Language Policy In Indian Education: Pile It Up On The Children

I figured out how the Indian educational system initiates rote learning for students by turning upside down the LSRW approach in acquiring languages. However, I could not understand the reason, then.

I know that Indian students are taught multiple languages; I was a student myself, long back. However, I was taken aback when I read that currently, NCERT recommends that students learn a minimum of five (5) languages in their schooling years.

The quote from NCERT website: We strongly believe that all children should leave school with CALP (Cognitive Advance Language Proficiency) in at least three languages; they should of course know a couple of others at least at the level of BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills).

Now, I think I can connect the dots. The Indian education system has no option but to upturn the LSRW approach for teaching languages. They have to torture the child with so many languages and ensure that there is some resemblance of learning at the end of it. There is no time for the conventional time-taking methodical LSRW approach. What has to be done? Pile it up on the children. Bash on regardless. Focus on Writing, Reading might follow later. The student is left on her/his own for Speaking and Listening.

This brings us to the larger picture of what is the language policy in Indian Education and what purpose it serves?

The Language Policy

The Constitution, adopted in 1950, necessitated that English and Hindi be utilized for conducting the Union’s official business for a time of fifteen years [s. 343(2) and 343(3)]. After that time, Hindi should turn into the sole official dialect of the Union. This did not happen. What to do now?

  • Education policymakers knew that Hindi cannot be disrespected, so teach Hindi.
  • They recognized that English is not going to leave the Indian shores, so teach English.
  • Now, they became conscious that except for the northern states, Hindi is not the mother tongue for the rest of the citizens of the country. So, teach the third language.
  • Sanskrit is practically not used anywhere in the country. But we cannot forget the glorious past of the country. So, teach the fourth language.
  • Now, with so many commissions and omissions, we are bound to step on the toes of some of the communities and religions. To respect their feelings, teach the fifth language.

I know I made the above explanation up. However, there is no other practical way of explaining this silly obsession of teaching five languages to students.

The language policy takes into account the reality of multilingualism, the push and pulls of regionalism, the political need to carry every religion and community together and the inevitability of English. The hotchpotch ragtag mishmash jumble of teaching five languages is the incorrigible output.

Just that, it fails to take into account the audience for this folly of a policy. The children pay the price for this craziness and bear the brunt of taking the load of studying five languages.

The Purpose

NCERT dutifully mentions “We should also note that several recent studies have effectively demonstrated the positive relationship of multilingualism with cognitive growth, social tolerance, divergent thinking and scholastic achievement.” NCERT does not give a link to any of these studies.

I am not aware of any other country in the world that is teaching five languages to their children. Would other countries not be aware of what their children are missing out on by not studying five languages? This seems to be a well-guarded secret by Indian educationists.

Indian society is as much an inequitable and discriminatory as it can be. When it comes to social ills and leaving the marginal and vulnerable sections unprotected, benefits of multilingualism, as quoted by NCERT, seems to have bypassed India.

Rather, I feel that by making a child focus on so many languages simultaneously, Indian education system ensures that the child does not master any. Leave aside becoming a master of languages, s/he would abhor the languages. Do you need proof? Check the number of students opting for JEE/NEET and those opting for humanities at +2 level.

I agree that bilingualism is helpful for the child, but it is about two languages. Why is the third language getting added to the conundrum? The further addition of the fourth and fifth language is a sheer torment of young minds.

Would NCERT be conducting alternative studies that limiting the languages for school children to a maximum of two would lead to a better academic outcome? Apart from letting children enjoy their childhood, seemingly an objective that is long forgotten.

Apart from increasing the weight of school bags, I see no purpose of the language policy in Indian education.

What would be your views about the language policy in Indian education and the purpose it serves?

PS: I do not think, though, five languages are being taught to children anywhere in the country. It is another silly government rule that no school cares to follow. Even though the children are burdened with 3/4 languages, and that itself is too many.

LSRW: Where And How Rote Learning Starts In Indian Educational System

LSRW is considered a natural way of acquiring a language. A child is expected to go through the four stages of LSRW in sequential order. A child would first listen to the mother tongue spoken around her/him. At the second stage, the child learns to speak – makes sounds, moves on to alphabets, small words and gradually, the sentences. The third stage would be reading – picture books and tactile material, establishing a relationship with letters and words. The last stage would be writing.

The above is how LSRW (Listen Speak Read Write) is expected to function for a child when s/he acquires a new language. However, the Indian educational system has turned this principle upside down and come up with an opposite version for the language learning of Indian students.

Disclaimer: I am a stay-at-home father, since the last three years, to my now five and a half-year-old twin daughters. My wife and I are also trying to develop a sort of home-schooling for the girls. In the process, I try to figure out how the Indian education system of curriculum, schools, books, NCERT, methodology etc work. This is how I stumbled upon LSRW and the below are my views on its utter disregard in the Indian educational system.

Writing as a rote skill

Have you ever considered what is taught to children in the play-school/school? Invariably, in the majority of the schools, writing will be an integral part of whatever the child is exposed to. And that too, it will be in English.

Have you ever wondered why the reading does not precede writing in Indian schools? I guess that reading cannot be dictated, reading cannot be forced, reading cannot be made to order. After all, reading is an age-appropriate skill. The child will learn to read, only when s/he is ready to read. However, writing is a flexible skill and amenable to manipulation.

The schools make the child write alphabets, words and short sentences, even though the child in the natural course of things has not encountered them. Ideally, the child should be able to read and comprehend what s/he is writing, but here the child is made to write irrespectively.

In short, Indian schools force-teach writing, preceding reading and in many instances, even before the speaking and listening happen. After all, the probability of English as a mother tongue for us, Indians, is fairly remote.

The rot starts with NCERT

I was wondering how schools could turn the LSRW on its head and get away with it. Unsurprisingly, they have been given a go-ahead by NCERT, itself. The below two quotes are from NCERT website.

“For a very long time now, we have been talking in terms of LSRW skills as the objectives of languages teaching. This exclusive focus on discrete skills has had fairly adverse consequences.”

NCERT does not bother to list even one of what these adverse consequences are.

“We now plead for a more holistic perspective on language proficiency. After all, when we are Speaking, we are also simultaneously Listening and when we are Writing, we are also Reading in a variety of ways.”

Yes, NCERT is right. When we speak, we also listen, for listening precedes speaking. When we write, we also read, for reading precedes writing. NCERT uses the correct order of LSRW and then reverses the interpretation when it comes to actual implementation. NCERT maintains stoic silence on the holistic perspective on language proficiency and does not go beyond bashing up LSRW.

Thus, NCERT gives its blessing to schools to take up Writing as the first step in language teaching. In the process, NCERT does not cite any study/argument/logic to arrive at its convoluted inference.

The above two points are at actuals. You can see them in execution in schools and read in NCERT’s website, in letter and spirit. The third point is my interpretation of the first two points.

Schools and parents lap up writing

Formal environment for kids in India is big business. They charge a bomb. So, they have to also deliver, something. Unfortunately for them, reading as a skill cannot be delivered. Speaking as a skill takes time. In a short period, what is possible is writing. So, the child writes.

Education and learning are tangible, as well as intangible. We, Indian parents, understand and believe what we see a child doing. We do not tend to bother much about what is indeterminate. A child writing is a perceptible occurrence and it makes us happy that our child is learning. So, the child writes.

Summing Up

The educationists, the parents, everyone bemoans that the Indian educational system promotes rote learning. Basis of my interpretation of LSRW, I believe that rote learning starts early, very early in the Indian educational system.

It starts with the un-natural preference for writing, a skill that should come last in the natural order of skills to be learnt for a child to acquire a language and we teach it first before any other language skill is picked up by the child. I did not find a single article on this on the internet, neither for nor against. Seemingly, it is not a topic of discussion.

We are trying to follow LSRW with our twin daughters. Let us see how it unfolds.

What are your views on LSRW and the Indian educational system?