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The draft National Education Policy (NEP) released by the Government of India recently is an important step towards laying out clear guidelines on access, equity, affordability and accountability in education. At the outset, we would like to thank the government for keeping the draft open to public discussion and comment. We also would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) for recognizing the learning crisis in the country and for including Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) as an integral component to providing quality education.

1. On English being the language of the elite, lacking script-sound correspondence

All countries that have had a colonial past have retained English as a second language (ESL) since it cuts across regional boundaries. In India, English has developed into a ‘non-native’ variety of Indian English which has also found its place in the Oxford Dictionary, like British English or American English. While it was once a language of the elite, today, it is the state language of two states and the medium of instruction in schools across states (cf. Kachru 1976b: 72). The draft NEP also talks about how English “has no advantage in expressing thoughts” and how Indian languages are far better since they do not have “unphonetic complicated spellings” (p. 81, NEP). The thumb rule to learning languages is to not hold any language superior or inferior. For instance, languages such as Tamil and Malayalam use retroflex sounds which can be difficult to pronounce for Hindi speaking communities. There is also a rich tradition of English writing in India (newspapers, novels and poetry) which defeats the argument that English is a language that is devoid of expression. (refer Annex 1)

Recommendation: Identify English as an Indian language and make efforts towards improving English language teaching (ELT) in India.
2. Language Proficiency

While the draft NEP rightly identifies literacy (p. 55-56, 59, NEP) as an important tool to mitigate the learning crisis in India, it fails to make clear demarcations to gauge language proficiency. For example, The Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR) is a simple description-based scale that can be used to place languages users across various learning levels (refer annex 2). The absence of such assessment scales for Indian languages adversely impacts language learning in classrooms.
Jim Cummins (1999) identifies Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) as two forms of language proficiency. While most Indians have BICS level of communication, not many can read literary works or write academically. Ideally, as per the CEFR framework, a language user requires a period of six years to reach the C2 level. This is also identified as an advanced language level where the user could also teach the language. In India, students do not get such levels of exposure for them to become proficient language users.

Recommendation: Develop an assessment grid suitable for all Indian languages, like the CEFR, that lays down clear parameters for testing language proficiency.
3. Bilingual or a multilingual approach

There is a lot of emphasis on exposing students to as many languages as possible. The draft NEP recommends the implementation of the three-language formula across all states and has recommended the introduction of a fourth language between Grades 6-8. The three-language formula (TLF) was suggested as a possible model when southern states like Tamil Nadu had expressed their disagreement with projecting Hindi as the official language. However, this was not implemented in spirit due to various challenges. At the same time, it has also mentioned the need to teach science bilingually and to use a bilingual approach in schools where the home language of the students is not the same as the medium of instruction. The draft NEP also recommends studying foreign languages, classical languages and any other languages in schools.
Such diverse approaches to pedagogy and classroom teaching can result in confusion and burden the teaching force even further. Furthermore, schools across India do not have enough subject teachers, let alone language teachers. In this scenario, hiring teachers who could teach classical languages and foreign languages is going
to be a monumental task. In addition to this, there is lack of data on language proficiency levels of teachers. It is assumed that any teacher who is trained to teach can teach bilingually or teach any language based on loose parameters. Instead of focusing on implementing the TLF, we believe that the draft NEP should focus on developing a mother-tongue based (MTB) bilingual model for school education.
There are multiple advantages to developing bilingual models and many factors to be taken into consideration:

  1. It bridges the gap between English medium and vernacular medium schools where the former is often identified as better schools simply because of its medium of instruction.
  2. While children do have the ability to learn as many languages at a young age, this exposure must last for at least a period of 6 years, if they are taught by efficient language specialists. Given that it is impossible to expose students to four languages for a period of six years or find teachers who are language specialists, it is important that we focus on developing linguistic skills in their home language and English.
  3. In instances where the home language is an indigenous language or a tribal language or a minority language, there should be a transitional model where the student is exposed to their home language during the foundational years. Such a mother-tongue based multilingual model (MTBMLE) is already in existence in states like Odisha.
  4. Studies have identified the act of mentally shifting between languages as a cognitive burden. There are difficulties in fluent word retrieval or grammatical structures that can burden working memory (Schoonen et al., 2003). This does not mean that schools should not offer additional languages. Learning an additional language (Indian or foreign) can be incentivized in schools such that students stand to gain additional points or marks for their choice.
Recommendation: Focus on developing a Mother-Tongue Based Bilingual Model of Education, with an equal emphasis on both English as well as the home/regional language and provide additional languages as electives.
4. A bilingual approach to Social Sciences

It is commendable that the draft NEP goes on to say that a subject like Science can be taught bilingually in the home language as well as English (p. 84, NEP). However, Indian languages have often used English loan words for subjects such as science. Any attempt to replace such terms with words from native languages would be a strenuous process for teachers as well as students. This agrees with the NEP which acknowledges that “English has become an international common language in certain realms such as science and technology research, e.g. most high level scientific journals around the world at the current time publish predominantly in English.” (p. 83, NEP). When it comes to subjects that may be more locally relevant, such as the Social Sciences, maintaining a constant connect with local culture and language is important, even within the bilingual model. (p 82, NEP)
Section 5.2.7. in the draft NEP is on Materials for teachers in regional languages (p. 127, NEP). It aims to develop high-quality materials in Indian languages, including tribal languages. While this seems to be a step in the right direction, in the absence of a fixed system, and fixed proficiency scales, it will be difficult to ensure equal quality across languages, even when translating. If we were to use set standards, this would help in supporting a successful bilingual approach to studies in the schools.

Recommendation: The bilingual approach be extended to subjects such as social sciences and the arts. However, it is important that the student be exposed to academic terms in both languages, preferably between grades 9-12, so that the student is prepared for universities, where the medium of instruction is English.
5. Teacher Education/Competences

While the draft NEP dedicates an entire chapter to Teachers, touching upon important aspects such as recruitment and deployment, Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and teacher education, we have
observed that the emphasis on developing their language skills is seen to be lacking. On one hand, it states that even at the earliest stage of education the child need to learn about ‘alphabets, languages, numbers, …'(p. 47, NEP), on the other hand when it comes to deciding the tracks that will be included in B.Ed. teacher training, there is no direct mention to the language skills of the teacher, or a track that specifically allows a teacher to be a language teacher (p. 135, NEP).
In –service teacher training avenues have been identified at various levels, one aimed at Anganwadi teachers and pre-school teacher, to be given a 6-month special training programme (p. 52, NEP); secondly, a 5-day capacity development workshop for integrating the three-month long “school preparation module” for Grade 1 teachers (p. 63, NEP); 50 hours of CPD for teachers and principals annually (p. 190, NEP). These among others,
however, also do not contain any language components. The draft NEP emphasizes the need and importance of language skills (p. 55-56, 59, 64, 90, NEP) but makes no reference to the specific training apparatus for teachers which will be required for the same. They have rightly focused on the importance of locally sourced teachers, who have fluency in the local tongue and can therefore communicate easily with the students and the community; however, there seems to be a misguided approach to this that doesn’t account for any proficiency tests. There is a reductionist approach to language learning, as it only focuses on communicative (BICS) skills.

  • Highlight the requirement for language related skills in the pre-service training tracks, as well as for the CPD.
  • Conduct a qualifying examination on the lines of an exam such as the IELTS (The International English Language Testing System) for aspiring teachers, available freely for them.
  • Offer Certifications in language for both pre-service and in-service teaching.

Cummins, J. (1999). BICS and CALP: Clarifying the Distinction.
Kachru, B. B. (1976). Models of English for the Third World: white man’s linguistic burden or language pragmatics? Tesol Quarterly, 221-239.
K. Kasturirangan et al, 2019, Draft National Education Policy (NEP), Indian Ministry of Human Resource Development.
Schoonen, R., van Gelderen, A., de Glopper, K., Hulstijn, J., Simis, A., Snellings, P., &Stevenson, M. (2003). First language and second language writing: The role of linguistic knowledge, speed of processing, and metacognitive knowledge. Language Learning, 53,165–202