Promoting Native Languages – The Big Picture – RSTV IAS UPSC

  • IASbaba
  • June 16, 2021
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The Big Picture- RSTV, UPSC Articles
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TOPIC: General Studies 2:

  • Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Education

In News: Reaching out to the Members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu elaborated on the importance of strong foundational skills in the first language in the initial years of informal learning at home. Describing the first learned and spoken mother tongue as the ‘soul of life’, Vice President of India and Chairman of Rajya Sabha has passionately urged all the Members of Parliament to actively contribute to the cause of preservation and promotion of Indian languages.

Cause of Concern 

Though the use of mother languages as mediums of instruction in school and higher education has been armoured from pre-Independence times, sadly, the number of those desiring to study in English has been multiplying exponentially. This has led to the burgeoning of monolingual educational institutes governed by the English language and is creating a society that is far from sensitive, just and equitable.

The nature of dominance of English over all other mother languages is allied to power, status and identity of students. Students speaking different mother languages come together to study in an educational institute where they interact with each other without any difficulties at both school and higher education level. Yet they are being taught monolingually through a foreign language that not all students are able to associate with. The whole process has led to the ignorance of mother languages and a feeling of disassociation among students.

Mother Tongue Based Multi-Lingual Education (MTBMLE): It could play a key role in preserving tribal languages, claim linguistic experts. Ignoring mother tongue- based intervention in early childhood for tribal children could potentially impede the early childhood learning process.

Many languages that are kept out of Eighth Schedule are in some ways more deserving to be included in the Schedule. For Example: Sanskrit, an Eighth Schedule language, has only 24,821 speakers (2011 Census). Manipuri, another scheduled language, has only 17,61,079 speakers. Similarly, many unscheduled languages have a sizeable number of speakers: Bhili/Bhilodi has 1,04,13,637 speakers; Gondi has 29,84,453 speakers; Garo has 11,45,323; Ho has 14,21,418; Khandeshi, 18,60,236; Khasi, 14,31,344; and Oraon, 19,88,350.

Need to teach children in their mother tongue

According to the National University of Education, Planning and Administration, the number of children studying in English medium schools in India increased by an astonishing 273% between 2003 and 2011. Their parents think they know exactly what they are doing and why: they believe that knowledge of English is key to job security and upward mobility, and they are convinced that their children’s opportunities will increase in direct proportion to their English vocabularies.

They are right, but they are also totally wrong. Knowing English helps a lot in getting a good job, but only if that English is meaningful, accompanied by understanding and fundamental knowledge in all the other things children go to school to learn. The English used in most Indian schools simply does not allow for any real learning to take place.

The subject is complex and fascinating. Given India’s linguistic diversity, the dream of a common language is quiet powerful. And English seems to many the only solution. Yet the results so far are abysmal.

In the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), India scored 75th out of 77 countries. This is an overall indicator of how schools are performing and does not specifically implicate English as a culprit. PISA continues to rank countries around the world, but after its 2009 humiliation, India has refused to participate, citing cultural inappropriateness in the testing.

Keeping its head in the sand is one approach. But India’s primary education is notorious for its rote learning, poorly trained teachers and lack of funding (India spends only 2.6% of its GDP on education; China spends 4.1 and Brazil is more than double India’s at 5.7).

English as the language of instruction makes all of it worse – developmentally, it is a disaster. Consider school from the child’s perspective. Most kids are tiny when they set off from home. For the first time in their lives, they have to cope in a strange environment for many hours with a large number of other children whom they do not know. They must sit still, be quiet and speak only on command. The teacher, who is also a stranger, expects children to master completely new concepts: reading and writing; addition and subtraction; photosynthesis; the difference between a city and state and country.

Other countries do not do this to their children – China, France, Germany, Holland or Spain – all countries where English is commonly mastered as a second language – and one will find primary education happening in the dominant language of the area. At the moment, only about 17% of Indian children are in English medium schools. Current trends suggest that this figure will rise exponentially in the coming decade (Bihar saw a rise of 4700% in just five years). 

While the research is clear that children learn best in their own mother tongues, there are other compelling arguments as well, particularly in India. Classrooms are only as good as their teachers – in India, in 2012, 91% of the teachers currently serving in both private and government schools were unable to pass a national eligibility test. With this level of incompetence, we still expect them to teach in a language they are likely weak in themselves.


The language of instruction should simply be a vehicle, an effortless flow of grammar and words which everyone absorbs without having to puzzle it through for meaning and definition. Science, maths and literacy are hard enough as it is without adding so many layers of complexity. The country needs its next generation of leaders to master their fundas thoroughly so they can go on to practise medicine, build bridges, put in plumbing and design solar lighting systems. And children can learn second, third and fourth languages all in good time.

But that will happen only if those youngsters grow up loving language, not feeling threatened and judged by it. We need them to write poetry and songs and novels. We need them to feel proud of their mother tongues, not apologetic and ashamed as if their intelligence is based on how much English they know.

Must Read: Three-language formula: History and Analysis

Connecting the dots:

  1. Languages are an important identity of India’s liberal and democratic society. Elaborate
  2. Why should children learn in their mother tongue? Discuss.
  3. UNESCO has created a list of endangered languages of India where 42 languages have been listed as critically endangered. In the light of above fact discuss why is it important for India to protect its regional languages? What measures can be taken to prevent the extinction of local languages?

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