A language ladder for an education roadblock

SourceThe Hindu

Relevance: This article explains the advantages, challenges, and suggestions in promoting learning in the mother tongue.


Learning in the mother tongue has to be promoted in India.


Recently, 14 engineering colleges across eight States decided to offer courses in regional languages in select branches from the new academic year.

Similarly, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) also decided to permit B. Tech programmes in 11 native languages in tune with the New Education Policy (NEP).

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Why does India need to promote learning in the Mother tongue?
  1. Multiple studies have proved that children who learn in their mother tongue in their early, formative years, perform better than those taught in an alien language.
  2. UNESCO and other organisations have been laying emphasis on the fact that learning in the mother tongue is germane to building self-esteem and self-identity, as also the overall development of the child.
  3. Even though our educational system has seen phenomenal growth. Over the years, English remained an academic roadblock and also let India’s own languages languish.

For these reasons only, the great Indian physicist and Nobel Laureate, Sir C.V. Raman observed, “We must teach science in our mother tongue. Otherwise, science will become a highbrow activity.”

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Learning in the mother tongue – Global practices:
  • Among the G20, most countries have state-of-the-art universities, with teaching being imparted in the dominant language of their people. For instance,
    • France went to the extent of having a strict ‘French-only’ policy as the medium of instruction in schools.
    • In Germany, while the language of instruction in schools is predominantly German.
  • In South Korea, nearly 70% of the universities teach in Korean, even as they aspire to play a role on the international stage.
  • This trend is also observed in other countries like China, Japan, and Canada (in the majority French-speaking Quebec Province).
Learning in the mother tongue – In India:
  1. The NEP put emphasis on the mother tongue as the medium of instruction to instill confidence in students from poor, rural, and tribal backgrounds.
    • The NEP also outlines the road map, demonstrating the means to protect our languages while improving the access and quality of our education.
  2. AICTE and IIT Madras recently collaborated to translate SWAYAM’s courses into eight regional languages such as Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, etc. This will be a major boost for engineering students.
Read more: One year of National Education Policy – Explained, pointwise
Challenges faced during learning in the mother tongue:
  • Unfortunately, some educators and parents still accord unquestioned primacy to English, and resultantly, the child’s mother tongue ends up as their ‘second/third language’ in schools.
  • One of the biggest bottlenecks for students to take up higher education in their native languages is the lack of high-quality textbooks, especially in technical courses.
  • Content in the digital learning ecosystem, still a nascent domain in our country, is greatly skewed towards English.
Suggestions to improve learning in mother tongue:
  • India must begin with imparting primary education (at least until Class 5) in the student’s mother tongue, gradually scaling it up.
  • For professional courses, while the initiative of the 14 engineering colleges is commendable, we need more such efforts all across the country. Private universities must join hands and offer a few bilingual courses.
  • The government has to address the work on high-quality textbooks, creation of digital content in regional languages at war footing.
  • Like, AICTE’s collaboration with IIT Madras, India needs more such tech-led initiatives to democratise higher education.

India at present does not need a ‘Mother tongue versus English’ debate. Instead, it needs a ‘Mother tongue plus English’ approach.

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