The new National Education Policy that has been the topic of much debate and discussion since its draft came out in 2019, got the approval of the Union Cabinet this week. Although sudden and without any form of parliamentary discussion, the NEP does bring in some welcomes changes in the field of Education. Among these is the introduction of the more pedagogically inclusive and holistic 5+3+3+4 structure of schooling, the initiation of multiple entry and exit points in the higher education process, and the call for allotment of six percent of the country’s GDP on education. However, there have also been several points of contention in the policy. A key one among them has been the aspect of languages or the medium of instruction in schools.
National Education Policy (NEP) restates the Right to Education (RTE) Act’s provision under Section 29 (2) (f). It states that the mother tongue of a child be the medium of instruction in schools whenever feasible. The policy document also states that “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.” This caused a lot of apprehension among people, with many English-medium schools wondering if they have to now change their medium of instruction into the local or regional language. However, that does not seem to be the case because it has not been made mandatory and is mostly left to the states and the schools to implement. This emphasis on teaching in the regional language certainly is problematic.
In a world that is increasingly marked by globalization, this shift from English to the local languages could be counterproductive. This is not to say that the regional languages should not be prioritized but the importance of English in today’s world, in both the national and international spheres, is undeniable. Hence, every child should have the opportunity to become adequately proficient in the language. Dipanwita, a kindergarten teacher for the last nineteen years, shared on this issue, “My education from a Bengali-medium school stopped me from getting enough exposure in the English language. This has haunted me my entire life. Despite my teaching experience for almost two decades now, my capabilities are still questioned because of my lack of proficiency in English. I am grateful now that my daughter did not have to go through the same kind of experience.”
This only shows how important the English language has become in everyone’s lives and the NEP has failed to include that into its purview. Mahi (name changed), pursuing a PhD in English Literature added, “It has been odd to see this outcry against introducing mother tongue as the medium of instruction as I have seen people wanting to uphold indigenous languages over English. But I believe this outcry is needed as I have always been of the opinion that there is a need for a language that can help one get past things in a foreign land. And that language, fortunately, or unfortunately, has come to become English.”
The wording of the policy can be used by many public and low-cost private schools to less prioritize English or to completely do away with the language where there is a non-availability of English speaking staff. This would only leave the disadvantaged sections of the society more disadvantaged in their long-term higher education and career prospects. High-budgeted private schools and international schools, on the other hand, will mostly continue to impart an education in English, which will only be accessible by a very small section of the population, thus making the distinction between the privileged and the less privileged more pronounced!
Adding to this, another major point of discussion surrounding the issue of languages has been how students, who have to frequently change schools, will adjust to a different regional or local language every time. This is especially true of children who have parents with transferrable jobs and have to move from state to state quite often. Along with it being difficult for these children to be at par with the academics in school, it will also lead them to have an extremely unpleasant schooling experience every time that they have to change schools. Moreover, after this, children might be unwillingly to move because of the language barriers, thus getting into a situation where families are forced to stay apart.
India has always prided itself on the sheer diversity of languages that exist in the country, which is well beyond 1500 as documented in the 2001 census. This naturally means that every state will have more than one regional/local language. However, one can foresee how the implementation of NEP will invariably mean the medium of instruction becoming any state’s official language. This would then affect not just children who have relocated but also a large number of the local children, who might be from that particular state but speaking a different tongue. These are important points of considerations that a policy document of such stature must have taken into account. A National Education Policy that claims to be more inclusive consciously or unconsciously has failed to do just that!
Samadrita has a MA in Education. Views are Personal.