In the realm of 'WILL' and 'SHOULD'.

The cover page of the Draft of National Education Policy - 2019

The Draft National Policy of 2019 on Education was released by the Government of India on the 31st of March 2019, a day after the election results were announced. Here is a montage of a few paragraphs nested under a  subsection of titled 'Education in the local language/mother tongue; multilingualism and the power of language' - and some reflections on them.

Page 81 of the Draft Education policy echo these words, "Children learn languages extremely quickly when immersed early, and multilingual children in studies around the world have also been found to learn faster and be placed better later in life than those who are unilingual....... A multilingual India is better educated and also better nationally integrated.... ''.

These words embody the noble intentions of the policy which clearly asserts that the exposure to multi languages early in life would be beneficial to the individual as well as the nation. Catch them young - the phrase sounds good. Wait, hold your horses. Building upon these noble intentions comes the diktat at paragraph 4.5.3, "...all students from pre-school and Grade 1 onwards will be exposed to three or more languages".  Why was the languages 'three or more' and why not 'two or more"?

A quick flash back to the days when we were framing our Charter of Constitution - the agreement we have had between the people - post our independence from the British Empire would throw some light. One group of people wanted Hindi to be the new country's national and official language. Another group mainly from Tamil Nadu and Bengal opposed this idea as they saw this an a unnecessary imposition; they favored the continuation of the then existing official language, English. A compromise between the two groups saw both the languages being accepted as official languages of the country. As India is a country with many languages and therefore many cultures, the states were also allowed to use their own official languages.

In 1968, a National Education Policy was accepted by the Indian Central Parliament where in the three language formula echoing the compromise mentioned in the Constitution was implemented at the secondary schooling level. National Education Policy - 1968 Clause 3 (b) said, "The State Government should adapt, and vigorously implement, the three-language formula which includes the study of a Modern Indian language, preferably one of the Southern languages, apart from Hindi and English in Hindi speaking states, and of Hindi along with the regional language and English in Non Hindi speaking states''. The words 'should adapt' brought in a sense of non imperativeness to the clause and gave the states a license to act or not to. Tamil Nadu, for example, followed a two language policy virtually shunting out Hindi from its borders.
Cut back to the present, to paragraph 4.5.3 of the Draft National Education Policy of 2019 and its diktat for the children to study 'three or more' languages. The noble intention of studying 'three languages or more' gets narrowed down to 'three languages' when we go down to paragraph 4.5.6 of the draft. The paragraph is named 'The implementation of the three language formula' and it states 'The three-language formula will need to be implemented in its spirit throughout the country, promoting multilingual communicative abilities for a multilingual country. However, it must be better implemented in certain States, particularly Hindi speaking States; for purposes of national integration, schools in Hindi speaking areas should also offer and teach Indian languages from other parts of India.'

In both 4.5.3 and 4.5.6 the word 'WILL' is used which makes these noble intentions seem almost like a decree, a far cry from the 'SHALL' used in the National Education Policy - 1968. If this policy is adopted by the Central Government, the state of Tamil Nadu too might have to co-opt itself into the three language policy. Also to be noted is that the 1968 policy made it preferable that the students in the Hindi belt study 'preferably one of South Indian languages'. Those words are missing in the 2019 draft policy. Complicating matters further, paragraph 4.5.6 also uses the word 'should' as in "Hindi speaking areas should also offer and teach Indian languages from other parts of India". The word 'should' evokes a certain sense of probability, the element of certainty gets missed.

Hence, if a child in the remote village in the Hindi speaking belt of the state of Madhya Pradesh wanted to study Tamil or Malayalam the 'preferability' of it could now be officially zilch. Not that South Indian languages were preferred as the third language in the Hindi belt even otherwise, the lack of teachers being the main bane along with a great degree of disinterest. It would seem that there would be no serious attempt made by the Hindi speaking belt to learn the languages of other parts of the country, especially of the southern part of it. In fact, it can be safely stated that there were no such serious attempt despite the noble intentions of the earlier education policies.

But we shall cling on to the positives of this word 'WILL' that has popped up in this Draft National Educational Policy of 2019 in paragraphs  4.5.3 and 4.5.6. AS it makes the three language policy mandatory, theoretically speaking, it is very now much possible for a child in a remote Hindi belt village in Madhya Pradesh to choose a North Eastern State language like Manipuri or Assamese as his third language to study, apart from Hindi and English. Paragraph 4.5.7 further states 'In localities where there is a shortage of teachers who speak a given language, special efforts will be made, and special schemes rolled out, to recruit teachers (including retired teachers) to that locality who speak that language."  The word again is the certainty of the 'WILL'. Superb, it would seem that there would be plenty of teachers to teach in plenty of Indian languages.  

Let us not at all get into the realm of possibilities where the child living in the remote village in Madhya Pradesh might have Avadi, Gondi or Bundeli as his mother tongue or local language.  Paragraph 4.5.1 of the draft policy states, "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." If I walked this path, it complicates matters with non availability of teachers and books in such mother tongue and home languages etc... The school that the Hindi belt boy is attending in the remote Madhya Pradesh village would be well within its rights to make use the words 'when possible' embedded in the beginning of paragraph 4.5.1. It can simply and legally say that it is 'not possible' that the medium o f instruction be home language / mother tongue / local language.

Moving further, paragraph 4.5.9 provides a certain flexibility of choices that is made available for the child at grade 6th and 7th stage. Among other things it states, '... a change in language choice in Grade 6 would certainly be feasible if the student so desires and would in such cases be supported by teachers and the schooling system".  Now, is it possible for the school in the remote Hindi belt village of Madhya Pradesh to deny the child the language of his choice ie.. Manipuri or Assamese? Well yes, they can always quote paragraph 4.5.9 and say that they are not 'supported by teachers and the schooling system'. So in such scenario, what then would the third language choice be of the child, apart from English and Hindi?

Further down the report in paragraph 4.5.14 are the words, "... Sanskrit WILL be offered at all levels of school and higher education as one of the optional languages on par with all Schedule 8 languages." The emphasis in the 'will' is done by me. Since there is a 'WILL' in this paragraph the school in the remote village in Madhya Pradesh or any other part of India has to imperatively offer Sanskrit as a language to study for the child who might have wanted to learn his tribal mother tongue, his dialect or even Manipuri or Assamese language. 

Immediately after paragraph 4.5.14, as if to compensate the paragraph that was written on Sanskrit and almost as a second thought. there is another paragraph numbered 4.5.18 that declares, "In addition to Sanskrit, the teaching of other classical languages and literatures of India, including Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Odia, Pali, Persian, and Prakrit, will also be widely available in schools, to ensure that these languages and literatures stay alive and vibrant, especially in States where they may be best taught and nurtured.'

Don't let the 'WILL' fool you here, what is crucial is what follows. Though there is an imperativeness to these classical languages that they be made 'widely available' thanks to the usage of the word 'WILL', it would be okay for some schools not to make it available at all. Why? I bring to your notice the last few words in the paragraph. It is the icing on the cake and it  states that these languages will be widely be available 'especially in States where they may be best taught and nurtured.' Where would Manipuri and Assamese be best 'thought and nurtured'? Obviously it would be in the states of Manipur and Assam where the languages are spoken and where there is already an eco system for the dissemination for such languages; and not in the Hindi speaking belt of Madhya Pradesh. All the more reason for the school in the Hindi belt regions to deny the choices of the child who would want to learn Manipuri, Assamese or any other non Hindi Indian languages.

So, what then would by default be the Hindi belt child's third language? The diktat that is there in clause 4.5.14 - Sanskrit. Under the 'Classical languages and literatures of India' sub heading, one whole paragraph is devoted to the development of the Sanskrit language and a paragraph of similar length to Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Odia, Pali, Persian, and Prakrit put together. Paragraph 4.5.14 has half a page devoted to the title 'Study of Sanskrit and knowledge of its extensive literature', where as paragraph 4.5.15 titled "Make available courses on all classical languages of India' involving all other Indian languages has just a paragraph to it. No guesses as to which direction the facilities and schemes that would be rolled out to recruit teachers under paragraph 4.5.7 of the draft policy would take.

In the realm of cinema, we say that the amount of screen time we give to a particular character betrays his or her importance in the larger scheme of things in the narrative. Similar here.  The drafters of the policy and the possible brief given to them seem to have a heavy soft corner for Sanskrit; other classical languages equally rich in literature, wisdom and antiquity is seemed to be relegated to the 'ALSO' category.

The original draft of the paragraph 4.5.9 is supposed to be the following “In keeping with the principle of flexibility, students who wish to change one of the three languages they are studying may do so in grade 6, so long as the study of three languages by students in the Hindi-speaking states would continue to include Hindi and English and one of the modern Indian languages from other parts of India, while the study of languages by students in the non-Hindi speaking states would include the regional language, Hindi and English,” This paragraph titled 'Flexibility in the three-language formula'  ironically had made Hindi compulsory.  

The maximum protests to this section came from Tamil Nadu, a state that has not yet implemented the three language policy formalized by the Central Government in 1968. It had struck to its very own policy of two languages that of Tamil and English, with stubborn steadfastness. The older 4.5.9 meant that Tamil Nadu would now be bound to implement the three language policy with a Hindi imposition. The widespread protests has led the central government to modify the paragraph, where it has withdrawn the mandatory Hindi imposition.

However paragraph 4.5.3 and paragraph 4.5.6 of the Draft National Educational Policy and its 'WILL" would still make it mandatory for any state to adapt the three language formula - so it would seem. It will be extremely unlikely that a school in a remote village in Tamil Nadu would teach Manipuri or Assamese to an interested child, or for that matter the local Toda language. The child would have no option but to select either Hindi or Sanskrit as it is most likely that teachers would be by and large available to these subject, thanks to the historical state support the two languages have received post the Indian independence.

There are 22 languages to the 8th schedule of the constitution and according to the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India, there are about 19,500 languages spoken in India. It would be a pity if these languages are neglected or given perennial treatment. And come to think of it, one of the noble intention of the Draft National Education policy is multilingualism.

Some food for thought: What if in the Draft Education policy of 2019 there was 'SHALL' instead if 'WILL' ? Well, I won't go into that as it will and shall make me split my hair!!!


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