CONUNDRUMS OF FORCED MULTILINGUALISM UNDER THE NEW EDUCATION POLICY 2020

By- Abhishek Rohatgi

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 was unveiled by the government last month. The NEP aims to revolutionize the education system of the country which has not seen any significant reform for the last 28 years when the last education policy was introduced in 1986/92.

This new policy is highly ambitious and introduces reforms for all the levels of education – school education, higher education, and professional education. The policy envisions transforming the youth of the country into a competent workforce via providing quality education, which is not limited to just cognitive abilities, but also extends to the holistic development of the individual which includes – ‘social, ethical, and emotional capacities and dispositions.’

In its pursuit of the above goal, various reforms have been proposed in the NEP. One of the most striking features of the NEP is that it has proposed to make the Board Examinations for class 10th and 12th easier in the sense that emphasis should be shifted from questions testing memory to questions which test the understanding of the concept, as a consequence of which the questions pattern has substantially changed.

Also, the government in this new policy has been considerate of the decisive role played by the private coaching institutions, which have been mushrooming in every nook and corner of every city, in imparting education to the students. The policy envisions curtailing the role of these private coaching classes, which are used to supplement schools, to reduce the burden on the students.

The above illustrations clearly indicate that the government has been mindful of student’s interest in reducing the burden on them by making the board examinations easier and by their endeavor to curtail the influence of private coaching institutions.

However, there are certain other aspects that have grossly overlooked the interest of students in the name of national integration. The unwavering commitment of the NDA government to nationalistic policies and national integration has also been reflected by the NEP 2020.

Although the policy claims to be a policy of the 21st century, there are certain parts of the policy that cast a shadow on this assertion, particularly –Multilingualism envisaged by the policy.

The policy envisages a three-language formula, i.e. three languages are to be taught at the school level – Two native Indian languages, and one foreign language. The idea behind teaching two native languages is to expose students to the rich cultural heritage of the country, and thereby catalyze the imbibitions of Indian culture and a common national identity.

The policy proposes that the medium of instruction until the 5th standard is to be the regional language, and this medium of instruction is to be followed, if possible, until the 9th standard. This intention, however noble in its pursuit, is imprudent in its consequences and hypocritical in its approach when viewed from the standpoint of the NEP. 

The author has identified a number of shortcomings in this policy decision.

Firstly, the policy has clearly undermined the importance of English as the preferred business language across the globe. Since a long, the Indian education system has emphasized the importance of English as the medium of instruction. And this emphasis is very well placed if we consider the fact that a quarter of the world population speaks English, making it the single most widely spoken language around the world.[1]

In view of the above statistics, proficiency in English becomes a sine qua non of a world-class workforce. However, this prospect of cultivating a world-class workforce looks bleak in light of the present policy as it undermines the importance of English during the formative years of childhood when languages are easily learned.

The policy provides the regional language as the medium of instruction until the 6th standard. This takes away crucial years from students where they could have grasped and practiced English. This will certainly have a negative impact on the quality of the workforce, which in turn will have profound long term consequences for the economy as well.

Secondly, it will inevitably have an adverse impact on equality of opportunity. Presently, a student even studying in a government school has access to English language resources, similar to his contemporaries studying in private schools who come from well off families.

However, if the present policy is implemented, although regional language may be used as the medium of instruction in both – Govt. and Private Schools, the parents of students in private schools may choose to get their children enrolled in private English coaching classes because of the fact that has more resources at their disposal. This will rob students coming from impoverished backgrounds an equal opportunity, and further deepen the gap between the rich and poor.

Thirdly, this attempt to ignite a feeling of national integration may prove to be counter-intuitive, and may further lead to regionalism, especially at university and college level, if the students are not pro-efficient enough in English by the time they pass their higher secondary exams, as this would lead to their inability to communicate with their peers who come from different regions.

Further, there is a high probability that this trend may well continue when they look for employment opportunities. 

Fourthly, there is a lack of practicality in learning more than one native language. For understanding this aspect, we will have to understand the different stages in an individual’s life.

When a child is born, he interacts with his parents and picks up their language without any formal training. This language becomes his mother tongue. The proficiency attained in one’s mother tongue is influenced by a number of factors; however, verbal lucidity is more than enough to serve one’s purpose.

Further, when the person starts to interact with people outside his family, say with school peers, the predominant language of conversation is the regional language. Formal training may be warranted with respect to regional language because mere verbal lucidity is not enough; one may need reading and writing skills as well for accomplishing daily tasks conveniently.

However, when one reaches the university level, there is a likelihood that he is no more surrounded by peers speaking the same regional language. In this situation, it becomes imperative for him to communicate in a common language- English.

This three language formula works just fine. However, the government seeks to impart formal training for the mother tongue (or in substitution, some other native Indian language). This amendment will only add to the burden of the students while adding no substantial advantage to their employability.

Further, the justifications by the government for this initiative seem largely illusionary and lacking touch with reality, as the only reasons to learn the native Indian languages, as pointed out in the policy, is that they are – rich, scientific, beautiful and expressive. Therefore, the policy has failed to point out any pragmatic grounds for emphasising proficiency in a native Indian language over proficiency in English.

This aspect of forced multilingualism also undoes the effort of the NEP aimed at reducing the academic burden on the students and its endeavor of curtailing the menace of private coaching institutions, as mentioned at the beginning of the article. 

Although the government has been able to introduce an overall ambitious, futuristic, comprehensive, and pragmatic education policy, it has probably overlooked the impracticality of the three language formula.

The unwavering commitment of the present-day government to the ideals of nationalism is idiosyncratic to right-wing ideology, which has triumphed the interest of students and jeopardized their employability.

The author certainly believes that this aspect of forced multilingualism must be re-evaluated and course correction measures should be put in place before it is too late.


[1]Howson, P. (2013). THE ENGLISH EFFECT [Ebook] (2nd ed.). British Council. Retrieved 31 August 2020, from https://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/english-effect-report-v2.pdf.


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