National Education Policy 2019 and the Teaching of English in India

Taking note of the child’s innate ability to acquire languages spontaneously and effortlessly at a very tender age, the National Education Policy (NEP)   of 2019  has  proclaimed that “children will be immersed in three  languages early on, from the Foundational Stage.” (page 80)    As a language teacher   working in the field of English language teaching for decades , I do welcome the decision. Our everyday experience tells us how children acquire multiple languages spontaneously without any inhibition. The ‘untutored multilingualism’ of our children may be the cause of envy for an adult learner who struggles with a new language. All normal children pick up the languages spoken in their immediate neighbourhood without being asked to do so by the adult members of their society. They do it quite normally, innocently and joyfully.

The proposed exposure to three languages at the Foundational stage as envisaged in NEP 2019 is a revolutionary step no doubt, but there is apprehension regarding its implementation. For learning any language, an ‘input rich environment’ is a must and our children, as envisaged in the said document, will learn three languages from the day 1 of their formal schooling as they will be “immersed” in three languages and one of them, in all probability, will be English.  How many of our teachers in the vernacular medium primary schools of India are capable of providing the required input rich environment for learning three languages and creating the atmosphere of “immersion” for the child? Hope the Government will take appropriate  action to remove the mismatch between the “intention” and “implementation.”

A comparative study of the “approaches” to English language teaching  as articulated in the Position Paper on ELT  of National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005 and the latest draft National Education Policy 2019 makes it clear that the architects of the NEP 2019 are  more straight forward in asserting their views  than the architects of the Position Paper on ELT, NCF  2005. Avoiding the debate on the introduction of English at an early stage in  the  Indian context, the said Position Paper of NCF 2005 made a carefully crafted statement:  “The level of introduction of English has now become a matter of political response to people’s aspirations, rendering almost irrelevant an academic debate on the merits of a very early introduction.”   Referring to English, the National Education Policy 2019 states “    ……there has been an unfortunate trend in schools and society towards English as a medium of instruction and as a medium of conversation. Logically speaking, of course, English has no advantage over other languages in expressing thoughts……..” A very straightforward statement. Yes, for “expressing thoughts” English has no advantage over “other languages.” All languages are rich enough for expressing the thoughts of the speakers of the respective languages, whether it is included in the 8th schedule or not. Why, then, is this bonhomie with English ?

Citing Graddol (1997), the Position Paper on ELT 2005 claimed that  “by 2010, a surge in English-language learning will include a third of the world’s people” but the NEP 2019 categorically states that  “We further observe that English has not become the international language that it was expected to become back in the 1960s.”

While the Position Paper on ELT 2005 eulogises English and opines that “Its colonial origins now forgotten or irrelevant”, the NEP 2019  calls English a tool  in the hands of  the  “elites”  and thinks that our attitude to English has  “resulted in the marginalisation of large sections of society based on language, keeping them out of higher-paying jobs and the higher socio-economic strata.”

In spite of pointing out the evil effects of using English  in our society, the NEP 2019  made two  significant policy statements. According to this draft document  we need English  for  two  reasons:

 (1) We need English  “to help break the current divide between the economic elite and the rest of the country, in addition to teaching languages native to India, English must also be available and taught in a high quality manner at all government and non-government schools. The emphasis should be on functionality and fluency. Functionality, fluency and quality are the three key words which should be taken seriously by the teachers teaching English in all Government and private institutions.

(2) We need English as it has become an international language in certain realms such as science and technology research.  By the end of Grade 10, students should be able to speak about science  in English too. To quote from NEP 2019,   “by the end of Grade 10 they can speak about science both in their home language and English”.( p.84.) The document also states that  “it is also important for children (especially those who intend to pursue scientific subjects at a postgraduate level) to become bilingual in science and to be able to communicate science fluently both in their home/local language and in English.”

While the Position  Paper on English Language Teaching, NCF  2005  had declared that the “aim of English teaching is the creation of multilinguals who can enrich all our languages”, the National Education Policy 2019 has restricted English for pursuing scientific subjects  and recommends it for “functionality and fluency.” We don’t need English to “enrich our languages.”

Again, the Position Paper on English Language Teaching of NCF 2005  had suggested that English in India  “needs to find its place along with other Indian languages,” but the draft National Education Policy 2019   has recommended  that  “ interactions between people within India be conducted in languages native to India” (page 83) .  It calls upon the elites and the educated “to make increased use of languages native to India.” (page 82). As English is not native to India, it should not try to find its place “along with other Indian languages.”

English is an international language in certain realms only, remarks the draft National Education Policy. On page 81 of the document, it is stated that “English has not become the international language that it was expected to become back in the 1960s” but on page 82 of the document it is stated that “Of course, English has become an international common language in certain realms”. This positioning of English in NEP 2019 is quite different from that of the Position Paper on ELT of NCF 2005. This paradigm shift has significant implications for ELT pedagogy too.

It is also significant to note that unlike the 2005 NCF document on ELT, the draft NEP 2019 makes a strong plea for equity, quality, functionality and fluency in the domain of English language teaching. Hope no child in India will be deprived of quality English language teaching any more.

By Nishi Pulugurtha These days I speak Telugu much less. Amma does not speak anymore; Alzheimer’s has wrought ravages with her speech. I still speak to her in Telugu. I am sure some bit of my talking does reach out to her somewhere. Appagaru is in another world.

via From Kakinada to Calcutta: Finding a Way through Languages — Cafe Dissensus Everyday

The Myth of My Mother tongue

The language that I first learnt to speak when I was a child was an accidental one as I happened to be born in a particular language community and the language of this community became my mother tongue by default. Like all other children of my age and locality, I had no choice in the selection of my mother tongue and I picked up the sound, the vocabulary and the idioms of this language as it was spoken in my immediate neighborhood. As a child I made the sense of the strange new world around me with the help of this language. I used this language to dream, to talk, to cry, to sing and even to quarrel with my siblings. Everything was perfectly alright till I went to school.
In the admission register of my primary school, my father declared Bengali as my mother tongue just as he had to enter my caste and religion in that register. To my horror, I came to know that the language that had nourished me during my preschool days was not a language at all, it was a dialect, a variant of the ‘standard’ Bengali language spoken by the educated people of Calcutta living thousands of miles away! It is the language of the elites of my community and if I am to climb the ladder of the upward social mobility I should give up the tongue of the rustics! When I grew up I realized that ‘mother tongue’ is an ancestral property that I inherited and it would be the marker of my identity as long as I am alive in his world.
Learning the ‘standard’ variety of my mother tongue was a nightmare for me. In the ‘standard’ language, a cat is called a “biral” but I knew it as a “mekur”, the “pani”(water) became ” jol” (water) when I brought it to school. The conflict between the “home language”, my mother tongue and the “school language” was enough to confuse me as a child. The conflict between my ‘unofficial’ mother tongue and the ‘official’ mother tongue traumatized me. As there was little opportunity of speaking the standard Bengali outside the classroom, my reading and writing ability in the official mother tongue got the upper hand. Whenever, I tried to speak the ‘standard’ variety with my friends, they would mock at me, ” Look, look, the desi kukur is barking like a bilati kukur!” ( A native dog is barking like a foreign dog.”
In retrospect, I feel that the compulsion of using another variety of my officially designated mother tongue was more threatening to my self-esteem than the requirement of using English at the Middle school stage. The experience of being scolded for using the mother tongue ‘wrongly’ or ‘inappropriately’ during the early childhood hunts me till today.
There is nothing unique in the story of my tryst with my mother tongue. Many children speaking the related varieties of an officially recognized language might have faced similar situations.
Determining the mother tongue is always problematic. I have met many children who do not have a single, easily identifiable mother tongue. Take the example of Rohan, a six year old child, the product of a mixed marriage. The father’s mother tongue is Bengali, an Indo-Aryan language while that of the mother is Khasi, an Austric language. The family has been living in Bangalore for more than a decade. The language of communication between Rohan’s father and his mother is English though both of them can speak Hindi, Bengali, Khasi and Kannada. Rohan speaks English while communicating with his parents. He understands both Bengali and Khasi a little though he does not utter a single word in those two languages in the presence of his parents or other paternal or maternal relatives. His caregiver at home is a monolingual Khasi lady who does not speak any language other than Khasi. Will Rohan’s parents declare English as his mother tongue as this is the ‘first language ’ that Rohan has learnt during his childhood? What happens to his ancestral mother tongue? If language is the marker of ethnicity, what will be the ethnicity of this boy whose mother tongue is neither Bengali nor Khasi? The common language between the parents is not the ancestral language of either of the parents.
Let me cite the case of Argha born and brought up in the multilingual cosmopolitan setting of Bangalore. His Bengali speaking parents never uttered a single Bengali word in his presence, they spoke to him in English since his birth and we also have our conversation in English whenever he was around. The first language that this boy has learnt for intra-personal as well as interpersonal communication is English. As Argha’s parents live in a cosmopolitan residential complex, Argha has learnt Hindi and Kannada along with English and he is now quite fluent in all the three languages. What will be the mother tongue of this multilingual boy? English, Hindi or Kannada? If mother tongue is linked to a child’s early language experiences, then Argha should have three mother tongues, English, Hindi and Kannada. In this multilingual scenario, Argha’s ancestral mother tongue is noting but a foreign language for him.
I have a question: Shouldn’t we give up the concept of a single mother tongue? Can we ask a child, “What are your mother tongues?” instead of asking him, “What’s your mother tongue?”

References: Gupta,A.F. (1997) ‘When mother tongue Education is not preferred’ in Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development

Textbooks in English and the mother tongue for A Multilingual Pedagogy

The Position Paper on English Language Teaching published by the National Council of Educational Research and Training, Government of India in 2005 stated that “English in India can occur in tandem with the first languages(s) of the learners at the lower primary stage, or at least in class I to III” and learning activities should be designed to create language awareness of the children exposed to English for the first time. In spite of this significant suggestion made in the said Position Paper on English Language Teaching, English textbooks used at the primary level in India often ignore the existing cognitive and linguistic abilities of the learners who are exposed to English along with their mother tongue or the school language and consequently, the English textbooks alienate the young learners who fail to make a connection between the new language and their mental world. The fact that children use languages for meaning making and making sense of the world around them is often ignored in presenting materials in the English textbooks.
The textbooks used for teaching the mother tongue or the school language, on the other hand, use the materials very carefully to prompt the learners to make a spontaneous connection between the language and their mental world. This double standard of preparing textbooks in English and the mother tongue creates a discordant note in the minds of the very young learners for whom learning English tends to be a mechanical exercise. An English teacher using a multilingual pedagogy in the classroom should be aware of the fact that L1 and L2 do not reside in two separate compartments in the mind of the bilingual child when she is exposed to a second language. L1 and L2 are interwoven in the L2 user’s mind in vocabulary, in syntax, in phonology and in pragmatics. Therefore, ‘learning an L2 is not just adding rooms to your house by building an extension at the back, it is the rebuilding of all internal walls’ (Cook, 2001:407). Using L2 along with the child’s L1 reinforces a child’s repertoire in both the languages and therefore, a multilingual pedagogy is likely to be a double blessing for an Indian child learning English along with her mother tongue or the school language. By providing space for exploring two or more languages together and prompting the children to examine the resources of their home languages in the English class room, the English teacher becomes instrumental in developing the multilingual awareness of the children.
Keeping in view the desirability of using multilingualism as a classroom resource (Agnihotri, 1995:3) for teaching English in India, I made a study to examine and explore the suitability of using the resources of the Hindi textbook, Rimjhim along with the English textbook Marigold used in class I of CBSE and many State Board schools of India. The study examined the linguistic and cognitive challenges faced by the learners in using the materials presented in Marigold and highlighted the suitability of using selected materials from Rimjhim along with the materials presented in the English textbook.
The study was s done in two parts: First, the two textbooks were evaluated using some of the established criteria of material evaluation (Tomlinson,2003) and next, the possibility of preparing a revised version of Marigold with the help of the materials presented in Rimjhim was explored from the point of view of a multilingual pedagogy.
The study used following criteria for evaluating the two textbooks. (a) Do the materials connect between the learning experience of the children in the classroom and the life outside the classroom? (b) Do the textbooks relate the new to the earlier knowledge of the child? (c) Are the language items presented in the books age appropriate? (d) Do the materials prompt the children to use the target language creatively? (e) Are the visuals cognitively demanding for the young learners? (f) Are the activities child-centric or teacher driven? (g) How authentic are the materials? (h) Do the materials presented in the textbooks adhere to local conditions and cultures so that the children can relate them to their familiar world? (i) Is there a scope for experiential learning, complete with activities and clear instructions and opportunities?
In both the English and Hindi textbooks, the units are designed thematically as thematic units help the learners to ‘interpret new language and new information on the basis of their background knowledge’ (Curtain, H. and Dahlberg, C.A, 2004:150). While the Unit 1 of Marigold is about the theme of the house and the people who live in the house, the Unit 1 of Rimjhim is about the school and the life around the school. In the Unit 1 of Marigold, words like girl, boy, grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, sister and brother are introduced while in the Unit 1 of Rimjhim words like school, teacher, park, courtyard, garden, swing are introduced. Though both the Units are theme based, the presentation of the lexical items in Rimjhim is more context embedded than those used in Mariglod.
The theme of the Unit 3 of Marigold and the Unit 9 of Rimjhim is the animal world. In the Unit 3 of Marigold, the children are asked to look at the pictures of kitten, cat, butterfly, rat, fish, seal, seagull, eel, elephant, flea, bee, lizard, alligator, whale and donkey and underline them in the poem. Words like cat, cow, sheep and monkey are, of course, introduced in the first unit of Marigold. In Unit 9 of Rimjhim, the pictures of cow, cat, rat, dog, rabbit, camel, lion, monkey, donkey and the elephant are introduced along with the Hindi words. If supplementary materials for the Unit 3 of Marigold are prepared taking the resources of the Unit 9 of Rimjhim, it would be quite interesting and useful for the children both cognitively as well as linguistically.
The theme of Unit 5 of the Hindi textbook is Transport. Words like car, truck, bus, scooter, cycle, auto-rickshaw, rail, guard and driver are used in this Unit in a highly context embedded manner. Showing the picture of a bus, the teacher tells the children about the passengers, the driver and other related facts. The theme of the Unit 10 of Marigold is primarily transport but the theme is not exploited in a comprehensive and creative manner. Pictures of a sailor, an astronaut, a pilot are given along with the pictures of a dentist, a farmer, a postman and a teacher and the children are asked “What shall I be when I grow up? Match the following: “A person who sails a ship”, “A person who flies a spaceship,” A person who flies an aeroplane.” While the lesson of the Hindi textbook takes into account the child’s previous knowledge and creativity, the English lesson ignores them and makes it a meaningless exercise. The Unit 5 of Rimjhim can be used for scaffolding the language activities of the Unit 10 of Marigold.
The materials presented in Marigold often fail to connect between the learning experience of the children in the classroom and the life outside the classroom. The activities given in Marigold are teacher driven and betray the perspectives of the teacher or the textbook writer. The child’s voice and the child’s perspectives are missing in a number of activities given in the book. In unit 10 of Marigold, for example, the child is asked to share her experience of an imaginary journey by a plane. The task is as follows: “Let’s pretend you are a pilot flying an aeroplane. (a) What will you see outside your aeroplane (i) during the day? (ii) at night? (b) What will you see inside your aeroplane?” How can a child imagine what a pilot sees inside the cockpit while flying a plane in the sky? Again, what kind of experiential learning can take place when after reading the poem, The Flying-Man, the child is given the following task? “Choose your answer: The Flying-man is Superman. The Flying-man is a pilot. The Flying-man is an astronaut. The Flying-man is Batman.” One wonders how a rural Indian child of class 1 will respond to the fictional superhero of American comic books. The poem Rosoighar (Kitchen) given in Unit 7 of Rimjhim can replace the poem The Flying-Man. The true/false tasks given towards the end of Unit 7 of Rimjhim are more child friendly and culture sensitive than the tasks given in Unit 10 of Marigold.
The visuals presented in Marigold are not cognitively demanding for the young learners, they are often contrived and do not take into account the child’s natural instinct to use language for self expression and meaning making. In Unit 1, the pictures of a boy and a girl are given and the child is asked to match the words with the pictures: Draw a line and say “I am a boy” and “I am a girl”. Why should a normal girl child say “I am a girl” pointing out at the picture of a girl? On the other hand, on page 24 of Rimjhim, there is a picture of a girl along with a question in Hindi, “What is the girl carrying on her head? Draw a picture”. This task is more authentic and child friendly than the artificial utterances given in Marigold.
The Unit 7 of Marigold and the Unit 11 of Rimjhim have the same title, A kite. Both the textbooks have poems telling the child how a kite flies and how a child feels when she sees the kite flying, and, therefore, the lessons can supplement one another from the point of view of a multilingual pedagogy.

On the basis of the discussion done so far, we may surmise that the resources available in the textbook used for teaching the mother tongue can be used judiciously, creatively and effectively for teaching English at the primary level from the point of view of a multilingual pedagogy. Be it English or any other language ,the same cognitive and linguistic process is set in motion when a child encounters a language textbook for decoding and meaning making. Therefore, teachers teaching English should not be allergic to the use of the materials available in the textbook used for teaching the mother tongue of the children. The present study implies that English textbook writers and the writers of other Indian language textbooks should develop textbooks in a collaborative manner instead of working in silos.
Agnihotri, R.K. (1995). Multilingualism as a classroom resource. In Kathleen, H A S. and Peter, P(eds.) Multilingual Education for South Africa. Johannesburg: Heinemann, pp. 3-7.
Cook, V.(2001). Using the first language in the classroom. Canadian Modern Language Journal, 57/3, pp.401-523.
Curtain, H. and Dahlberg, C.A.(2004). Languages and Children: Making the Match: New Languages for Young Learners, Grade K-8. Boston: Pearson.
NCERT (2006). The Position Paper on English Language Teaching, New Delhi: NCERT
Tomlinson ,B.(2003). Developing materials for Language Teaching. New York: Continuum.

NB. This is an edited version of my paper presented in a National Seminar organised by the Regional Institute of Education, Mysore, India in December 2017.

Language Across Curriculum: A Post Modern Trend in Language Teaching

The Master Blogger

man reading book beside woman reading book Photo by Burst on

Language Across Curriculum is a modern concept that a foreign or second language should be taught out of the traditional language classroom by using contextual and content based language teaching methodologies throughout the school hours. Hence it demands that language learning should occur in language classroom as well as other subject classrooms.

Principles behind Language Across Curriculum

The introduction of Language Across Curriculum is based on some modern studies and findings like Content Based Instruction (CBI), Content Integrated Language Learning (CILL), Skill Acquisition Concepts and the Immersion Theory of Language Learning. Some other cognitive theories also can be regarded the principles behind this curriculum.CBI and CILL are two almost same movements in language learning in America and England. These movements present the following Principles.

  1. Natural language acquisition occurs in context; natural language is never learned divorced from meaning, and content-based instruction provides a context for…

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The autobiography of a District Education Officer

My decision to join the post of a District Education Officer in a district far away from the State capital was received with disbelief, derision and disapproval by my colleagues, friends, relatives and well-wishers. “Has he gone mad?” the Principal asked my colleagues. “Why did you go abroad for higher studies in literature if your ultimate aim was to be cog in the machine in the Education Department?” my colleagues questioned me. “Wants to mint money,” remarked the righteous relatives, “There’s enough money to loot,” they whispered at my back. ‘What a shame!” lamented the friends, “From the seat of higher learning to the bastion of corruption and nepotism!”
Braving the adverse criticism of my ‘well-wishers’, I accepted the offer and made all the arrangements to proceed to the District assigned to me. On the preceding day of my departure, on the advice of a senior officer of the Education directorate, I went to meet the Education Minister. It was my first visit to a minister’s bungalow. After all the formalities of a security check, I was ushered into the air-conditioned room in which the Minister was busy reading newspapers. “Come in, come in,” the Minister welcomed me with a smiling face. “You’ve decided to join, right?” the Minister asked me . “ Yes, Sir ” I replied. I was in a shock. How could he know my predicament? “From the ivory tower to the open field!” I don’t remember if it was spoken in jest or in earnest.
I was with the Minister for about 30 minutes and when I was about to leave the room, he said, “Go and join, but don’t go to office every day.” Being startled, I exclaimed, ”Sorry, can’t follow you.” A Minister asking me not to go to office every day! “Yes,” he said emphatically. “At least, for the first month. You will get a jeep and a driver. Go and visit as many schools as possible. They need you. If you sit in the office the whole day, you will be too busy in transfer, posting, court cases and trivial complaints pouring in every day. Visit all the elementary schools of the district in the first month itself and have a rapport with the teachers, not with the middlemen.” Thanking the Minister, I left his room. “Go and join, but don’t go to office every day!” What a peculiar instruction, I told myself.
On the first day, soon after reaching the office, I was flooded by fifty or sixty letters kept on a tray of my table. A Grade IV employee of the office had opened the envelops and put the letters on my table for my perusal. So many letters on a single day! Not knowing what to do with these letters which seemed like arrows aimed at a hapless new officer, I summoned the Bara Babu, the Head Assistant. The nice, all knowing Bara Babu allayed my fear with a smiling face. “Sir, you have nothing to do. Please put your initial with the date on the top of the letter, read the subject line and mark it for the concerned assistant. If it is related to ‘Midday meal’, mark it to Mr XX, if it is related to finance, mark it to Mr. DB, if it is about disciplinary action against a teacher, mark it to Mr.SB and if it is about any data required by the Government, mark it to Mr, CKB, the Statistical Assistant. The letters will be processed by the concerned assistants. They are very trusted people, Sir. You can approve their drafts without any hesitation. Your predecessor must have briefed you while handing over the charge!” The Head Assistant stopped with a mischievous smile. “But, what about the letters regarding academic matters? I enquired, “Who handles letters related to academic matters?” “Academic matters?” the Head Assistant stared at me, “All matters are academic in this office, Sir. We don’t do anything non-academic” It was my turn to stare at him.
Streams of visitors came pouring in. The two Deputy Inspectors of schools and the twelve Block Elementary Officers of the District came one by one to pay their obeisance to the district head. The two Deputy Inspectors of Schools were on the verge of retirement. They knew the names of all the schools of their subdivisions. The Block Elementary Officers were quite impressive in their attire. Some of them knew their rule books by heart but not the names of the textbooks used in the schools. I was happy to know that they were well qualified, trained and experienced. All of them had been working in the district for a pretty long time and had a very good rapport with my predecessor. In spite of the hardships faced by them they were committed to their duties, they claimed. Some of the leaders of the teachers’ unions were not good and I should be cautious, they told me rather casually. As a new comer to the district, I should seek the opinion of the local people and the local MLAs, they opined in a rather roundabout way.”Don’t worry, Sir. Please call us whenever you need any help.” they assured me while departing with a handshake which did not seem very warm.

It was a very spacious room. There was a big map of the district decorating the wall in front of me. It showed the location of the schools. As there was no Google map in those days, I could not figure out the distance of the schools. I memorized the names of a few schools and dialed the number of the Deputy Inspector of Schools whose office was just on the other side of the road. Knowing my intention of visiting two randomly selected schools next day, the Deputy Inspector said, “Don’t worry, Sir. I’ll inform them. Your driver knows the route. He will take you straight.” “No, no. Please don’t inform them. It should be a surprise visit. I would like to find out how a school runs on a normal day.” “ A normal day!” my subordinate officer exclaimed. “Normal is abnormal and abnormal is normal, Sir”. What an amazing statement. “Do you write poetry?” I asked. “Why are you asking such a question, Sir?” the Deputy Inspector of School was shocked, it seemed. A District Educator Officer talks of poetry? How to tell him what happens when the opposition between two words is neutralised. Deviation is a stylistic feature for me , not for my poor official at the sub divisional level whose life revolves round the files. (to be continued)