The connection between the growth and development of the brain of a child up to six years and education in mother tongue is an extremely poignant point of the new education policy. It is scientifically valid and philosophically prudent. And yet there is a lot of criticism. There are many reasons given against this policy which I would like to comment and critique suggesting a need for further debate.
One of the arguments against this is when people move from one state to another, the local language will change disregarding the fact that mother tongue will always remain the same. There is a strong elitist objection for promotion of local languages. It is not surprising. When admission to elite management institutions put so much weight on the English language and so also in other competitive examinations, the preference for the English language is understandable. Every poor person aspires that his child is able to speak in English. In fact, when the child is able to speak a few sentences in English, there is a celebration in the house of a worker and the child is told to perform in the presence of guests. Almost every village has an English medium school, no matter of what quality. The future prospects of two young persons with equal calibre but one knowing English better, are decidedly better for him. The new education policy has not tackled this contradiction in a clear and unambiguous manner. Unless we reduce the weightage of English – writing and speaking, in the growth path of the child, the bias against mother tongue will remain. And that is most unfortunate.
The ability to conceptualize, frame thoughts and articulate them in mother tongue is always higher than in the second language. It is all the more so, when parents don’t know good English. There is no correlation between ability to speak/write in good English and develop new concepts, paradigm or theories or discharge professional duties. And yet, we have continued to be biased in favour of the English language. To maintain national solidarity and avoid regional conflicts, nobody disputes the need for the English language to be learnt a little later in life. But in the formative years, when the child is forming concepts, making sense of the things and trying to express one’s inner feelings, reliance on mother tongue can be very empowering.
To make this policy successful, the elite will help to make a beginning. The ministers, bureaucrats, educationists will have to practice this idea in the interest of the growth and development of their own children. If they continue to practice the opposite, then the trust of common people in this policy will be weakened. I am aware of many government schools where teachers have modulated activity-based learning with a lot of other supplementary activities that add joy of discovery in the life of children. Not surprisingly, children have moved from private school to such government schools. But, this is an exception. The general trend is the opposite.
To make this policy successful, we have to change the policy and training system of school teachers. Teachers must learn to discover the unique strength of the child and kindle her/his curiosity in the chosen direction. For instance, if the child is interested in wildlife, then teachers should use examples from the wildlife ecosystem to teach and develop various concepts. Similarly, another child is fascinated by fan or motor car or stars. This will increase the workload of the teacher. The mother tongue is not just about language but is about original grounded thinking and learning from grassroots realities.
If we have one teacher teaching three classes in a room, as is the case in many government schools, we should forget about deeper engagement between the teacher and the taught. Given the fact that hardly 25 % families have smart phones in rural areas and 75 % illiterate people are women, we can realize the situation of a learner of a working mother. To study at home is a good concept when parents are literate and well-informed. There is a need to make heavy investments in education and ensure that we have one teacher for 20 children and each teacher should be encouraged to develop learning pedagogy for each child to make her feel special and boost her self-esteem. With the current dropout rates, the education policy in the past aimed at producing two classes of children. One, to be ruled and the other to rule. The new policy can make a difference. But it will require a complete overhaul of the system of teacher recruitment, induction, continuous training, innovation and peer learning. There is hardly any emphasis on learning from innovative initiatives of teachers in the teachers’ training institutions. There is also very little focus on highlighting the lessons teachers learn from students/children. Are we ready for such an overhaul followed by a massive boost in resource allocation? Are we also willing to stop the political interference for posting and transfer of teachers? And of course, will the teachers do their jobs instead of handling other responsibilities.