Mother Tongue: Soul of Life

  • IASbaba
  • February 24, 2022
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(Sansad TV: Perspective)

Feb 21: Mother Tongue: Soul of Life – https://youtu.be/PYC3F_mWzaA 


  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • GS-2: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Education

Mother Tongue: Soul of Life

Context: The theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day is focused on the use of Technology for Multilingual Learning

  • According to the Language Census India is home to 19,500 languages or dialects, of which 121 languages are spoken by 10,000 or more people in our country. 
  • National Education Policy released in 2020 has strongly advocated imparting early education in regional language or mother tongue.

The History

  • On February 21, 1952, Pakistan’s police opened fire on students of University of Dhaka (in erstwhile East Pakistan) protesting against the imposition of Urdu. 
  • The Bengali language movement demanded the inclusion of Bengali as a national language of Pakistan, in addition to Urdu, which was the mother tongue of only 3-4% of the nation, while Bengali was spoken by more than 50% of the population.
  • On January 9, 1998, Canada-based Rafiqul Islam wrote to the United Nations, asking them to commemorate the 1952 killings in Dhaka and mark the day to preserve languages from around the world from extinction. 
  • This led to the declaration of 21st February as International Mother Language Day. 

Cause of Concern 

Mother tongue has a very powerful impact in the formation of the individual. A child’s first comprehension of the world around him, the learning of concepts and skills and his perception of existence, starts with the language that is first taught to him – his Mother Tongue.

  • When a person speaks their Mother Tongue, a direct connection establishes between heart, brain and tongue.
  • Linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages disappear. 
  • Globally around 40 per cent of the population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand. 
  • 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.

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. 

Concerns around the subject

  • 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 need to understand that 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.

Concerns around the school’s performance

  • 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.
  • 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 

  • English is commonly mastered as a second language – and primary education happens 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). 

Concerns around the expertise of teachers in the subject

  • 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 Way Forward

  • Expand the initiative: We 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. 
  • Textbooks in Native Languages: There is lack of high-quality textbooks in native languages at all levels. This creates bottleneck for more students to take up styding in their mother tongue and therefore needs to be addressed urgently.
  • Leveraging Technology in Digital age: Content in the digital learning ecosystem is greatly skewed towards English which excludes the vast majority of our children, and this has to be corrected.
  • Non-exclusivist approach: Educational institutions at all levels should not adopt ‘Mother tongue versus English’, but a ‘Mother tongue plus English’ approach. In today’s increasingly interconnected world, proficiency in different languages opens new vistas to a wider world.


  • 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.

Can you answer the following questions?

  1. Why should children learn in their mother tongue? Discuss.

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