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The latest University Grants Commission’s (UGC’s) directive to all universities that “students be allowed to write the answers in local languages in examinations even if the programme is offered in English medium, … use local language in the teaching-learning process at universities”, is a timely one. For those who study in a mother-tongue/regional medium, the transition to English for writing exams in professional courses becomes a major hurdle. In India, as higher education has been in English for a long time, teaching has also been invariably in English. Till date, the classes at the university- level are monolingual English classes. Monolingualism has been encouraged to promote the English language that helps them (students) for conducting research and publish papers in reputed institutions. Basically, these institutions are in the western countries i.e. the English-speaking ones. It is the practice in those eminent institutions of science and technology to give value and primacy to the ones written in English. The other languages, especially from the South Asian countries that are written in their vernaculars, are put aside.
To know the scientific and technological advances and ongoing research, knowledge in English comes in handy. But the moot question is: how many Indian students aspire to do research and produce papers? Of course, their number is minuscule compared to the large number of graduates produced year after year. Do we need English dominance everywhere for their sake? Research resulting in the presentation of papers before the world is an exclusive pursuit. All are not either interested in doing it or equipped for it. Those interested in research would anyhow enhance their English skills and capabilities individually, for, they have a compelling reason to do so. There are English coaching centers in India. There are also innumerable channels on the internet to promote the English language.
To encourage bilingual (English and local language) teaching at the university level is in a way good. For, those who have had their schooling in local/regional language medium cannot express their doubts on the subject due to inadequate English language articulation. When they sit along with English-medium-educated students in the classroom, it becomes all the more embarrassing. All these years university education is synonymous with English education. To speak in the vernacular has been taboo and looked down upon. With this new directive, the inhibitions that local medium students have, are all addressed to usher in a new era, where they could feel free to speak. Hence, this step taken by the Government of India through the U.G.C. to universities would reduce social disparities. This Government, to its credit, has a clear policy on indigenous languages and their promotion. It has now brought a paradigm shift in higher education.
The elite-educated sections should give thought to the question of how many in India can speak English well? For the elite, it is natural because of their social-connects. For ordinary Indians, the mother-tongue/local language is sufficient as it fulfills all their needs. In any case, their own language does not allow the other language i.e. English to flourish in the Indian environment. Then how can students speak or understand a language in which they are not fluent? For better cognitive attainment and for the development of a holistic personality, mastery of the local language is needed. In educational pedagogy, listening and reading or receptive skills, a student receives knowledge. Whereas, speaking and writing are productive skills the student produces the accumulated knowledge through them. Hence, writing examinations in English is difficult because he or she cannot produce the knowledge he has gained in the syntactic structures of English. Therefore, communicating in the mother tongue alleviates the anxiety that arises when communicating with limited linguistic resources in English. Apart from language concerns, individual students differ in their capabilities for gathering knowledge, memory and accurately filling the examination-answer-sheet. Therefore, input in the local language will not automatically produce the desired output. However, the local language does help in all those aspects better than English.
All in all, English is needed in India along with all Indian languages for the development of science, technology and commerce but not at the cost of Indian languages. While agreeing that the English language is a valuable add-on for Indian students, it is not the crux of education or knowledge. The U.N. in its report reiterates the same in different words. In 2004, the UN Human Development Report noted that “There is no more powerful means of ‘encouraging’ individuals to assimilate to a dominant culture than having the economic, social and political returns stacked against their mother tongue. Such assimilation is not freely chosen if the choice is between one’s mother tongue and one’s future.”