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Against the tide: sceptical views or just nit-picking?

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By BK JOSHI

Since children learn concepts most rapidly and deeply in their home language, the primary medium of instruction would optimally be the child’s home language/mother tongue/ familiar language (also referred to below as L1) in the Foundational Stage. This should be the approach in both public and private schools. To ensure that each child has continued proper use of their L1 when they begin at the Foundational Stage, it is essential to have Teachers (e.g., from the local community) who not only understand the language but also the local culture and traditions. More than at any other Stage, Teachers of the Foundational Stage should be proficient in the child’s L1.

(NCERT, National Steering Committee for National Curriculum Frameworks, National Curriculum Framework for Foundational Stage 2022 ; p. 76)

The above quote lays out in clear terms the approach to the foundational stage of education (for children aged 68 years corresponding to grades 1-3) through the medium of mother tongue/ home language/ familiar language. It is applicable to all schools public and private. The prescription sounds eminently sensible and logical and is based on a large body of research and experience of pedagogy and learning among children. The devil, it is said, lies in the detail, in this case implementation. The document quite clearly underlines the importance of teachers “who not only understand the language but also the local culture and traditions”. This is only one of the major issues to be faced while implementing the policy. What this implies is the employment and deployment of only local teachers well-versed and proficient in the local language, customs and traditions at the foundational stage. Hence intra-state transfer of teachers is virtually ruled out in government schools. There are other issues, perhaps not quite amenable to easy solutions. For instance, while teaching in the mother tongue or home language may not pose much of a problem in rural areas, since there is likely to be a large degree of uniformity in the social, cultural and linguistic background of children attending schools, yet some degree of diversity in the mother tongue of children e.g. Garhwali, Kumaoni, Jaunsari, Hindi from various parts of U.P., Bhojpuri from Bihar is quite likely. The problem is much more complex in urban areas. Any city, especially the larger one, is quite likely to have a fair mix of people from different linguistic backgrounds. What should be the language of instruction in these cases?

Perhaps the matter can best be clarified by using the example of Dehradun, the largest city in Uttarakhand. Although geographically it is located in Garhwal, it has a mix of population not only from other parts of the state viz. Kumaon, Jaunsar, Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar plus a substantial number of Punjabi speakers as well as people frm neighbouring districts of Uttar Pradesh. Moreover, there are a number of central government institutions and offices in the city where people from all over the country work. Thus primary schools, both public and private, are therefore likely to have children from diverse linguistic backgrounds. If we take the example of Kendriya Vidyalayas of which there are quite a number in the city, we will find children with a large diversity of mother tongue/ home language enrolled in them. The question of the medium of instruction can pose a mind-boggling problem in this case.

The solution sought earlier was to have the official language of each state as the medium of instruction, at least in government schools. Getting teachers familiar with the state language was never a problem. But under the proposed system the choice of the medium of instruction and the appointment of teachers with necessary proficiency in the language chosen will pose a big problem. Till now private schools were free to adopt either the state language or English as the medium of instruction. Under the new dispensation English as a medium of instruction at the foundational stage has been ruled out. It is now permissible to introduce it as a second or additional language later on, but the stage or class from which it is to be taught has not been specified. This may mean that each state can take a decision in this regard. Under the new curriculum framework the fate of the three-language formula is also not clearly specified. The NCF, though, shows awareness of the need to expose children to multiple languages at an early age:

“Children should be exposed to and immersed in multiple oral languages (also referred to as L2 and L3 below) from an early age. Schools will aim to ensure the presence of Teachers, and parents so that at least two or preferably three languages are present with children on a regular basis.” (NCF for Foundational Stage, p. 77)

This is a good idea in principle, but it can pose formidable challenges to schools in implementing it. How many languages can a school provide for? How many teachers proficient in different languages can a school appoint?

In sum, therefore, it may be said that the National Curriculum Framework for Foundational Stage that has been painstakingly put together is a good document, but its real utility will be tested when it is implemented. The question that needs to be asked is: Are states, especially our own, really prepared to take up the challenge?

B. K. Joshi, a social scientist, is the honorary founder Director of the Doon Library & Research Centre. He is former Vice Chancellor of Kumaun University, Nainital and Director of Giri Institute of Development Studies, Lucknow..