[Lgpolicy-list] [lg policy] India: Language Barrier

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Tue Nov 18 16:04:38 UTC 2014

Language barrier
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  Express News Service
<http://indianexpress.com/agency/express-news-service/> | Posted: November
18, 2014 12:11 am

The ministry of human resource development is fast becoming everyone’s
favourite punching bag again — and as it would appear, not without reason.
It’s squishy, it’s squashy, it has no credible defence, for instance,
against the charge that it is playing with the lives of large numbers of
students in Kendriya Vidyalayas by removing German from the course in the
middle of the academic year. That was its first blunder, but another
followed: Sanskrit, imposed top-down, was widely perceived to replace
German, till the ministry clarified that it could be replaced by any Indian
language, in line with national policy.

Language policy in schools dates back to 1949, when state education
ministers discussed a flexible scheme delivering education in both official
languages and mother tongues. A Central resolution followed in 1968, which
was reaffirmed in the National Policy on Education in 1986. Today, schools
offer a minimum of three languages — English, Hindi and a regional
language, or Sanskrit. The removal of German may arguably be in line with
the policy that prescribes only Indian languages. But is the move
appropriate, especially from a ministry that has been going on about the
need for educational reform? This government also stresses skilling, and
the export of skills is a natural objective. In a world with permeable
borders, India’s human capital is already deployed across global language
domains. The process contributes significantly to the national interest and
should be accelerated by government intervention. Not by forcing Indian
languages upon those who look forward to careers overseas, but by offering
access to a wider bouquet of languages, both Indian and foreign. While
Indian languages affirm rootedness, foreign tongues spell mobility.

The purpose of reform is to enlarge opportunity, not restrict it. A child
who learns German in school today may get a nine to five job in Munich
years later. A child who has Sanskrit too may become a researcher in
Heidelberg, an opportunity that the first child may not enjoy. Today, young
people invest privately in learning the world’s languages in order to
become world citizens. The HRD ministry should help them by offering wider
language options in school — by distance education, if necessary — instead
of reducing the spectrum of opportunity, as it appears to be doing.
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