Draft NEP 2019 and Three Language Conundrum

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Human tendency to communicate with others is the underlying principle for emergence of a language. The language plays a pivotal role in any learning process irrespective of the subject matter or area and any student can assimilate a new concept when he/she has learnt a language. But India being a linguistically diverse country where almost 1600 languages are spoken due to which there have always been controversies with regard to languages that should be part of the curriculum. After considerable deliberations, several commissions recommended teaching at least three languages at the school level which is known as the Three –language formula the nuances of which we will be discussed later.

This 50-year-old controversy got a new lease of life recently when the Central government released a draft NEP 2019 on May 31, 2019, a report prepared by a committee headed by space scientist K. Kasturirangan where in a paragraph referred mandatory teaching of Hindi in non-Hindi speaking states set off a political storm in Tamil Nadu, which is traditionally opposed to the compulsory study of Hindi. The draft had a sentence on flexibility on choice of language for school students. Those who wished to change the three languages may do so in Grade 6, it said, “so long as the study of three languages by students in 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.” Draft New Education Policy 2019 referred to the mandatory teaching of Hindi in States where Hindi is not spoken.

What is 3-Language Formula?

Three-Language Formula was devisedfor the first time by CABE (Central Advisory Board of Education) in the year 1956 which suggested that the following languages should be part of core curriculum:

  1. Mother tongue, or regional language, or a composite course of mother tongue and a regional language, or a composite course of mother tongue and a classical language, or a composite course of regional language and a classical language.
  2. English or a modern European language.
  3. Hindi (for non-Hindi speaking areas) or another Indian language for Hindi-speaking areas.

This method was approved for adoption by the Chief Ministers’ Conference in 1961. This approval let to the Language Act that was passed by the Indian Parliament in 1963. According to which

–              Hindi shall be the official language of India.

–              English shall be the associate official language.

–              The regional languages shall be the languages of administration in the states.

–              The UPSC examinations shall be conducted in all the languages in Schedule-VIII of the constitution.

–              The 3-language Formula should be adhered to in educational institutions.

The formula was developed to promote national integration and to provide a variety of languages in the curriculum. The formula appeared theoretically sound but practically it was never implemented in letter and spirit because people in general thought it advocated too many languages for curriculum and there was no motivation in the Hindi-speaking areas for people to learn an additional Indian language. As such a modified version of the Three-language formula was later devised by the Kothari Commission in 1966, the recommendations of which were:

  1. The mother tongue or the regional language.
  2. The official language of the union (i.e. Hindi) or the associate official language (i.e. English) so long as it exists; and
  3. A modern Indian or foreign language not covered under 1 and 2 and other than that used as the medium of instruction.

The formula as enunciated in the 1968 National Policy Resolution which provided for the study of “Hindi, English and modern Indian language (preferably one of the southern languages) in the Hindi speaking states and Hindi, English and the Regional language in the non-Hindi speaking States”.This document said regional languages were already in use as the media of education in the primary and secondary stages. In addition, it said, At the secondary stage, State governments should adopt and vigorously implement the three-language formula.

Whether it is the Three-language formula of the CABE or its modified version in the Kothari Commission, the fact of the matter remains that even though it could be a goal for the Indian multilingual situation but it was impractical. In reality, it was never a success in any state and English continues to occupy its strong position in all educational programmes at all levels.

Why is there controversy now?

The draft of New Educational Policy received a huge criticism from political leaders in Tamil Nadu, who were quick to dub the proposal as an attempt to impose Hindi on the unwilling State. Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam president M.K. Stalin warned that his party would be forced to launch another agitation against Hindi imposition. The State has been traditionally opposed to any attempt to introduce Hindi as a compulsory language of learning or administration as there had been massive protests against earlier attempts to impose Hindi in 1937 and 1965. The origin of the linguistic row, however, goes back to the debate on official language. In the Constituent Assembly, Hindi was voted as the official language by a single vote. However, it added that English would continue to be used as an associate official language for 15 years. The Official Languages Act came into effect on the expiry of this 15-year period in 1965. This was the background in which the anti-Hindi agitation took place. However, as early as in 1959, Jawaharlal Nehru had given an assurance in Parliament that English would continue to be in use as long as non-Hindi speaking people wanted it.

Following protests by political parties, mainly in Tamil Nadu, on what they called the “imposition” of Hindi, the HRD Ministry, at Kasturirangan’s behest, has shared a revised document on its website, which dropped the recommendation that stipulated the languages that students must choose to study from Grade 6.

The new draft now states: “In keeping with the principle of flexibility, students who wish to change one or more of the three languages they are studying may do so in Grade 6 or Grade 7, so long as they are able to still demonstrate proficiency in three languages (one language at the literature level) in their modular Board Examinations sometime during secondary school.”

PS:Despite devising various versions of 3-language formula which only appear theoretically sound, English language becomes de facto Compulsory after class X which has been quietly accepted by the educationists and the people who are at the helm of policy making because almost 70% of information is transmitted and stored electronically in this very language, so there is no logic in making Hindi mandatory for non Hindi speaking people.

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