Welcome decision

Welcome decision

The most welcome idea in the Supreme Court’s ruling on language policy is that it is not for the government to decide what and how children should learn, even in schools it does not run.

A constitution bench of the court struck down on Tuesday the Karnataka government’s orders of 1994 which had laid down that the medium of instruction from Class I to IV is all schools in the state should be the mother tongue or Kannada. The government had also withdrawn the recognition of some schools which had refused to abide by the rule. The court rightly took the basic constitutional view that parents have the freedom to choose the medium of instruction for their children. The government orders contravened the right to freedom of expression, which is implied in the selection of the medium of instruction, and the right of minority schools to offer their scheme of education.

Language is an emotional issue not only in Karnataka but elsewhere too. This mainly arises from concern over the health and future of regional languages when less and less children opt to study in these languages. It has often put English in an adversarial position. Research studies  which claim that instruction in the mother tongue is best for the comprehension and development of children are also cited in support. But, as the court noted, these arguments are not good enough for the government to decide what is best and most beneficial for the children. Regional languages and the rich traditions and culture which they embody need to be protected and promoted. For that the government can make the regional language one of the mandatory subjects to be taught at the primary level. 

It is noticeable that English-medium private schools have seen an explosive growth all over the country even in the countryside. People send their children to these schools because English is seen as the language of opportunities, aspirations and even social mobility in a globalising world. There is a pragmatic element in the choice of the parents. The issue is not whether it is good or bad for students from any perspective, but that it is wrong to coerce them into accepting a single option. The West Bengal government had abolished English in primary classes but had to reintroduce it after public pressure. The perceived threat to regional languages may also be exaggerated, because languages only grow stronger in a diverse environment.

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