Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXIX No. 6, July 1-16, 2019

Implications of language formula on Tamil Nadu’s progress

by A Special Correspondent

The draft National Education Policy 2019 has brought the vexed question of language in education once again to the fore. The initial draft recommended the three-language formula that was rejected fifty years ago. The resistance has prevailed over the years – on seeing the outcry to the initial draft, the Central Government rephrased the report text to the effect that students could change their language preference in Grades 6 or 7, “so long as they are able to still demonstrate proficiency in three languages (one at the literature level) in their modular Board examination sometime during secondary school”.

Speaking of ‘imposition’ has led to much misunderstanding. We should be clear about what it means and what it does not. It means that alternatives should be offered according to one’s preference and they should not deliberately or unintentionally deny choice. So long as there is a range of practical options, we can choose what we want – there is no imposition. Secondly, ‘imposition’ does not mean that the subject/language that we are “opposed” to should not even be one of the available options. Thirdly, benchmarking qualifications for jobs and other opportunities should not be equated to “imposition”. Fourthly, in exercising choice, children should know how it would affect career prospects differently.

A liberal understanding of the term ‘three-language formula’ can ease tension and impart more flexibility to the language schedule in schools. It should not be confined to mean simultaneous learning of three languages, or mean three languages as a must and not two. Firstly, three languages could be covered at different stages of schooling – say, English and Tamil in the first seven years and, say, Hindi, in the remaining five years of high school. Secondly, there should be an option for learning three or two languages but in the latter case, it is in the interest of the students to learn one link language, that is, either English or Hindi.

The National Policy on Education 1968, by initiating the three-language formula, has imposed an undue burden on children to learn the mother tongue, English as well as Hindi or one other Indian language. Too much of the same kind is sheer boredom and children end up losing interest in the entire curriculum, not just the languages. “Oh, our children are capable of handling three languages,” is a common refrain. The question is not whether they are capable but whether that capacity can be put to more effective use. The Policy’s obsession with language learning has also upset the balance between learning subjects and learning languages, given the childrens’ time, energy and motivation level.

Presently, in Tamil Nadu CBSE schools, English is the medium of instruction and three languages are taught – English as the first language, Tamil/Sanskrit as the second and Hindi as the third. But State Board Government schools teach only two languages – Tamil and English. Private English-medium schools under State Board teach only Tamil and English as languages.

Education is also a State subject – in 2006, Tamil Nadu enacted the Tamil Nadu Tamil Learning Act which mandated Tamil instruction in schools, on finding that many students avoided Tamil by opting for Hindi or Sanskrit in private schools. Likewise, the draft NEP 2019 has also expressed a needless fear of the dominance of English language in the country citing its foreignness, saying that the power structure that it has created “must be stopped at the earliest”.

The suppression of English must be resisted for two reasons. Firstly, English is the window to the world. It opens immense possibilities and gives India a global advantage.

Secondly, weakening the status of English in curriculum is a subtle way of raising the predominance of Hindi to the disadvantage of non-Hindi speaking States. Tamil Nadu should not, therefore, oppose English but defend its continuance and promote it strongly. If both Hindi and English are opposed and neglected, Tamil Nadu would become a language-locked State.

To sum up, the system must offer practically relevant choices for language as the medium of instruction and language for its literary value. As English has a much greater access to higher knowledge and opportunities, there is no harm opening this door at every stage, leaving it to the student to take it or choose some other language. Likewise, Hindi being the widest spoken language in the country, it should also be offered as an option for the student. Local languages are our rich heritage and must be strongly rooted at the foundation stage. All the languages should not be scheduled for learning simultaneously, but at different stages of the schooling phase.

The table (given below) is an example to show that the structure could be made less complicated. Readers may come up with other possibilities.

Classes

Medium of Instruction

Language Learning

1 to 7 Regional language* I – Regional Language*
II – English
8 to 12 Option 1: Regional Language* Non-Hindi areas –
English or Hindi
Hindi areas –
English or Indian language
8 to 12 Option 2: English Non-Hindi areas –
Regional language* or Hindi
Hindi areas –
Hindi or Indian language

The scheme simplifies the load with only two languages from classes 1–7 and only one language from 8-12. Strong foundation in regional language is provided from classes 1-7. In the higher classes, more time is available for subjects. In classes 8 -12, if the Regional Language (Tamil) is the medium, English or Hindi are the options. If English is the medium, the language option is the Regional Language (Tamil) or Hindi. So, none of the three languages are neglected. Hindi is not imposed on non-Hindi states at any stage, but made available only as an optional language from classes 8 to 12, for 5 years. It is seen that English is imparted for 7 years as Language to prepare for its use as medium of instruction under option 2, for 5 more years. Thus, the door of opportunity to the country is open through Hindi and to the world through English under the options, the choice being left to the student depending on his/her aspiration level. The three-language spirit is retained but removing the burden of simultaneous learning of three languages. Regional language is not neglected but it flourishes either (i) as the medium of instruction for 12 years and as language for 7 years or (ii) as the medium for 7 years and language for 12 years. The offer of “any modern Indian language” is not really of much significance as it is unlikely that students, say, from Bengal would want to learn Tamil or those from Punjab would opt for Malayalam.

The linguistic diversity and consequent complexity, perhaps unparalleled in the world, combined with competitive language chauvinism is affecting the ability of education to prepare young men and women for a self-reliant future. A large number of children of economically disadvantaged sections studying in government schools, are linguistically disconnected from the world outside the State. These graver concerns must be addressed without getting lost in language promotion battles.

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