English Language Support Scheme: Pages from the history of ELT in India

Even after teaching English for decades and in spite of my long association with English teachers across the country, I am unable to understand an English teacher. An English teacher attending training programs and spending his/her time and energy to enhance his/her professional competence in ELT is still an enigma to me. In every regional medium secondary school of the country we have two language teachers, one teaching an Indian language and another teaching English.  Teachers who teach languages like Assamese, Bengali, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Tamil or Telugu  to their pupils in the regional medium schools are normally the native speakers of those languages. Pupils learning these languages get both formal and informal exposure to these languages in their day to day life. With a little pedagogic orientation, teachers of these languages do wonder in their language classes. But the English teachers teaching English in these regional medium schools of India are not so fortunate.  They teach English, but they are not the native speakers of English. They ask the pupils to speak in English while they themselves struggle a lot to speak in English on non-academic topics. The pupils learning English in these schools have little motivation for learning a “foren” language like English.  The lack of the pupils’ exposure to English outside the classroom add to the misery of the English teachers.

 The disadvantaged English teachers of India need special academic and administrative support to enhance their professional competence. The teaching of English in India cannot be equated with the teaching of another Indian language.  Again, the teaching of English in Indian schools cannot be equated with the teaching of another foreign language like German or Spanish. Neither the first language pedagogy nor the foreign language pedagogy can help an English teacher teaching English in the regional medium schools of India. Only an ELT pedagogy rooted in the Indian  soil with a distinct Indian identity  can address the pedagogical need of an Indian English teacher.

During the last quarter of the twentieth century, many State Govts and the Central Govt undertook a number of initiatives to cater to the special needs of English teachers teaching in the vernacular medium secondary schools of the country. A number of English institutes, ELT cells in SCERTs and university Departments of ELT were established across the country.  In order to strengthen the two Regional Institutes of English located in Bangalore and Chandigarh, (RIESI, Bangalore and RIE, Chandigarh), the 14 English Language Teaching  Institutes established  in  various  States  and the 36  District Centres for English located across the country, the Government of India launched the ‘English Language Support Scheme’ in the 7th Five Year Plan. Its aim was to strengthen the institutes whose primary objective was to impart in-service training to English teachers working at the secondary level in the regional medium Govt and provincialized schools of the country.

Under the  English Language Support Scheme (ELSS) of the Department of Education, Government of India, need-based financial and academic assistance was extended  to the  ELTIs and RIEs for the augmentation of staff, the payment of stipends  to teachers attending  in-service training programmes,  research in ELT, the development of teaching-learning materials, support for special programmes for the tribal and rural areas, the production of instructional materials and the organisation of  seminars, workshops etc in the field of English language teaching in the country.  The scheme was administered and monitored by Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad, (now EFL University), the apex body for English language teaching and training in the country established by an Act of the Parliament in 1958.

The short term in-service courses, three month as well as one month programs run by the RIEs, ELTIs and the District Centres for English enhanced the English proficiency skills and the pedagogic content knowledge of a very large number of secondary teachers of English during the successive plan periods. Under the patronage of the Govt. of India and the respective State Govts, there was a visible impact on the English language teacher training programs across the country.

In States like Madhya Pradesh,  Uttar Pradesh and Mizoram,  ELTIs were a part of the SCERTs. In  States like Odisha, West Bengal,  Assam and Gujarat,  they were managed by  Boards of Governors constituted by the respective State Govts and it  was mandatory for all these Boards to have at least one ELT expert  from the then CIEFL, Hyderabad and a representative from the Ministry of Education, Govt. of India.  The British Council and the Regional English Language Office (RELO)  of the United States located at NewDelhi    used to collaborate with all these English language  institutes for enhancing the professional competence of the teachers teaching English in the regional medium secondary schools of India.

The days have changed. The English Language Support Scheme  is a part of history, the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages has become a University and severed its connection with the Regional and State level English Institutes of the  country  and the SCERTs are busy with the plans for promoting the teaching of languages ‘native’ to India. It’s time for the English teachers to opt for on line professional courses to enhance their professional competence in ELT.

English Language Pedagogy for India and the National Education Policy 2020: Challenges for the Language Teachers

Do I need to go to an English medium school to learn English well? Not necessarily. The National Education Policy 2020 is quite unequivocal  in this regard: “a language does not need to be the medium of instruction for it to be taught and learned well.” (Page 13). You may not learn English well even after attending an English medium school for years together but you may learn English quite well even in a regional medium school. @Terms and Conditions apply!

Whatever may be the medium of instruction of the school in which the children are learning English, the primary objective of an English teacher is to help these children to acquire the desired competency in the target language. The most important question in language education in India today is the degree of the learners’ competence in the target language, not the medium through which that language is being taught.

Whether we teach in an English medium school or a non-English medium school, we should be aware of the process of language acquisition. Don’t we  all acquire language the same way as pointed by Stephen Krashen ? Ref: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiTsduRreug

 English language teachers are often so obsessed with the theories of language acquisition or language learning that they forget their personal experience of learning a new language. Our children studying in non-English medium schools do not get an adequate exposure to English, they are tormented during their ‘silent period’ of language acquisition in their English class, their ‘affective filter’ goes up in the English class and instead of becoming a vehicle for thought and expression, the target language becomes a means of  suppressing  their voices and critical thinking. The following observation by Rutherford is quite significant, “There is at least one characteristic that is common to every successful language-learning experience we have ever known, and that is that the learner is exposed one way or another to an adequate amount of the data of the language to be learned” (Rutherford, William E. 1987. Second Language Grammar: Learning and Teaching. London; New York: Longman.p.18)

Be it the mother tongue or any other language (second, third or fourth), language acquisition presupposes adequate language input, meaningful interaction in the target language and  natural communication in an anxiety free environment in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and interpreting. Can we create this ideal situation in the English classrooms of our regional medium schools? The question raised by the NCF Position Paper on Teaching English in 2005 is relevant till today: “Can the English-language classroom replicate the universal success in the acquisition of basic spoken language proficiency that a child spontaneously achieves outside the classroom, for the languages in its environment? If so, how?” Ref:  https://ncert.nic.in/pdf/focus-group/english.pdf   It is really unfortunate that non-English medium schools teaching English across India have largely failed to address this basic question and consequently, a large number of our children studying English in these schools fail to attain the desired competency in English.

 While I look at the English language pedagogy in our non-English medium schools, I am reminded of the famous speech in Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar: “The faultdear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141). “The fault, dear friends, is not in the medium of instruction/ but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

As the new National Education Policy 2020 aims at overhauling the education system in India, it can be presumed that the language pedagogy used in our schools will also undergo a drastic change. As the policy document states: “All curriculum and pedagogy, from the foundational stage onwards, will be redesigned to be strongly rooted in the Indian and local context and ethos in terms of culture, traditions, heritage, customs, language, philosophy, geography, ancient and contemporary knowledge, societal and scientific needs, indigenous and traditional ways of learning etc. – in order to ensure that education is maximally relatable, relevant, interesting, and effective for our students.”  The draft National Education Policy 2019 also stated that “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.” (Page 81 of the Draft NEP 2019)

The National Policy on Education 2020 points out   that the teaching of languages will be based on experiential-learning pedagogy.  “The teaching of all languages will be enhanced through innovative and experiential methods, including through gamification and apps, by weaving in the cultural aspects of the languages – such as films, theatre, storytelling, poetry, and music – and by drawing connections with various relevant subjects and with real-life experiences”

In Section 22.7, the National Education Policy laments  the severe scarcity of skilled language teachers in India and declares that  “Language-teaching too must be improved to be more experiential and to focus on the ability to converse and interact in the language and not just on the literature, vocabulary, and grammar of the language. Languages must be used more extensively for conversation and for teaching-learning.”  

It is quite significant  to note that the  National Policy on Education 2020 has repeatedly highlighted  the importance of high quality  language teaching in our schools. To quote from the said document: “All languages will be taught with high quality to all students.”( section 4.11).  Again, the section   4.20 of  the NPE 2020 states: “ In addition to high quality offerings in Indian languages and English, foreign languages, such as Korean, Japanese, Thai, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian, will also be offered at the secondary level”

How can we ensure the high quality of language pedagogy in our English classrooms? Neither  by mechanical drills  nor by the practices used in the monolingual English class rooms  of the English speaking world. A multilingual pedagogy in which the child is empowered to converse and interact in all the target languages can alone make the language classrooms interesting to the child. The artificial barrier between the mother tongue class room and the other language classrooms should be removed during the initial years of learning languages. Just as a normal child living in a multilingual society picks up more than one language spontaneously, let the child in our regional medium schools acquire equal proficiency in more than one language in an unobtrusive manner in the same Language class (Language with a capital L). The same teacher should facilitate the acquisition of all the three languages by the child. One language classroom, One language teacher but multiple languages…….. can’t it be the norm in a flexible language approach   advocated by the draft NEP 2019.(4.5.2, page 80)?

An Online English Language Enhancement Course for Primary teachers of Regional medium schools of India: an innovative Telengana Experiment

 Even after studying English as a compulsory language during their school or college days many teachers working in Government or provincialized non-English medium primary or secondary schools of the country often hesitate to speak in English confidently when they are required to do so. This lack of confidence is not due to the lack of their knowledge of English.  Many teachers of these non-English medium schools can read and write English quite well, their written English may be the envy of many teachers working in English medium schools.  But words often fail them when they try to speak in English. Have we ever enquired how a teacher feels when he or she is unable to comprehend English news bulletins or to take part in a formal or informal discussion in English? If you ask them what makes them uncomfortable in speaking English, they may point out their limited knowledge of English vocabulary, some may  blame the irregular pronunciation rules of English, some of them  may say they  are confused by the subject-verb concord of the language and many of them confess that they   are baffled by the differences between the formal and the informal registers of the language. All the teachers, however, admit that the lack of an adequate exposure to authentic  English and the scope for speaking English in real life situations are the two deterrents that affect their proficiency in speaking English fluently and confidently.

What’s the solution? You can’t start a spoken English course for these teachers as you do for children learning a new language. Card games, whispering games, using syllable stress bingo, fun with silly tongue twisters are effective tools for enhancing the speaking skills of young learners but these tools are not suitable for adult learners who are already capable of reading and writing in English with varying degrees of proficiency. They find these techniques too contrived and mechanical.  As they have an advanced knowledge of the usage of the target language, you can’t teach them when to say “How do you do?” and when to say “How are you?” You can’t use the standardised spoken English courses marketed by international agencies as the themes and the locales used in those course books are too alien to our Indian teachers. We have to remember that these teachers are educated adult learners, they are well placed in the society, they have a positive self-image and they are linguistically and academically far more advanced than an average learner of a foreign language.  Moreover, they don’t need English for any instrumental purpose, they teach their respective subjects in their schools quite effectively and confidently without any proficiency in speaking English fluently.

 The only practical solution is to help these teachers to use English in non-threatening situations and to give them a lot of comprehensible and compelling inputs for using English meaningfully in domains in which they feel comfortable.  Practicing English with self-respect without any compulsion or inhibition can help build both the teachers’ confidence and competency in speaking English fluently. Prompting them to take part in dialogues which require verbal responses and by involving them in discussions  on topics related to their immediate experiences, needs  and challenges are two effective ways of developing spoken language skills of our teachers who hesitate to converse in English even after learning English for  ten or twelve  years  during their school and college days.

The discussion done so far is based on my personal experience of being associated with an online English proficiency course named “English Language Enhancement Course (ELEC) Level 1” which is being conducted jointly by Azim Premji University, Bangalore and State Council of Educational Research and Training(SCERT), Telengana, Hyderabad, India. It is a nine-week online course which aims at empowering all the primary teachers of Telengana in a phased manner in speaking English confidently, fluently and spontaneously in their work places as well as in situations encountered by them in their day to day life. The course helps them to comprehend the main ideas of any conversation done in English and to produce simple connected texts on topics related to their professional, personal and social lives. By providing compelling and comprehensible input the course enables the participants to describe experiences and events, ideas and responses to a wide variety of topics related to their immediate environment and this prompts them to interact in English with their fellow participants in a non-threating situation. The course aims at developing the fluency of the learners without making them obsessed with grammatical accuracy. 

It is a theme-based course and these themes are selected keeping in view the interest of the adult learners involved in teaching in the primary schools of a State. Each of the themes is explored during the course with the help of video-watching, reading the related texts and engaging with structured tasks monitored by the mentors and the facilitators of the course. Each of the tasks requires the participants to respond  orally. They upload audios of their own speech, listen to others’ audios, respond to them and interact with their peers during the online classes. The use of break out rooms during the zoom sessions makes the group discussion quite animated and interesting. They discuss the issues from their individual perspectives taking cues from personal experiences. They watch a video, listen to a TED TALK or a story narrated in English and discuss them with their peers with the support of their mentors. The focus of the discussion is on the meaning making and not on the language. During the process of articulating their point of view the participants speak in English with least inhibition and without any obsession with grammatical accuracy. Online group discussions, panel discussions, role play on topics related to the themes, sharing personal narratives are some of the techniques used during the course.

The duration of this on line course is for nine weeks. During the first and the nineth week, there are two webinars of 90 minutes each, one in the morning and another in the evening  in addition to  2 hours of self-study per day which amounts to 25 hours per week.  During the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth weeks, the participants attend one webinar of 90 minutes every week in addition to self-study of 4 hours per week which amounts to 5.5 hours per week.

With effect from the last week of August 2020, the 5th phase of the English Language Enhancement Course referred to in this blog is being attended online by more than one thousand Govt. primary teachers of Telengana. 15 (fifteen) batches having two sections of about 40 teachers each are attending this online program quite enthusiastically. Each batch has one Coordinator and each section of each batch has three Mentors. In the break out rooms the mentors facilitate the discussion on the themes selected for a particular week. 80% of the  talk time for a particular session is reserved for the participants and 20% of the talk time is for the Mentors or the Coordinators.  The on line as well as the off line support provided by the Mentors and the spontaneous participation of the teachers during the zoom session enhance the speaking skills of the participants. The voluntary mentoring by a highly motivated team of Coordinators and Mentors  sponsored by SCERT, Telengana,  the  theme based lessons prepared jointly by Azim Premji University and SCERT, Telengana, the logistic support provided by the University and  a detailed planning by all the stake holders are the key to the success of this online program.

The evolution of the course took place in a collaborative manner. In the month of July 2019, the first draft of the content and the pedagogical approaches for the Course were discussed with a group of 15 highly qualified Resource Persons of SCERT and the DIETs of Telengana followed a brainstorming interaction with 103 Government primary teachers of the State. This interaction helped the Course developers to understand the teacher’ English language needs and fine tune the course content. In the first phase 138 teachers joined the course in the month of February. This was followed by Phase two leading to the third phase having 346 participants. In order to scale up the program, the fourth phase started with more than one thousand teachers in the month of August 2020.

The learnings from the course: (a) Online English language programs for Indian teachers is  a viable proposition. (b) We learn to talk only by talking, not by memorising grammatical rules. (c)  English teachers should give up their obsession with grammatical accuracy while inspiring their learners to speak in English. Fluency should precede accuracy. An undue emphasis on grammatical accuracy demotivates the learners. Once fluency is acquired by the learners they may be guided towards accuracy. (b) For the success of any online program for teachers we need a dedicated team of teacher educators who are willing to work beyond the normal period of their official duty. (c) Teachers are willing to attend courses when they find the courses relevant, interesting and non-threatening.  (Can you imagine a zoom session for 90 minutes starting at 6pm in the evening continuing  till 8 pm or beyond  without any sign of fatigue on the part of the participants?) (d) Teachers can become tech savy within a few days and can get all the advantages of online courses without any inhibition. ( e) Academic and administrative support  of the all the stake holders and a positive vision of teacher education  can inspire and empower the teachers even in the midst of a global catastrophe.

(It is a personal blog and the opinions expressed in the blog are based on my personal reflection on an   on line course in the field of English Language Teaching in India.)



The vision of an Education system that will be second to none: A Paradigm shift in Pedagogy

I may not be alive when India gets an “education system by 2040  that is second to none”, but I will die a peaceful death thinking that all Indian learners will get an access  to the highest quality education in this  country itself regardless of the social or economic background. If the vision of the new National Education Policy 2020  is translated into action realistically, parents like me won’t spend the last farthing of their hard-earned money for sending their children abroad for higher education.  Our university campuses full of American, British, Canadian  and French students pursuing higher education will be a  sight to see just as I saw  hordes of international students  on a number of campuses of the British and American universities.  

Why do Indian students go abroad for studies when we have so many reputed colleges and universities in our country? Why did I  go abroad  to get just another post-graduate degree in English when I had a post-graduate degree  in English from one of the Indian Universities? Many years after I had a taste of education abroad, I did not hesitate to visit Bank branches for an educational loan for my daughter’s undergraduate studies abroad. “Why are you so crazy”, people asked me? “Is it a good investment?” friends and relatives cautioned me. But I knew the nature of the life changing experience that students get in the reputed universities abroad.

I did not enjoy studying in schools, colleges and universities in India. It was a compulsion, it crushed me, it made me dumb. My teachers never asked me to think, I was always expected to absorb my teachers’ thoughts. Even during my  Ph.D work I had to follow the dotted line,  I was terribly  afraid of my Ph.D guide. Any dissenting note was unacceptable to him and I knew that without his approval it would be impossible for me to submit my thesis.  

What a refreshing first class I had in a British University! The professor came to the class, asked us to have a look at the syllabus and to select the books that we would like to study during the first month  of our M A class. The selection was not at random, we had to justify our selection, all the post graduate students argued a lot, tried to justify their selection and I was awe struck by the depth of the literary discussion we had on that first  day of my M A class in a British University.

As an Indian student I expected rhetorical lectures   from my learned English professors. The image of my Indian professor reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy “To be or not to be” and transmitting his interpretation of T.S.Eliot’s “Hamlet an artistic failure”  was still fresh in my mind. But to my utter surprise , the grey-haired English professor entered the class and asked us to tell him how everything had turned upside down in the very “first act of Hamlet”.  He stopped and the responses from the students came one after another, “Here is  a play in which a guard is on duty and some body is approaching him in the dark. Instead of the guard challenging the intruder, it is the intruder who challenges the guard. The changing of guards at Elsinor is itself abnormal and it signals the abnormal things which happen in the drama. A brother kills a brother, marries his dead brother’s wife, a son promises to kill his father’s murderer but when the opportunity comes  he philosophises, a young man professes his love for a young girl but does little to honour his love.” The professor did not tell us these things, we discussed and he facilitated the animated discussion. We learnt from one another; the professor just prompted us how to look at things from different perspectives. It was an enjoyable learning experience for me. The professor did not analyse the text, neither did he burden us with his critical note, he simply showed us the way to explore literary texts. He   guided us  to become  autonomous learners. Back at home, learners’ autonomy was  very difficult to find in our  universities.  The Pedagogy  of the oppressed!

I don’t remember on how many days I went to the college and university libraries during my a student life in India. But studying abroad, I spent more time in the library than within the four walls of the classroom. I had to find out the names of the relevant books related to the topics  we discussed in the class. I had to read them and tell the professors next day about my understanding of those books. In India, the teachers are expected to provide the reading list, not to speak of dictating notes or handing over photo copies of the materials students are supposed to read. Spoon feeding by the teachers in our schools and colleges makes our education system lacklustre, demotivating and ritualistic. It’s never challenging, cognitively as well as academically.

Unlike the ritual of the  final examination, we were expected  to submit  assignments during the whole academic year. My three term assignments done in a year  were  equivalent  to three M.Phil dissertations submitted by my friends in an Indian University. Examinations are never stressful abroad. But in India  examinations make the students, parents and all the stakeholder stressed.

As a postgraduate student in India, I was assessed for “what” I learnt,  but as a postgraduate student abroad I was assessed for “how” I learnt. My critical approaches to literature, my ability to explore language and literature and problem solving skills in the particular domain were tested during the course, not the content knowledge of the literary texts articles written on those texts. The system capacitated me and my professors facilitated the capacity building process. They did not interfere with my process of knowledge creation, it was just an academic support that led to my academic growth.

It is the pedagogy that matters. The new National Education Policy 2020 adopted by the Govt of India states: “Pedagogy must evolve to make education more experiential, holistic, integrated, inquiry-driven, discovery-oriented, learner-centred, discussion-based, flexible, and, of course, enjoyable.” Do our universities care for experiential learning? Experiential learning is the inclusion of phases of reflection designed to help the learners relate a current learning experience to past and future experience.  Expressions like “experiential”. “holistic”, “integrated”, “enquiry driven” “discovery oriented’ “learner-centred”, ‘discussion based”, “flexible” and “enjoyable” call for a drastic change in our pedagogy used in schools, colleges and universities. These are not some high sounding  academic terms, they are the ingredients for making Indian education system  the “second to none” education system of the world as envisaged in the National Education Policy 2020.

The role of home language/mother tongue/local language/regional language and the National Education Policy 2020

While addressing the people of the State in his Independence Day address, the Education Minister of Assam stated that in keeping with the spirit of the   National Education Policy 2020 teaching in vernacular languages up to class five would   be made compulsory in all the schools of the State. As published in the local media, “Even English medium schools shall have to teach either in Assamese, Tiwa, Rabha, Missing, or Bodo up to class five.” (https://www.sentinelassam.com/north-east-india-news/assam-news/english-medium-schools-must-teach-kids-in-mother-tongue-till-class-5-himanta-biswa-sarma-495663). In order to appreciate the implications of this announcement regarding teaching the early graders through home language/mother tongue/local language/regional language in all the schools  irrespective of the medium of the schools, we have to go to the section 4.11 of the National Education Policy 2020 entitled “Multilingualism and the power of language.”

Advocating multilingualism and the power of language quite emphatically the National Education Policy 2020  states that “Wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother tongue/local language/regional language. Thereafter, the home/local language shall continue to be taught as a language wherever possible. This will be followed by both public and private schools.”

While discussing the question of home language/mother tongue as medium of instruction, the draft National Education Policy 2019, however, did not use the expression “Where possible”, it  was   “When possible”. To quote the actual sentence from the draft National Education Policy 2019: “When possible, the medium of instruction – at least until Grade 5 but preferably till at least Grade 8 – will be the home language/mother tongue/local language.” It is significant to note that the draft NEP 2019 spoke of three options, home language, mother tongue, local language only but  the final NEP 2020 spoke of four options, home language, mother tongue, local language, regional language. The sentence “This will be followed by both public and private schools.” is not found in the draft Education Policy 2019 but occurs in the final policy document called National Education Policy 2020.

The suggestions and the directions given in NEP 2020 are based on  research finding on the benefits of imparting early education through the medium of home language or the mother tongue of children. It has been proved beyond doubt that there are multiple  benefits associated with an education that takes into account children’s mother tongues: (a) Children learn better and faster in a language they can understand, (b) A child’s first encounter with the world around her takes place through her first language, (c) Children  enjoy school more, they feel more at home at schools and the transition from the home environment to school environment takes place in an unobtrusive manner when the  formal schooling is done through the language known to the child, (d) Children tend to show increased self-esteem when their  home language is accepted and  honoured in the schools.

Explaining the rationale of using mother tongue/home language, the draft NEP 2019 points out. “It is well-understood that young children learn and grasp nontrivial concepts most quickly in their home language/mother tongue. The Policy further recognises the large numbers of students going to school to classes that are being conducted in a language that they do not understand, causing them to fall behind before they even start learning”

The emphasis given on the home language/mother tongue/local language/regional language in NEP 2020 is in consonance with the design of the Foundational stage of education outlined in the policy document.  The five years of the Foundational Stage consists of two parts:  3 years of pre-primary school and Grades 1, 2.  Thus, the Foundational Stage, as stated in the policy document,  will consist of five years of flexible, multilevel, “play/activity-based learning.”  The aim of this stage will be “to lay the general groundwork across subjects, including reading, writing, speaking, physical education, art, languages, science, and mathematics, so that students are prepared to delve deeper into learning areas through specialised subjects and subject teachers in the stages that follow.” As indicated in the document, the emphasis will be  on interactive classroom learning.

Those  who are obsessed with English medium education or those who wonder how an existing English medium school can use  the child’s mother tongue or home language at the Foundational stage as envisaged in the NEP 2020 should study the philosophy of the Foundational stage and its objectives  outlined in the National Education Policy 2020 policy along with the detailed discussion incorporated in the Draft National Education Policy 2019. The learning in the Preparatory Class will  be based primarily on “play-based learning with a focus on developing cognitive, affective, and psychomotor abilities and early literacy and numeracy.”  The objective of schooling at this stage is not rote learning or parrot like recitation  of English nursery rhymes. If we are to build up a child’s “innate abilities and all-important lifelong skills of cooperation, teamwork,  social interaction, compassion, equity, inclusiveness, communication, cultural appreciation, playfulness, curiosity, creativity, as well as the ability to successfully and respectfully interact with teachers, fellow students, staff, and others”  during this stage it has to be done through the language already known to the child.  Do we teach these skills at home through the medium of English or a foreign language? Which language does an Indian child use to play indoor or outdoor games at her home or in her immediate neighbourhood? Is it English?  The Foundational stage is an extension of the stage enjoyed by a child in her comfort zone. Therefore, we should not cause any dislocation in the cognitive or the affective domain of the child during the Foundational stage by  teaching her  the basic life skills in a language that is alien  and incomprehensible to her.

The NEP 2020 read with the draft NEP 2019 does point out the importance of English. To quote from the draft document: “taking into account the enhanced abilities of young children to learn languages, and 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.” But we should not confuse the proficiency in English with the schooling through English medium. It is an established fact that in order to teach and learn a language well, it need not be the medium of instruction. (Section 4.12, National Education Policy 2020.)

A student can get excellent command in English even in a vernacular medium school “ if it is taught well”. We do not teach English well in our vernacular medium schools and blame the medium!

The implementation of the policy on the use of home/mother tongue till class V in all the schools as advocated by the new National Education Policy 2020 needs careful planning. Take the example of Assam. We have children speaking Assamese, Bodo, Bengali, Mising, Tiwa, Lalung, Karbi, Dimasa, Hmar, Thado, Bishnupriya Manipuri and a few others in our schools. We have to cater to the needs of the all the children. The Policy document clearly specifies that “All efforts will be made early on to ensure that any gaps that exist between the language spoken by the child and the medium of teaching are bridged. In cases where home language/mother tongue textbook material is not available, the language of transaction between teachers and students will still remain the home language/mother tongue wherever possible. Teachers will be encouraged to use a bilingual approach, including bilingual teaching-learning materials, with those students whose home language may be different from the medium of instruction.” The transaction between the teachers and the children should be the home/ mother tongue of the children even when the textbooks are not in the mother tongue of the children. A very practical suggestion. How can you communicate with a child of three or four years in a language unknown to the child? You should know the child’s mother tongue to a make the child feel comfortable during the Foundational stage. Multilingual pedagogy is the need of the hour for an inclusive education. Are we ready?

National Education Policy 2020 and “Re-establishing” the teachers

My father passed the Matriculation examination of the Calcutta university with star marks in 1924 but instead of going for higher education to a distant place he started teaching in a school. I still remember a group photograph of my father hanging on the wall. It was the photograph of my father  along with other trainees attending a short in-service teacher training programme in the fifties of the  last century. Like many other teachers of his period my father died as a teacher without any pension, provident fund or gratuity. Before his death he lamented saying that “thakur”, (the cook) “chakor”( the domestic  help) and “mastor” (the teacher)  are doomed to be  poor. (I was impressed by the rhyming words!). I saw him going to the money lenders to borrow money during financial emergencies, I saw him suffer silently before the local land lords and the rich, illiterate members of the school “Managing Committees”. The corruption, nepotism and the politics of the then School Board office affected him adversely but he continued teaching for the joy of teaching and paved the way for our higher education.

No body envies the life of a school teacher in India. A teacher is expected to be meek and  submissive. He or she must be at the receiving end. The curriculum is handed over to the teacher, textbooks are prescribed for him  and the methodology is dictated.  Any deviation from the prescribed norms of teaching is sure to invite the wrath of his higher ups. He  should not forget that his primary duty is to obey, not to raise difficult questions. He is a transmitter of knowledge received by him from his teachers or collected by him from books. Any inadvertent criticism of the established knowledge or the established order may jeopardise his career.   He has to maintain the status quo and not to cross the “Lakshman Rekha”.

The memory of my father as a teacher flashed before my mind’s eye when I read the new National Education Policy 2020. After so many years of independence, a policy document has now underlined very emphatically the importance of “re-establishing the  teacher” and has reminded the nation  that the teachers  are “the most respected and established members of our society.” The policy document suggests that we must “do everything to empower teachers.”  The relevant section of the NEP 2020 is as follows: “The teacher must be at the centre of the fundamental reforms in the education system. The new education policy must help re-establish teachers, at all levels, as the most respected and essential members of our society, because they truly shape our next generation of citizens. It must do everything to empower teachers and help them to do their job as effectively as possible. The new education policy must help recruit the very best and brightest to enter the teaching profession at all levels, by ensuring livelihood, respect, dignity, and autonomy, while also instilling in the system basic methods of quality control and accountability.” The four words “livelihood”, “respect” “dignity” and autonomy” are very crucial in the life of teacher.

The draft National Education Policy 2019 remarked that teachers “must be valued, supported, respected – happy teachers and students make for excellent teaching and learning! In particular, the everyday working environment of teachers and students must be safe, comfortable, and inviting.” A very significant observation. “Happy Teachers.”  Teaching is not a mechanical exercise and therefore, a teacher who is  not happy with his profession can not do justice to his profession. We cannot force someone to feel happy, we can create the conducive atmosphere in which a teacher feels happy without any official order.

The  draft National Education Policy 2019  points out that one significant “factor in the learning crisis that cannot be overlooked relates to the health and nutrition of children.” What about the “health and nutrition”  of thousand of teachers who find it difficult to make both ends meet?  Has any body ever cared to find out how retired teachers who were once the nation builders suffer without adequate health care during their old age?

The respect and dignity enjoyed by the teachers in the Indian Gurukul system were jettisoned during the colonial rule and successive Governments after the independence did little to put the teachers back on a high pedestal. The very mechanism of teacher recruitment lowers a teacher’s self-esteem. A teacher who belongs to the lower economic strata of the society, a teacher whose knowledge and competence in the 21st century skills are too abysmal, a teacher who considers teaching as the last resort for  survival can hardly live a dignified life.  The barefoot village teacher, the economically oppressed teacher, the teacher who is  considered  an appendix by the affluent section of the society bears the brunt of social apathy and humiliation.  When teaching becomes a drudgery, teachers suffer in misery.

Autonomy is a word that does not exist in the dictionary of an Indian teacher. He or she is a cog in a machine.  Teachers who want to be innovative are ridiculed by their higher ups.  Any deviation from the prescribed norms of pedagogy can make a teacher’s life miserable. I know many young teachers who tried formative assessment in their classes to understand the level of each child’s proficiency in different subjects, they prepared individual port folios for each child  but their colleagues and heads of the institutions discouraged them and advised them to follow the establish practice and not to go against the flow. “Why is your class so noisy?” a young teacher is reprimanded when she makes her language class participatory and interactive.

The new education policy calls for a drastic change  in the field of education. But this change is possible only when it gets the support of all the stakeholders working in the field of education. It also depends on the whole heated support of the society.

It is good to note that the NEP 2020 calls for “quality control and accountability.” Academic supervision and guidance must be an integral part of school administration. We have education officers at different levels, they visit schools just to inspect non-academic matters like  teachers’ attendance, expenditure for midday meals, construction of toilets and buildings. They avoid the classrooms. Teachers are islands in their schools and the DIETs are ineffectual angels so far as academic supervision and guidance are concerned. The practice of classroom observation, giving feedback, monitoring the teacher’s professional growth and the mechanism for  quality control should be streamlined if we are to make the teachers energetic and  their  teaching result oriented. There is a correlation between  livelihood, respect, dignity  and autonomy on the one hand and  quality and accountability on the other. Hope the proper implementation of the National Educational Policy 2020 will  put equal emphasis on  livelihood, respect, dignity, autonomy, quality control and accountability  as specified in the document.

To conclude, I would like to quote the following recommendation of  the draft National Education Policy 2019. “The structure of teacher education, recruitment, deployment, service conditions, professional development, and career management must be completely overhauled in order to restore the high status of the teaching profession, and to ensure that teachers are maximally productive and effective in their efforts.”  A  complete overhaul of the teaching profession on the basis of the guidelines of NEP 2020  can do  away with the frustration  of millions of teachers across the country and “re-establish” them with due respect and honour.

Does our language shape the way we think?

It was the month of January 2020 in the pre-covid period. I was invited to facilitate a teacher orientation program in a distant place in the the East Garo Hills district of  Meghalaya. A total of 24 teachers teaching English in  classes I, I, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX and X were put together to undergo a professional development program in English language teaching!   When the  session started I requested the teachers to tell  me the names of the classes in which they taught English.  Their responses were as follows:  Teacher A: I teach from seven to one, Teacher B: I teach from ten to seven, Teacher C : I teach from five to one. To my utter surprise I noticed that all the teachers started with the higher classes and ended with the lower classes. It was not “one to seven,” it was “seven to one,” it was not “seven to ten,” it was “ten to seven”.  The responses of the teachers startled me. Why wasn’t  it “one to five” or “one to seven”?  Was  there  any special reason for using the descending order  of the numerals? 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1?

  When I used to teach in my college I used to say, “Well, I teach English in the second year and the third year classes ” NOT “I teach English in the third year and the second year classes.” Now, standing before a mixed group of teachers I wondered if the teachers attending the programme were  influenced by their  way of thinking. Did they think of the bigger number first and the smaller number next? I was  not sure, but I could not explain the way they responded…..” I teach English from  classes V to I and not from I to V”.

Musing over the  influence of language on our way of thinking I recollected the way in which some of my students speaking a particular Tibeto Burman language used to write in English: “We  live in a house big” instead of writing “We live in a big house” because in their language “ a big house” means  “a house big.” “noha (house) + gede (big)”. A beautiful girl is “ malasa (girl)  majangbi  (beautiful),  a big  man is “subung” (man) gede (big)  and two big men is “sububg (man) gede (big) saogini (two)”, the order of the words is Noun+ Adjective + Quantifier. Unlike the speakers of English and many other Indian languages, speakers of this Tibeto-Burman language of India use modifier or the adjective after the noun, not before the noun.   A strong man is referred to as “ a man strong” and a beautiful girl is a “girl beautiful.” For the speakers of this particular language, the Noun is more important than the Adjective which modifies it.  How does their language shape the way they think?

Let us think of the question of attributing masculine and feminine gender markers to inanimate objects. Traditionally, the Sun is considered masculine due to its life-giving power though the word Sun as a noun was feminine in grammatical gender. The word moon has the etymology of Luna and Selene in Greek, both female names and deities in the Roman and Greek pantheons. In many Indian languages the Sun is masculine while the Moon is feminine.  However, the moon, is referred to as ‘maternal uncle” in a number of Indian languages.   In the language of the  Nyishis  of Arunachal Pradesh, the Sun (Donyi) is feminine while  the Moon ( Polo) is masculine.   What is the correlation between the language and concept formation?  When it  is the question of looking at the world and making sense of the world, does it matter which language we speak?

The first sentence of this blog refers to a distant place of India. Well, is it really a distant place? Yes, of course, it is a distant place for me when I am writing this blog sitting at Bangalore.  The State of Meghalaya is thousands of miles away from me and therefore, it is a distant place for me. But if I had written this blog sitting in the capital city of Meghalaya, I would not have referred to it  as a ‘distant place’. My use of language is conditioned by the way I am think.

Let’s take the example of “Northeast,” an oft repeated expression used in the Indian media. It is puzzling to note that we don’t have any cluster of States in India called “Northwest”, “South east” or “Southwest” but we fondly refer to the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and  Arunachal Pradesh as “Northeast.”

Using ‘Covid 19 Pandemic’ as a theme for teaching English to young learners

The advantages of thematic planning for teaching a new language are well known to the teachers teaching English to young learners. We know that the theme creates a meaningful context and the thematic planning in a language class shifts the instructional focus from “the language itself”  to “the use of language”. A thematic unit gives the learners ample opportunities to use the target language in numerous meaningful contexts. While going through an exploration of the theme, the learners are less obsessed with vocabulary and grammar as the theme engages them in the appropriate use of the language.  They learn the target language at the discourse level and are saved from the tyranny of isolated exercises with grammatical structures and mechanical drills.

As the whole world is going through the trauma inflicted by the pandemic called Covid 19, I wonder how we can use Pandemic as a theme to teach English  to young learners  in a non-native context in general and India in particular.

Let me start with Covid itself. Is it an English word? Look at the news bulletins of the  TV channels and the regional newspapers. The word Covid is used as Covid in all the Indian languages. The word  Covid  is an acronym as it is formed from the  portions of three  distinct words: Corona (CO) Virus (VI) and Disease(D).

It is interesting to note that in India we have regional language words for diseases like tuberculosis ( ‘যক্ষ্মা’ in Assamese and Bengali),cholera( हैज़ा in Hindi), small pox (ಸಿಡುಬು in Kannada) and measles (হাম in Bengali) but no word for Covid till date.

Teaching vocabulary: from the known to the unknown:

Do we have different words to refer to epidemic and pandemic in Indian languages? Epidemic means महामारी Mahaamaaree in Hindi, ಸಾಂಕ್ರಾಮಿಕ Sāṅkrāmika in Kannada, মহামারী Mahāmārī in Bengali and అంటువ్యాధి Aṇṭuvyādhi in Telugu. Pandemic, on the other hand, has the following meanings in these languages. सर्वव्यापी महामारी sarvavyaapee mahaamaaree in Hindi, ಪಿಡುಗು Piḍugu in Kannada, অতিমারী  atimārī in Bengali and మహమ్మారి maham’māri in Telugu.

Those who read vernacular newspapers or  listen to regional TV channels must be aware of the use of  English words related to the pandemic in Indian languages. Words like Covid (ಕೋವಿಡ್ in Kannada), korona,( कोरोना in Hindi, ಕೊರನಾ in Kannada),  virus  (वायरस in Hindi)  lockdown, (लॉकडाउन in Hindi)   unlock,  quarantine( কোয়রান্টিন in Bengali),  social distancing (सोशल डिस्टेंसिंग in Hindi, ventilator, isolation ward, PPT kit, (ಪಿಪಿಟಿ ಕಿಟ್),sanitiser, herd immunity, contact tracing, containment zone, mask  are extensively used in vernacular newspapers and the day to day conversation of the Indians speaking their respective regional languages. 
Though ‘mask is’ called ಮುಖವಾಡ (Mukhavāḍa) in Kannada and मुखौटा (mukhauta) in Hindi the English word mask (ಮೈಸ್ಕ in Kannada)  or( मास्क in Hindi) is used extensively in the safety guidelines published in Kannada or Hindi. Therefore, teaching new vocabulary using the  commonly used Covid19 related English words in the Indian language can be the first step in designing a lesson on English vocabulary for the beginners.

Once  Covid 19 related Indianised English words  are introduced in appropriate contexts, the teacher can introduce  additional words related to the  Pandemic. Coronavirus pandemic has been expanding our vocabularies since January 2020  and therefore a lexical  chain of the words found in newspapers, advertisements, statutory warnings, Government guidelines on Covid 19 may be presented by simplifying the texts in which these words are used. Words like social distancing, community spread, contact tracing, self-quarantine, super-spreader, isolation, self-isolation, incubation period, comorbidity, flattening the curve, immunity, herd immunity (not hard immunity), Symptomatic and Asymptomatic person, containment area,  personal protective equipment, or PPE, screening, ventilator, vaccine,  PPE:  personal protective equipment, WFH: Work from Home, ILI: Influenza like illness.

The following words can be used to teach the differences between related words: pandemic vs epidemic, quarantine vs isolation, respirator vs ventilator, contagious vs infectious, virus vs bacteria, asymptomatic vs asymptomatic.

Picture reading: Soon after the outbreak of the pandemic and the proclamation of lockdown in India, newspapers and the social media were full of the pictures of migrant workers heading towards their home states. Select two or three pictures of migrant workers heading towards their home states on foot  or  boarding trains  to reach their destination and ask the children  to describe the pictures. Or give  another picture of shoppers waiting outside a shop maintaining  social distance and prompt the children to respond to the picture. As the pictures portray   real life situations confronting the affected people, children will find a meaning in describing the episodes and while doing so they will  use English in meaningful contexts.

Responding to graphs: You can prepare a graphical presentation of the spread of the virus across the globe with names of the countries, number of people affected, the number of people cured and the number of casualties and ask the children questions on the data shown in the graph.

Advertisements, slogans, guidelines and witty  remarks used on the screen or the social media can be used to initiate discussions in English. For example, Discuss with your friends  the following  quotes  or slogans related to Pandemic in general and Covid 19 in particular: (a)  Pandemic is an epidemic with a Passport, (b) The Corona virus has an ego, it does not come to you unless you invite it(c) If we  are inside, the Corona  will be  outside.(d)The Corona does not distinguish between the rich and the poor.

Video presentation: Short animated videos can be prepared using the following points. (a) Stay home, (b) keep a safe distance, (c) wash hands often, (d)  Cover your cough, €call  the help line if someone is sick. After showing the videos to the children ask them to prepare their own skits and do the role play.

Using newspaper reports: Newspapers are full stories of the bravery of young children during the pandemic. You may collect some of these real life stories and read them to the children. When the reading is over, ask them questions on these stories to generate discussion and critical thinking.  To cite an example, you may read  the following story published in an Indian newspaper and ask the children a number of questions to enhance their listening comprehension, critical thinking and verbal communication in English.  “An eight-year-old girl here has donated about Rs 25,000 of her savings to the poor who are struggling due to the Covid-19 lockdown. Dhiya, who dreams of becoming an IAS officer, has been saving up money to purchase a laptop, apparently to prepare for civil services exam, officials in the Collectorate here said.

 On hearing about the humanitarian attitude of the girl, Puducherry Collector T Arun invited the Class III student and her parents to his office on Thursday to felicitate her. The aspiration of the student to sit in the collector’s chamber was fulfilled, as Arun let her see for herself how an IAS officer functions.

 Earlier, the girl decided to do her bit after she was moved by the plight of the poor who haven’t had a morsel to keep them going till the lockdown ends. So, she decided to use her savings to buy provisions, essential goods and others for distribution to the suffering artists, drivers and other sections of people reeling under poverty, officials said. With the consent of her parents, the girl spent the amount on the commodities and distributed them to the poor. She had saved the money given to her as gift from her parents and relatives on various occasions. With a broad smile and amid applause by all those present including her parents, the girl got a hands-on experience of what it means to be a civil service official when she was allowed access to the Collector’s chamber.

Source: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/8-year-old-girl-donates-savings-to-lockdown-hit-poor/story-8OCGJBy0dXw5R3VSrVr7kO.html)

Some suggested questions: (a) Why did Dhiya donate her savings for the poor? Are you aware of similar acts of charity done by kids during  calamities? Share your experience with your friends.(b) How did Dhiya  get a hands on experience of what it means to be an IAS officer? (c) How would you have encouraged the girls if you were the District Collector mentioned in the report ? Do you think Dhiya should get a national level award? (d) What would you have done if you were Dhiya?

Teaching English online to young learners in non-English speaking countries during the Covid 19 period

English language teaching in all the non-English speaking countries of the world has been facing a new challenge since the onslaught of Covid 19 pandemic. How do you teach English to the kids  through online platforms when their  parents do not know English? It is quite easy to design online courses on ELT for the children who have enough exposure to English at home. But what about those millions of children who are the first-generation learners of English? Are the sophisticated online courses suitable for them? After going through a number of online ELT courses floated during the last two months for teaching English online without any face to face support, I have a feeling that we are the victims of a short sighted policy on ELT. There is a gulf of difference between using online resources “along” with a face to face interaction and using online resources “without” any face to face support. The pedagogical approaches to ELT designed and nourished in the  English speaking  world and exported to the non-English speaking world in the pre-Covid19  period, I think,  need a total overhauling  in the context of teaching English to the  young learners who are suddenly expected to learn English online with the remote support of their teachers.

Many school authorities have already asked teachers to teach the young learners using all the available online platforms. Efforts are on to use the radio, television, YouTube and WhatsApp to teach English to the kids just by replicating the pedagogy which was used earlier as a “support” to the face to face teaching of English.  Without an adequate orientation to the online mode of teaching a foreign language in which there is no a face to face support, many ELT professionals have started producing online  English teaching courses for  very young learners who belong  families in which nobody knows English.

Who are the young learners for whom we are designing purely online courses for teaching English? What’s their context? These are the children who have been passing through a period of trauma, socially, psychologically and academically. These are the kids of the disadvantaged sections of the society for whom the possession of a smart phone itself  is a luxury, not to speak of having a good internet connection!

Just as the practice of ‘work from home’ has converted our homes to offices and reduced our family  relationship  into  official relationship, the beginning of the total online learning era for the kids has blurred the distinction between the home and the school and this inevitable transformation has implications for the teaching of English in a non-English speaking context.  The acquisition or the learning of a new language can take place in a social context. The classroom interaction of the children used to play  a very important role in  learning English during the pre-Covid 19 period  but this is  not possible in the present situation. The kids who are the members of non-English speaking families are unfortunately deprived of an adequate exposure to English within the four walls of their homes. 

In order to teach English to the kids of the non-English speaking countries of the world, the ELT professionals should seek the support of the parents of these kids and orient them adequately to the pedagogical processes  essential for the success of a total  online mode of teaching English during the Covid 19 period. Before embarking on a project of  online teaching of English in a country like India, we should  first try to find out how many parents are capable of providing academic support to their kids in learning English online. Even in the cases of  parents capable of providing such a support, the question of economic instability due to job loss, the preoccupation of work from home and the  family loss due to Covid  19 pandemic should be taken into account.  Once this tracing of the availability of parental support to ELT is done, a  module for the orientation of the different groups of parents should be prepared. This module need not be in English, it should be multilingual so that the parents who do not know  English can also go through it and extend the required support to their kids.  “ELT with Parental Support” should  be the new ELT pedagogy during the Covid 19 period.

How can the parents who do not know English extend academic support to their  kids in learning English on line? The answer is a multilingual pedagogy for teaching English in a non-native context.   In all the non-English speaking countries of the world, online ELT for the kids should be based on a multilingual pedagogy in which  English  teachers and the parents of the kids will be equal partners. The triangular communication  among the three stakeholders will be  both in English as well as the home language of the kids, the materials presented on online platforms will also be in two languages, the lessons will be both audio-visual and written so that parents can understand them and support their kids.

The online material for teaching English to the non-English speaking kids should be project based involving the kids and their parents. Let the kids do a number of projects in which they use as much English as possible, let them use translangauging with their parents and let the parents create  a congenial atmosphere for  learning English with the online support of the English teachers. You can’t teach English online to these kids without orienting their parents to the multilingual pedagogy. Support the parents in supporting their kids in a fully online course on ELT.

A Medium of Instruction or A Medium of Facilitation ?: Need for a Paradigm shift

A child’s interaction with the world around her starts with an inborn urge for enquiry. She  starts   making  sense of the world around her through her language which happens to be either her  mother tongue or  her  home language. From learning to naming an object and to talking about the object is a complex journey that a child undertakes. Based on her perception, the child makes a mental representation of the objects, processes her mental representation and tries to make a verbal representation of that mental representation. Over a period of time  the child does not work  on her mental representation all alone, others members of her immediate neighbourhood  also work on it and facilitate the process of making verbal as well as non-verbal representation by the child.  When a child expresses something, her mother or other elders, add/ modify / correct the   linguistic or non-linguistic outputs of the child in an unobtrusive manner thereby prompting her  to work on her mental  representations. During this untutored period of early childhood, the linguistic repertories of the child need two mediums: the Medium of Perception (MP) and the Medium of Facilitation (MF).

Does a child need a language as a medium of instruction during the untutored period of early childhood?  She is an active constructor of knowledge based on her very limited world view, she is a   natural language learner who can acquire a number of languages available to her at home or in her immediate neighbourhood with apparent ease and fluency.

The language used by a child and her caregiver is the language of facilitation, not a language of instruction. But the scenario changes abruptly as soon as the child comes to school for formal education. The language of  facilitation masquerading as the medium of instruction forces the child to be at the receiving end and she starts viewing the language ( the  medium)  of instruction as an imposition on her natural process of self-expression, exploration and creativity.

Traditionally speaking, the medium of instruction in schools is the language used by teachers to impart education to their pupils. It is the language used by the more knowledgeable others to instruct the less knowledgeable learners. The choice of a medium of ‘instruction’ appears to be problematic if the objective of education is knowledge creation and not the transmission of the facts, figures and the philosophy from one generation to another.  The changed role of teachers as facilitators should prompt us to consider if we are to continue the outdated notion of a medium of instruction (MI)  in our schools or to  go for identifying the medium of facilitation (MF)  for  supporting critical thinking and knowledge creation by the learners.

The selection  of a particular language as a medium of instruction is based on the assumption that language is a central vehicle for concept formation  and it is  the only medium through which all learnings take place. “Language is not only inevitable practically for interpersonal relations and social interaction, but is also  the medium  through which all intrapersonal and interpersonal experiences of the people are structured, levelled and manipulated. Language instruction is , therefore,  a basic requirement  for all types and levels of Education”( Chaturvedi and Mohale, 1976: 7).

There is no denying the fact that language is crucial in the domain of education, but the pertinent question is:  who selects that language which  performs the  crucial role in the life of a child? What are the criteria for the selection of that language which is elevated to the status of a medium of instruction? Does the selection of the medium of instruction take into consideration the broader objectives of education or is the selection  is subservient to social and  political exigencies of the day?

The banking  concept of education ( Freire, 1968) where the learners simply store the information relayed to them  by the instructor  in a particular language in a “banking” type of environment makes the medium of instruction a powerful tool of authority and oppression. This  concept of education  presupposes the use of a dominant language  as the medium of instruction in a formal setting. A medium of instruction  used by the instructors to force the learners to “receive, memorize and repeat” negates education and knowledge as processes of enquiry.”

      Mother tongue as a Medium of instruction:

The importance of using the mother tongue of the children during the initial years of schooling got an impetus in the UNESCO document of 1951 which states,“ …it is important that every effort should be made to provide education in the mother tongue……. On educational grounds we recommend that the use of the mother tongue be extended to as late a stage in education as possible. In particular, pupils should begin their schooling   through the medium of the mother tongue, because they understand   it best and because to  begin their school life in the mother tongue will make the break between home and school as small as  possible.”  

In India, the Education Commission (1964-1966), the National Curriculum Framework (1975),  the National Education Policy ( GOI 1986), the Programme of Action (GOI 1992), the National Curriculum Framework (2005) and the Draft National Education Policy (2019) have advocated the use of the mother tongue of the child  in the primary schools of the country as it is believed that  the use of the child’s mother tongue  at the primary level  would lead to the harmonious personal development of the child  and contribute to a pedagogically sound  high level of formal education.

But the official definition of a mother tongue is fraught with dangerous pedagogical implications. What do we mean by a mother tongue?  According to Collins COBUILD Advanced English Dictionary, the mother tongue is the ‘language that you  learn from your parents when you are a baby.’ According to Cambridge dictionary, your mother tongue is the language that you learn from your parents when you are a baby. But these two lexical definitions of mother tongue do not take into consideration the political, social and emotional connotation of ‘mother tongue  which is often considered to be  an ancestral property. When a child comes to school she gets a mother tongue either on the basis of her  assigned ethnicity or on the declaration made by her parents. Again, even when  the first language acquired by a child is  a distinct variety of a standard official language, that distinct and related variety is not recorded as the mother tongue of the child. Let us take two examples. A child whose first language experience is the dialect spoken in  the Barpeta district of  Assam, for example, is deemed to be a speaker of the standard variety of Assamese even though the variety spoken by the child as her fist language is significantly different from the standard variety. Similarly, a child speaking  an eastern dialect of Bengali in the Barak Valley of  Assam as her home language  gets  the standard Bengali as her mother tongue though the related variety happens to be an alien tongue to her both phonetically as well as morphologically.  When such a child comes to school and is required to use another variety of her ‘assigned mother tongue’ she  is simply baffled by the danger of losing her ‘first language.’  When she is asked not to use the deviant form of the ‘standard language’ and is castigated for using  her mother tongue ‘wrongly’ her self esteem is threatened irreparably. Language standardization may be an interesting topic for the linguists, but it is not so interesting to a young child who is expected to have a transition from the home language to the school language. The so called corrupted or degenerate form of standardized languages  are stigmatised in the classrooms though research has shown that the use of the stigmatized variety in formal education has ‘a positive rather than a negative effect on the acquisition of the standard’(Siegel, 199:701).

    Minority Languages and the medium of instruction:

A country of more than one billion population having 428 languages spread across 28 States    and 7 Union territories has 400 odd minority languages. The education of the children of these  speakers  minority languages  is a cause of concern for the policy makers as well as educational administrators. Except for a few privileged minority language communities these children of the marginalised groups are  deprived of the benefit of getting their primary education through their mother tongues. These linguistic  minority communities  have no other option but to get their education through the languages of the dominant language groups of their respective States. In an article entitled  India’s Language Debates and Education of Linguistic Minorities published in the Economic and Political Weekly in January 2008, Rao (2008:64) has  stated the plight of the linguistic minority children as follows:

“The linguistic minority communities  had to opt for the language  of the school which is usually the dominant language  of the area  or the state  in which the school  is located. For instance, a Gond in Andhra Pradesh   gets education in Telugu and a Gond in  Chattisgarh gets education in Hindi or those in Maharastra  in Marathi……   The situation is precarious for the tribal communities  such as Gonds, Santals, etc. who are promised instruction   in Gondi or in Ol Chiki (Santali), but are seldom taught in that language.  What is worse is that  the children who speak Gondi and nothing else are taught by a teacher who knows anything but Gondi, the language of the Gonds.”

     Medium of Instruction and the Draft National Policy of Education

The solution to the vexed question of Medium of Instruction may be found in the recently published draft National Policy of Education, 2019. Recognising the paramount importance of imparting education in the home language/mother tongue of the children, the draft NPE 2019 makes the following recommendations:

  1. When possible, the medium of instruction -at least until Grade 5 but preferably till at least Grade 8 will be the home language/ mother tongue/ local languages.
  2. High quality textbooks will be made available  in home languages.
  3.  In cases where such textbook material is not available, the language of transaction between teachers and students will still remain the home language when possible even if textbooks are, e.g. in the State/regional language. (emphasis used)

The assertion that the home language of the students should be the language of transaction even when the textbooks are in the State/Regional languages implies that the  Medium of Facilitation (MF) should be the home language of the learners. If this paradigm shift takes place in the pedagogical processes used in schools, the hallowed Medium of Instruction (MI) will be replaced by the Medium of Facilitation (MF).

The use of a Medium of Facilitation (MF)  presupposes a multilingual pedagogy which will give equal respect to all the languages available to a learner in her immediate neighbourhood. It will also ensure equity and inclusion in the society by introducing the children of minority and disadvantaged groups to the predominant linguistic groups of the State and the region. By respecting the child’s language as a Medium of Facilitation in the classroom even when it is different from the State/regional languages we will imbibe the spirit of multilinguality among the children which is a must for a multilingual country like India. Once this kind of a paradigm shift takes place in the school curriculum with the help of a multilingual pedagogy, a  smooth transition from the home language to the State or the regional language is bound to take place without any linguistic animosity among the different linguistic groups residing in a State or a region.


Chaturvedi, M.G and  Mohale, B. V. (1976)  Position of Languages in School Curriculum in India, New Delhi: NCERT.

Govt. of  India.(2019) Draft National Education Policy, 2019.

Laitin, D. (1989) Language Policy and Political Strategy, Policy Sciences, Vol.22, pp. 415-36.

Meganathan, R.(2011) ‘Language Policy in Education and the role of English in India: From library language to language of empowerment’ in Coleman, H(ed) Dream and  Realities: Developing Countries and the English Language,  British Council: London.

Rao, S. (2008)   India’s Language Debates and Education of Linguistic Minorities, Economic and Political Weekly. September, 2008, pp. 63-69.

Siegel, J. (1999) Stigmatized and Standardized Varieties in the Classroom: Interference or Separation, TESOL QUARTERLY Vol. 33, No. 4, Winter 1999, 701- 728.

UNESCO. (1951) The Use of Vernacular Languages in Education: the Report of the UNESCO Meeting of Specialists. Reprinted in Joshua A Fishman (ed), 1968, Readings in the Sociology of Language (pp. 688-716). The Hague: Mouton.