By Harshmeet Singh
When the British first learnt about the humongous linguistic diversity in India, they refused to accept India as a nation. For them, one single language for the public was a major prerequisite for a nation, like French for France and German for Germany. Yet, against all the odds, India managed to preserve its linguistic diversity right through the monstrous British rule that lasted close to 300 years.
But slowly enough, India is losing its proud linguistic diversity. The new generation is being forced to take up education in English, thereby shrinking the population of regional language speakers across the country. The significance of regional languages in education is a much debated issue among scholars. Higher education in vernacular language is seen as the very foundation of a learned society.
The decreasing population of vernacular medium schools in India is a major cause for concern. Much before the kid enters the school system; he is exposed to his or her mother tongue. The kid’s first interaction with his surroundings is in his mother tongue. The basis of kid’s first thoughts is his mother tongue.
What does the history say?
Today’s model of our schools was shaped by the European Christian missionaries who replaced the gurukul system in our country. Subjects like English and European history overtook Sanskrit and Indian thoughts. The better employment opportunities for ‘western educated’ Indians in British administration saw a number of parents admitting their kids into the new English medium schools. Till the revolt of 1857, the British gave decent importance to the teaching of Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic languages in school. But post the revolt, primary education was neglected by the British.
In 1882, the Indian Education Commission was set up under Wilson Hunter to propose changes in the education system. While it supported vernacular medium of instruction in primary education, English still continued to be the medium of instruction at secondary and higher level. To counter this, Bal Gangadhar Tilak established the Fergusson College at Pune in 1870 while the Arya Samaj opened Dayanand Anglo Vedic College in Lahore in 1886. In 1898, Mrs. Annie Besant opened the Central Hindu College in Kashi (now Varanasi). All these were meant to give a push to education in vernacular language in the country. The next major boost to vernacular language education came during the non-cooperation movement. Institutes such as Kashi Vidyapeeth, Jamia Millia Islamia and Gujarat University also came into being to give a further push to education in vernacular language.
Importance of vernacular education
According to a UNESCO report, vernacular education greatly enhances the overall learning of the students. Yet, according to the data furnished by National University of Education, Planning and Administration (NUEPA), over 2 crore children were enrolled in English-medium schools from Classes I to VIII in 2010-11; this is a 274% hike from the numbers recorded in 2003-04!
Forcing a kid to change his thought process and think in English, rather than in his mother tongue is a grave injustice to the kid. It is akin to restricting the kid’s ability and taking away his liberty at the very beginning of his learning age. For coming up with ‘original ideas’, the kids need the freedom of thought that can only come with their mother tongue.