major issues that should actually be the focus of discussion.
With or without the ‘medium of instruction’ wrangle, it is a horrifying fact that the literacy rate in India is an abysmal 66%. One of the points in the common minimum program (CMP)of the UPA government during its 1st tenure was to invest at least 6% of the country’s GDP in Education, (many poorer counties spend a much larger part of their GDP on education than India). India spends more on its defense forces than on the future of this country, which is education. Not only did the government fail to increase its budget on education in keeping with the CMP in the 1st tenure of the government, there seems to be no move to ensure it materializes in the second tenure of the government either.
Today of course the education minister of India is able to create a furor, which lasts for months, about making exams for X standard students optional, but what about the millions of children still in the villages of India, who don’t have teachers, who don’t have schools, whose potential continues to be wasted.
How, for example, does it matter if the medium of instruction is ones mother tongue but the content in the textbooks is still about the Second World War and Greek history, and is in no way linked to ones state and regional culture? What is the use of the education if it does not impart life skills? Does not teach about civic participation, health and hygiene? These are very real issues that are often ignored.
State and regional politicians and thinkers often experience fear that young people will be uprooted from their local culture and customs if they are taught in an alien language, but how empowering is this local language and culture?, is it helping create a more equitable society or does it perpetuate a status quo that has been around for millennia? These and some other questions need to be debated.
Things on the education front can change only when the government invests more into education. Giving every child in this country an equal opportunity to access education. Giving each child and parent the freedom of choice about what medium to study in. While politician’s say students should study in their mother tongue, what is the state of government run schools? Can they be turned around to deliver quality education?, then of course parents would be more than happy to send their children to government schools and root themselves in their culture.
What does a rule like ‘mandatory studying in the mother tongue’ mean to a cosmopolitan city like Bangalore, or any other state in India for that matter. Students come here from all over the country. The IT city has a huge BPO and KPO industry that services the US and Europe, how will young people join this highly lucrative industry if they not adequately proficient in English?
What are your thoughts on this?………. email us and let us know……….. we will be glad to start a discussion on this issue on our blog.