While teaching students up to grade 5 in the mother tongue or regional language will promote multilingualism, students may find it difficult to cope with the curriculum in higher grades where the language of instruction is English , according to many school principals.
In accordance with the new National Education Policy (NEP), the language of instruction up to at least grade 5, but preferably to grade 8 and beyond, will be mother tongue, mother tongue, the local language and the regional language.
“We must first distinguish between language and literacy. Language speaks and is natural to our brain. Literacy is reading and writing that needs to be learned by our brain,” said Vishnu Karthik, Principal, Heritage Schools. He said children’s brains are designed to learn multiple languages, and the more languages they are exposed to, the more languages they can absorb from an early age. “Thus, teaching in a single language is not the best use of the critical learning windows that nature has given for language learning. Teaching only in English or only in the mother tongue is not a good practice. On the contrary, a healthy mix of 2-3 languages is good for kids in primary school,” he said. When it comes to literacy (reading and writing), Karthik said it’s best to keep it simple by focusing on just two literacy languages. “For urban parents, English and a vernacular should suffice. A third literacy can be acquired after grade 5,” he added.
According to Alka Kapur, Principal of Shalimar Bagh Modern School, English is a universal language and in the guidelines it is written that it can be used as far as possible. “It is not clear whether ‘as far as possible’ means subject or place. English should be a common language because everyone wants their child to know the language and I think if it is taught in the basic state that would be great,” she said. “The regional language with the English language would be a good idea because the English language is a window to the world and every child in the foundation should focus on learning English,” she added.
A representative from Green Fields Public School, who declined to be identified, said: “It is okay to promote multilingualism, but making (vernacular) languages the medium of instruction is not a wise approach. Suddenly, when students move on to higher grades, we will find them struggling with English, which is now the official working language in majority places”.
Pallavi Upadhyaya, Director, DPS Raj Nagar Extension, Ghaziabad, said the new educational policy focuses on a trilingual approach and aims to teach students in their early years of development more than one mother tongue. “The policy clearly states that no language will be imposed on anyone, it will be the choice of the school and the students independently. The decision taken by the Ministry of Education is to promote multilingualism and national unity. We will only plan our action plan after discussion with stakeholders,” she said.
When the first version of the policy was unveiled last year, language issues caused the most outrage as it called for compulsory teaching of Hindi to all students. The clause was later dropped and the final policy document states that “there will be greater flexibility in the trilingual formula, and no language will be imposed on any state”.
“The three languages learned by the children will be the choice of states, regions and of course the students themselves, provided that at least two of the three languages originate from India. Sanskrit will be offered as an option at all levels of school and higher education,” the policy says, adding that other classical languages will also be available, possibly as online modules, while foreign languages will be offered at the secondary level.