Need for balance

The whole country will be watching with interest the Supreme Court’s verdict on the issue of language policy in education which is currently before it. The judgment could have a far-reaching bearing on the future of mother tongue in education and the development of the languages themselves, as the ‘battle’ between the mother tongue and English is on in many states. The Karnataka government received a legal setback when the Supreme Court refused to stay the state high court’s order quashing the state’s language policy of 1994. The policy had mandated that students in the state should be imparted education in their mother tongue from Standard I to IV. It is based on the well accepted principle that the mother tongue of a child is the best medium of instruction in the early stages of schooling, but unfortunately, it has got entangled with the modern ‘craze’ for English and the belief that those who study in mother tongue will remain ‘backward.’

The principle which the high court chose to go by is the need to uphold the parent’s freedom to decide the language in which the child should get education. The continuing controversy involves a clash between these two ideas in educational thought — the primacy of parent’s choice and the need for schooling in mother tongue. It is doubtful whether the high court or the Supreme Court has given full consideration to all the issues involved and their implications. What good is the parent’s freedom if it does not ultimately help the child? The principle of mother tongue as medium will be enforced only in the primary classes and students can later shift to any other medium of choice, including English. Would the student have been rendered “ineligible even for clerical jobs” in those four years? The court’s observation that instruction in mother tongue would disadvantage students with a rural background also does not seem to be correct.

It is true that schools which impart education in the mother tongue, which are mainly government schools, are deficient in infrastructure and trained teachers and have to be improved in many ways. But the remedy is not to rule them out of existence, which the court’s position might eventually lead to. It is possible to evolve and implement a language policy which will help the students to develop their mind and personality and promote pride in their mother tongue, while equipping them to face the challenges and requirements of the modern world with the knowledge of English.

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