By Vaidehi Gautam
The Ministry of Education released the National Education Policy (NEP 2020) on 29th July 2020. As soon as its approval came through by the cabinet, it was hailed as a progressive and phenomenal policy. This policy focuses on diverse aspects in imparting education in the country and calls for a total reformation of the school curriculum from elementary education to higher secondary education. It has been nearly one year since the release of NEP 2020 took everyone by storm, but it is yet to come into effect and soon enough. In the light of its expected execution, it is crucial to analyse the policy from a critical lens, especially the issues around language.
We are all aware that India does not have a national language despite misinformed claims of Hindi being the national language of India. The debates around Hindi imposition have seen many agitations especially in Southern India. NEP endorses multilingualism and the importance of knowing regional languages.
The data from the 2011 census shows that only 24.8% of people can speak an additional language other than their mother tongue. Only 7% can speak more than two languages. NEP advocates for the power of regional languages by taking inspiration from other nations, but what it fails to consider is the relative heterogeneity of our country with respect to the countries of inspiration.
For a country as diverse as India, the only logical option for the link language comes out to be English due its lack of cultural roots which might otherwise flare up debates. English is the most in demand language that plays a huge role in determining one’s employability. The reason for establishing the significance of the English language here is that the NEP proposes that the medium of instruction till class 5, preferably till grade 8, should be in their local languages. This implies that despite the more economic value of English, a student under the curriculum of NEP would be officially introduced to it after class 8. This poses many challenges. First challenge would be finding teachers who would be able to teach children a non-English language that is different from their mother tongue, as per the Three-Language Formula.
Second challenge posed by this provision would be availability of resources in different languages which would require a huge amount of money and time. Third challenge would be the selection of regional languages to be taught in a region where more than one regional language exists. Fourth challenge is the problem of language barriers for children whose parents get transferred often from one state to the other. Fifth and the most significant challenge would be access to English language for children who belong to marginalised sections.
It is imperative to assume that privileged children would be able to have access to private tuitions for English language and by the time they would reach class 8, they would be well versed with the basics of the English language. This would deepen the language between the privileged and marginalised section of children and facilitate biases on grounds of caste and class.
These challenges with respect to the language policies need to be considered by the policymakers to avoid turning NEP into an exclusionary reform for the underprivileged children. A re-assessment of the policy and its budgeting needs to be done before it is brought into the curriculum. The state needs to keep diversity, development and economy in mind with respect to their focus upon the regional languages, and a majoritarian view must be avoided at all costs.
Vaidehi Gautam is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Gender Studies from Ambedkar University Delhi. She is interested in politics, public policy, gender, pop culture, and loves to stay caffeinated and revisit basic mathematics from her school days. Presently she is interning with kractivist.org