– Vidya Deshpande
Whenever there is a discussion on the medium of instruction for pre-primary and primary school education, mother tongue has always been the preferred medium of instruction. We need to focus on two important concepts first Education and second Mother tongue. Let’s begin with the analysis of these concepts in the modern context. The challenges have taken a different shape with the changing technologies, modes of transport, economy, needs of society, lifestyle etc. The role of education too has undergone a lot of change. It is now accepted that education is the only key to prosperity and stability. Any job one seeks or any career one intends to persuade implies specific knowledge or some training. Thus, some kind of formal education is essential for everyone. In a way schooling is inevitable for everyone.
Education starts at a very early stage. New education policy acknowledges the role of pre-primary education too. It starts right from the age of 3 of a child. The policy has a structured plan of education at this stage. It covers first five years of schooling. These are the years of building the basic abilities of a child which is supposed to provide good foundation. The next three years are treated to be a preparatory phase of formal education.
Many physical, mental and intellectual abilities are to be developed in these two stages. Medium of instruction is an important component for these stages. Usually the language one speaks at home is treated to be the most suitable medium for communication because a child is familiar with it. It is very easy to follow the instruction and act accordingly. This is true in a simple scenario but the times aren’t so simple now. A child is exposed to various elements that influence his understanding like TV or cell phone, which are very common examples. Similarly, the mother tongue too is influenced by number of different variables. Parents and other members of the family too have exposure to these things which keep making impressions and enhancing expectations of all the stakeholders.
The concept of mother tongue itself has undergone a great change. The country like ours enjoys maximum diversity in all possible way, has to tread very carefully on the issue of mother tongue. We have a number of spoken languages that have their own scripts. Our states have their identity attached to regional languages but every few kilometers, the shade and colour of this language changes. Only the script remains same, the usage and language games are different. Connotation and even syntax changes to the extent that the language becomes unintelligible too. Even if one has good knowledge of Hindi, understanding it in Haryana or in Rajasthan is difficult. The entire Hindi belt is the best example of this phenomenon. So is the case of Marathi. Standard Marathi seems like a foreign language in many parts of Maharashtra as various versions of Marathi across the state have a number of local flavors to it.
Besides this every state has many dialects which have no scripts. Thus, use of the language known to all, becomes impossible. All have to be brought to the level of common language. If it is not available, it is to be identified. Text books are to be prepared, exams are to be conducted, instructions are to be given, and oral skills are to be judged. There are many such tasks to be completed and children are to be made ready for higher education and ultimately to perform one’s role in the society. A very senior government official working in tribal area while discussing the issue of separate books for tribal children stated that such policy will isolate them more. He was of the opinion that these students will have to interact and compete with the rest of the students when they seek jobs or undertake activities for their sustainability. They will have to learn the standard language of the state. Ultimately one learns the language needed for communication. All the officials who get transferred throughout the country, learn languages which they use as a vehicle to communicate. They undertake the learning exercise every time when they get transferred to a new place. Young professionals too have to learn new language because their careers path can take them to different countries. They acquire the working knowledge of the new language.
Even our workers move throughout the country in search of good opportunities. They too acquire the skill of communicating in the regional dialects. They shift along with their families too to the new destination. The children join the local schools. One such article described the situation where teachers and children found an interesting solution to a problem. Migrant children were finding it difficult to learn the vernacular language which has a separate script. The local children taught the compulsory vernacular language to migrant children and the migrant children helped them with Hindi as they being from Hindi belt. The most interesting aspect is that the results of both the subjects improved to the pleasant surprise of teachers. The story came from a remote village of Kerala.
Arunachala Pradesh brought a very interesting aspect of the issue to light in one of the visits. If one has good knowledge of Hindi, one faces no problem in the state as all could converse in Hindi. One has to carefully listen to them as their pronunciation is influenced by their mother tongues. One elderly lady from Tawang caught our attention. When she found that we were from Maharashtra, she told us about her visit to famous world heritage site of Ajanta caves. These caves depict some events of Buddha’s life and Buddhism being the religion of majority of people, they always wanted to visit the caves. We thought she spent a considerable time outside the Arunachala Pradesh as she was speaking fluent Hindi. On the contrary, she told us that as there are a number of dialects spoken by many small groups of people in the state which are totally different from each other. Hindi being one such language which is understood by all, communication without it is next to impossible. Probably due to the need of common language, English had been selected as the medium of instruction at all the levels in the state historically.
significant point to be brought to the notice is of all is, If we travel in the border areas of any state, one finds a unique shade of language. There is a very fascinating fusion of languages where both the languages influence each other to the extent of changing the syntax and the language games. Expressions change, words are borrowed from each other to a great extent, intonation changes, most of the people become bilingual too but many of our states share their borders with multiple other states at the same time. Thus, these phenomena can be experienced in all such areas and in varied such complexities.
There are many countries where people speak one language through out the length and breadth of the territory. It may be a practical option for them but in the country like ours where diversity is a fact, we need to handle the challenge with a deft hand. We cannot let our education system to be an experimental ground for a theory like this unless the data comes from a nation as diverse as ours. It would hurt our society beyond imagination. We need to develop our own model to suit our reality.
We need to evolve our own model according to our requirements and it may take its own time to evolve. There is no simple solution to such a complex phenomenon. It would be fallacy to jump to the answer. Social realities cannot be explained by using just one theory. Very few theories are that inclusive which have capacity to interpret all the aspects of a complex reality like our society. The huge number of students too pose a challenge which cannot be ignored easily. Thus, we need to be very careful in weighing our options while selecting a social theory or a hypothesis in the field of education which has a far-reaching effect.
We need to focus on the quality Education imparted. We need to train our teachers well to make use of modern technology and the changed role of education. Our society needs a variety of roles to be played for a smooth running. Ours is a progressive society and there will not be permanent kind of jobs any more. Education too will be an ever-changing system. Our educators and the entire system should be a changing phenomenon; all need to keep catch up with the needs of the system. An effective and continuous upgrading of skills of all the components would be a key.