NEP's Approach to Language: An Appraisal

Providing formal education in the medium of native languages entails massive preparation -- trained language teachers and textbooks for all subjects, in each and every native language.

With the imposition of Macaulay English Education Act in 1935, the native languages like Hindi, Urdu and Sanskrit gradually ceased to be the medium of instruction in traditional schools. In the post colonial Bharat, the bias for English at the cost of native languages and dialects was wilfully continued for nearly 70 years. This led to alarming consequences -- 220 languages became extinct in the last 50 years, 197 languages were declared endangered by UNESCO, and some languages listed in the 8th schedule of the constitution began facing problem.

For the first time after independence, the sovereign Bharat, through NEP : 2020, showed its concern for native languages as integral part of its diverse culture. The usage of regional languages or dialects  as medium of instruction at the initial levels of learning process will not only help preserve the specific languages as well as dialects and ethnic cultures associated to them, but also aid the cognitive potential of the infant learners. The policy in this regard respects every single language and dialect of every ethnic group of all regions and gives an option of three languages, out of which one may be a foreign one. This is a highly liberal and democratic approach to the choice of languages, where choice rests with the state, the region and the learner. Nothing has been imposed from above. The effectiveness of mother tongue as medium of instruction at initial levels has been scientifically proved in the world. And people of the country get it after 70 years of independence!

Providing formal education in the medium of native languages entails massive preparation -- trained language teachers and textbooks for all subjects, in each and every native language. Since language policy will be applicable to both private and govt. schools, the onus of providing textbooks in a multitude of native languages rests on the central and the state governments. The policy makers are aware of this gigantic issue. To address this challenge, an Indian Institute of Translation and Interpretation (IITI) is proposed to be set up. IITI will have countrywide presence as department of Translation and Interpretation in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to produce textbooks in local languages and, parallel to this, conducting quality programme for degree in translation and interpretation. Another uphill task for the government machinery is to make available competent language teachers. This may be addressed by state governments who will recruit and train such teachers before their deployment in schools. This measure will go a long way in creating employment opportunity for vernacular teachers. There are universities and colleges running degree programmes in some of these regional languages, but lack of job potential rendered these courses, in the long run, unpopular. Now this stream of learning will gain momentum and vernacular languages will get desired fillip.

An impressive feature of the language policy of NEP is the measures to strike a healthy and pragmatic balance among three classes of language -- native languages, classical languages and foreign languages. The value and utility of all the three classes of language have been duly recognised. The NEP recognises the fact that children pick up languages extremely quickly between the ages 2 and 8 and also that multilingualism has enormous cognitive benefits for young learners. As such, it is proposed that up to grade II the emphasis will be on the mother tongue, while two other languages will be read from grade III to V; in grades VI to XII the learners will be given option of two classical languages out of Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Odiya, Pali, Prakrit and Persian; at the secondary level the learners will be have a choice of a foreign language like English, Korean, Japanese, Thai, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. The languages listed in the 8th Schedule of the constitution are proposed to be preserved and enriched by setting up separate academics for each language. Classical languages are to be preserved and enriched through National Institute(s) for Pali, Persian and Prakrit. Besides, Sanskrit universities are proposed to be transformed into large multidisciplinary institutions of higher learning. And finally, the proposal to standardise Indian Sign languages (ISL) for deaf and mute learners is a welcome step. This becomes relevant in view of the fact that, as of now, many variants of sign language are in currency, like Bangalore-Madras sign language, Bombay sign language, Calcutta sign language, Punjab sign language, Alipur sign language, etc.

The language policy of the NEP is a well considered endeavour to preserve and promote Bharat's cultural wealth with a view to developing  a unified national identity. It will develop in young students a sense of being rooted to their soil and make them pride in Bharat. The NEP document states, "language , of course, is inexplicably linked to art and culture ......In order to preserve and promote culture, one must preserve and promote a culture's language." This notion regarding the roots and significance of language demolishes the popular perception, carefully nurtured for the last 70 years, that language is a sheer  sign or mode of inter-personal communication, harnessed to maximal materialistic advantage. The language policy endorses, what Sri Atul Kothari, eminent educational thinker, opined -"Language is the carrier of culture and sanskar. With the decadence of language, culture and sanskar  also  decay; with a change in language, values also change".
The bold efforts of the NEP to rehabilitate indigenous languages merits whole-hearted welcome and loud applause. Indian languages are, NEP  document  observes, 'the richest, most scientific, most beautiful, and most expressive'. Being well educated in one's own language, as demonstrated by many developed countries, is 'a huge benefit to educational, social, and technological advancement'. Besides, 'for purpose of cultural enrichment as well as national integration , all young Indians should be aware of the rich and vast  array of languages of their country'--the NEP aptly observes. With this end in mind the NEP recommends that students in grades VI- VIII will participate in fun project or activity to learn about the unifying properties of the major Bharatiya languages--their common phonetics, scientifically ordered alphabet, common grammatical  structures, their common origin, and indigenous sources of vocabulary been hearing with interest a catchy slogan regarding her culture - 'Unity in diversity'. However, our experience so far in the post colonial period shows that we only noticed 'diversity' of cultures often at war amongst themselves, but we hardly ever perceived any 'unity' amongst them giving us the feel of 'One Bharat'. The required unity and cohesion of cultures is sought to be forged, to a great extent, by this language policy. It needed the vision and perception of a statesman to let the diversity of cultures freely thrive and flourish while, at the same time, to make every cultural and ethnic group feel and experience that all indigenous cultures are inextricably interwoven and intertwined together with threads stemming from one and the same embryo. The scheme of languages of NEP seeks to execute this onerous mission of unifying the varied cultures of the country. Every Bharatiya must welcome this. Any criticism of this policy in the name of  Hindi, which has not been imposed, or in the name of English , which has not been banished, is grossly  misplaced. It is high time that the people of Bharat, especially the intelligentsia, rise above petty political and parochial considerations and contribute to make a sweet symphony using the varied sounds and tones of nearly 2000 languages representing as many shades of cultures that Bharat has.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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NEP 2020 Education Policy

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