The policy sidesteps the imperative of English in academics

An educationally-sound appreciation and analysis of the Indian NEP (National Education Policy) is perhaps the best window to understanding the human development challenges in what is demographically going to be the most populous country in the world, with the youngest population, intensively and extensively diverse, middle-class educational ethos, entrepreneurial culture, etc.

The third dimension of evaluation of Indian NEP is whether the policy will really work, it sidesteps the imperative of English in academics. We have been reading commentaries on NEP from the more admired Indian commentators (names are not important), praising NEP to no end for ‘mother tongue education in primary.’ This unbelievable ignorance and duplicity, if not worse, highlights how the best-read, and globe-trotting professionals amongst us are uncritical and unreasoning when it comes to education, being human, and glaring and growing inequality across the globe.

For instance, a recent commentary supported teaching ‘English as a subject’ just the way mainland Europeans do, as the second language! However, English is nowhere in the language of academics in continental Europe; when a French child learns English, or German, it is not to ever do ANY academic work, or read literature in English, or German languages. Academics are transacted in French for children in France, and other languages are learned only at the communicative level. This distinction is very critical.

In our case, English is our ONLY possible language of academics! It is not a ‘subject’ just as French is not a subject for children in France! Yes, French is the mother tongue of the people. It is also the language in which they read literature, and French literature is home to a fair percentage of French homes.

Perhaps more interestingly, even much smaller countries compared to India, like Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, etc., transact the most extensive academics, such as medicine and engineering, and other domains like law, psychology, economics, philosophy, and all else in their mother tongues. How do they do it? They have extensively borrowed from some other ‘mother languages’ to enrich themselves; for example, what Sanskrit is to Thai is what Latin is to English; Vietnamese and Korean languages have significant Chinese words to be extensive languages. You are reading it right – we can also go back to Sanskrit and extensively and intensively ‘Sanskritise’ it to make it right for most effectively using it for all kinds of academic domains. But there are many more questions around it – why only Hindi (every other Indian language deserves the same end if it helps the natives of the languages), how long will that ‘sanskritisation’ take for a language (at least a few decades, read more on this next), can English be that national-academic language for us (yes, in fact, it is only egalitarian solution to the language conundrum in India), is it worth in times of AI-driven all-the-knowledge at a click (it is obviously not worth at all).

The tale of zero is a very interesting lesson for us Indians. Despite being ‘invented’ in India – there is all the evidence of the same – the decimal number system (0–9) as a positional system is called the Indo-Arabic numeral system. This is because zero, which helped power the renaissance and scientific revolution in Europe heralding the modern era, reached Europe through the Arabic texts. Fibonacci, the Italian mathematician, read about zero in Islamic North Africa (a centre of scientific thoughts during Islam’s Golden Age) in the twelfth century during his stay there for scientific inquiry. How did the Arabs get hold of zero? The Arabs had literally translated everything worth reading in the eighth and the ninth century into Arabic texts, including Aryabhatiya – a Sanskrit astronomical treatise that proposed zero – into Arabic in 820 CE. It took a couple of centuries for the Arabic language to get this extensive; this task of making a language almost infinitely expansive is now more demanding than ever, given the knowledge pool we live in now.

This discussion is well beyond the scope of the book, and we would not get beyond this here, except make the following remarks on the English language for India:

  • It is unfair to say that command over English affects anybody’s Indianness. Anyway, by making every child reach literary level competence in their mother tongue in primary school years is the best assurance of ‘Indianness’. This is also the most educationally sound solution.
  • The best is to create an ‘Indian English’, outside of all phonetic nuances; it would not be a big task if we come to it as a nation – it will redefine English for every Indian!
  • In a globalising world, there are a lot of migrant and linguistic minorities everywhere, and using the mother tongue of the majority is not fair. In fact, India is lucky that we have an option of another language and it could be used to integrate education.
  • We already know the challenges of translation of scientific books, they are not translated, but transliterated, and are of unacceptable quality on many counts. It reflects poorly on us as a nation. Do we also translate, or recreate the knowledge on the Internet, into Indian languages, now and ever later, for continuous upgradation – personal, institutional, and national?
  • It takes a few centuries to get a language to become a language of higher academics in all domains of knowledge – engineering, medicine (a huge domain of knowledge),

Last but not the least, if we Indians do not read a significant amount of literature in any language, let us just read literature in English (which will be one notch easier for all Indian families than to get and read literature in mother tongues). And yes, let us read English literature written by Indians only, in India! 

“NEP is in contempt of national trust!”

One thought on “The policy sidesteps the imperative of English in academics

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