What would be the primary medium of education recommended by the NEP for the first 5 years of a child’s education?

The Union Cabinet’s move to approve the National Education Policy - 2020 is a seminal moment that has paved a progressive path for education in our country for the next 20 years. While educationists are applauding the phenomenal work done in revamping the NEP, there are also criticisms levelled against its implementation.

While the NEP brought many visionary goals to the table, one of the biggest talking points to emerge from it is with regard to the medium of instruction in the first 5 years of a child’s education. This has also been one of the most vociferously debated points.

What Does the NEP Say?

The NEP states “Wherever possible, students till Class 5 should be taught in the mother tongue/regional language/local language.” The proposal is based on the results of various studies that show that young children learn better in their mother tongue.

Mother Tongue as Medium of Instruction - Yes or No?

In a country where prominence given to English is utmost, accepting the introduction of the mother tongue as a medium of instruction hasn’t been easy for many. Proponents of the idea argue that having the mother tongue as a medium of instruction will definitely help to bring back the emphasis on our Indian languages.

Kids in a classroom

In today’s globalized world, the English language opens up numerous opportunities and is a critical skill to be acquired in the 21 st century. However, it isn’t quite fair to learn English or any other foreign language at the cost of forgetting the Indian languages. Furthermore, why settle for fluency in one language when children are eminently capable of learning two languages simultaneously? Also, research has proved certain unarguable benefits for children of learning in the mother tongue. Let’s take a look at these.

  • Most children are typically exposed to their mother tongue or native language from birth. Learning in the same language at school ensures that children learn faster and remember and retrieve information better.

  • Exposure to more than one language in the early years leads to greater synaptic activity in the brain. Multitasking and multiprocessing boost mental agility. This mental flexibility is transferred to other areas of cognition and learning as well.

  • Imparting instruction through the mother tongue ensures that the language is not forgotten and that its use remains strong. Consider the colossal cultural loss to our country and the world if we were to start losing our languages.

  • The use of the mother tongue expands the reach of education especially in the semi-urban and rural areas, where the imposition of the English language has been deterring learning and achievement among students for years.

  • Learning in the local language reinforces students’ self-esteem and confidence by re-affirming their cultural roots and identity.

  • The Conundrum

    The common fear is that, if a child isn’t fluent in English by age 10, she is disadvantaged for the rest of her life, especially when it comes to job prospects. Furthermore, English so far has been the common unifying language when it came to education. Teaching in the mother tongue has its own challenges. Consider a child who has been learning in the mother tongue in a particular state but moves to another state. What happens then? The answer to this question and other challenges definitely relies on how seamlessly the NEP is implemented.

    The Path Ahead

    Future ahead for students with NEP 2020

    While there are many doubts about using the mother tongue as the medium of instruction, it can indeed be successful with the strategically-planned implementation of the policy. The path ahead can be paved strongly by choosing both. For instance, a child can be taught in the mother tongue in grades 1-5 while giving a strong dose of English to ensure the child is fluent in both the languages by 10. Since young children are naturally included to be bilingual, this is possible. With thoughtful planning and a strong implementation plan, this can indeed be achieved.