National Education Policy 2020: What it means for children of ethnic minorities
The Union Cabinet approved the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 on July 29 this year. The NEP 2020 is the first Indian education policy of the 21st century and replaces the 34-year-old National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986. This new policy aims for universalisation of education from pre-school to secondary level with 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in school education by 2030 and also aims to raise GER in higher education to 50% by 2025.
The existing 10+2+3 structure of school curricular is to be replaced by a 5+3+3+4 curricular structure. Corresponding to ages groups, 3-8 includes three years of pre-primary and class 1-2 (foundational stage); age 8-11 include class 3-5 (preparatory stage); ages 11-14 includes class 6-8 (middle stage) and ages 14-18 include class 9-12 (Secondary stage) respectively. It will include 12 years of schooling and three years of Anganwadi and pre-schooling. This new academic school education structure focus on a strong base of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) from age three and aims at promoting better overall learning, development, and well-being.
Mother Tongue as Medium of Instruction (MoI)
One of the major highlights of the NEP is that it stresses the significance of mother tongue (MT) in learning, which is a very significant change. Almost all leading educationists and child psychologists agree that mother-tongue helps in the cognitive development of children. According to Jhingran, 2009, language is not merely a means of communication but also inextricably linked with our thinking and learning. The children can understand better in the early primary grades when MT or local languages are used as an MoI or explanation of concepts which is new to the children in schools. The used of MT/ home/ local languages further developed their cognitive thinking capacity and improved their self-esteem and confidence. The term “Mother tongue” is emphasised in 4.11– 4.22 and 22.10 of NEP 2020.
“It is well-understood that young children learn and grasp nontrivial concepts more quickly in their home language/mother tongue. Wherever possible, the medium of instruction (MoI) until at least Grade five (5), but preferably till Grade eight (8) and beyond, will be the home language/mother-tongue/local language/regional language. Thereafter, the home/local language shall continue to be taught as a language wherever possible”.
The NEP 2020 mentions that MT as a MoI shall be followed by both public and private institutions in India. The NEP, 2020 (4.11-4.22) talks about the multilingualism and the power of language in the cognitive development of a child. It also talks about preparing high-quality bilingual textbooks and teaching-learning materials for science and mathematics for a child to speak and think about the two subjects both in English and their mother tongue/home language.
But, in practice, it’s going to be extensive work for the education experts in preparing these two subjects in mother tongue when there is not enough literature available for learning. Many of the ethnic minor communities’ languages are still in oral form and not in written.
The NEP 2020 (22.10) has emphasised, the use of mother tongue as an MoI in higher education institution (HEIs) both in government and private. It states that mother tongue/local language shall be used as an MoI in higher education or offer programmes bilingually, to increase access and GER and also to promote the strength, usage, and vibrancy of all Indian languages. Private HEIs too will be encouraged to use Indian language as a MoI and/or offer bilingual programmes. However, there is ambiguity in the policy on which language shall be offered as a bilingual programme in the HEIs both in government and private institutions.
Three Language formulas
In the earlier National Policy on Education 1986 and 1992, Hindi and English language were considered mandatory among the three languages to be taught in schools and higher institutions. The third language would either be regional language, a foreign language or a classical language like Sanskrit. Now this new NEP 2020 provides a choice for the state to select the language to fit the needs of the children of the respective regions said Dr Krishnaswamy who headed the NEP committee, stressed during debate on India Today. He further states that the new three-language formula is meant to be flexible, without imposing a specific language that the state does not want. There is apprehension that state might impose their regional language as MoI in place of their Mother tongue in the primary level of schooling.
Reflection on Mother Tongue as a MoI
Many academicians, policymakers, and linguists welcome the policy and think this significant change in the policy as a positive change in a multi-linguistic country like India. This policy is seen as a step towards responding to the complex cultural and linguistic diversity in the country like India where most of the children are forced to study in a language which is not familiar to them in primary level. However, this policy change might have an adverse impact on children learning who are located in other parts of the states and not in their home town. For instance, there is ambiguity in the use of a particular MT/local language/ regional language/ first language in diverse class background, especially in an urban classroom setting or in rural areas. There is also ambiguity on making the English language as MoI in primary level schooling in a situation where a child family is outside their state/home town. In the north-eastern states and the southern states of India, English languages have been the MoI/ School language for children right from their primary level in the previous NPE 1986. With this implementation of NEP 2020, there are high chances of children studying in other parts of the state will be forced to learn in state regional or local languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Sanskrit Manipuri, Gujarati etc., which is not the mother tongue of the child belonging to ethnic minor communities. The children studying within their state/home town might also face the problem of learning in their MT as most of the mother tongue/home languages are not well developed for teaching and learning process. There is no comprehensive literature available for the children belonging to the ethnic minor communities in India. With this sudden change in MoI, most of the children will face difficulties in learning with their MT especially maths and science subjects.
A way forward
Children studying outside their States/home town should be given a choice to select their preferred languages or English as an MoI at primary level. They should not be forced to learn in regional languages or state language of that particular state. Whereas, children studying within the State/home town that have 100% children with a common language, comprehensive mother tongue can be implemented as an MoI. But, in a situation where the classroom has diverse students from different ethnic communities, the English language can be MoI both in private and government institution. MoI in primary schools and higher institution should be bilingual in nature (English and MT/local/home language). Mother tongue/local/home language could be used for explaining concepts, and English should be used as an MoI until the mother tongue/home language of that particular community is well developed for teaching and learning purpose. The state should not impose the three language formula, but the children/parents should be given the privilege to choose their preferred language.
The new NEP 2020, which emphasises on MT/home/local/regional languages as an MoI in the primary level up to grade 5 and beyond is a positive change. However, there are lots of ambiguity in the policy and its implementation as discussed above. There should not be imposition of regional languages towards the ethnic minor communities. Instead as an alternative English language as an MoI can be used to teach in cases where ethnic minor communities doesn’t have strong literature or vocabulary. English language in today’s world is not only a language but necessary for empowerment and mobility in the world. The learning of MT as a separate subject/disciple in the curriculum can be priorities. Mother tongue/home language/local language can be used for explaining difficult concepts and meanings which the child finds it difficult to understand, such as aeroplane, trains etc.
(Onhring Langhu is a PhD candidate at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. The author can be reached at email@example.com. Views expressed are personal.)