'Teaching & Learning' is a weekly column on education and related issues.

Is the medium of instruction important to understand concepts better for students? Does mother tongue as medium help augment and create knowledge, as some studies have to say? Parents, students, industry and academia will be following this keenly as Tamil medium of instruction enters the engineering curriculum of the State for the first time.

B.E. Civil and Mechanical streams in all the constituent colleges of Anna University now have separate classes being offered in Tamil and English. While the response to courses in the native language was lukewarm, it later gathered momentum. Of the 1,380 seats available in these two courses, 1,376 have been filled with the top score being 198.50. Eighty per cent of the students who opted for Tamil medium of instruction are those who studied in Tamil medium in higher secondary school, according to the Tamil Nadu Engineering Admission 2010.

It is a mixed reaction as faculty gets set to teach in Tamil without being groomed. According to faculty members of the College of Engineering, Guindy, many students fail or drop out of college when they are not able to cope with the medium of instruction. This gap would be bridged by imparting lessons in Tamil as well as boost students to complete higher education. Another faculty says as civil and mechanical are the basic engineering streams, if knowledge and understanding of the subject is sound then the question of how expressive they are can be tackled.

Three Art and Science colleges have applied for affiliation to Madras University to start B.Com in Tamil medium. Madras University Vice-Chancellor G. Thiruvasagam says it is necessary to offer choice as for some students their native language becomes an easier mode of expression, where the outcome is much better.

“Chennai Schools see a huge migration from Tamil to English medium after class X, but it is difficult for these students to cope. But sheer determination and hard work have also seen some top school,” says R. Arthanari, former president (Chennai region), TN Higher Secondary Schools Headmasters' Association. But, the industry is so far, pessimistic. They say as today's workforce is trained for a global environment and the ability to communicate in English is a must, curriculum plays a role. A head of a manufacturing company says that for a small firm whose business is predominantly within the State, these students would stand a fair chance but not otherwise.

However, B. Suresh Kamath, Managing Director, Laser Soft Infosystems, sees potential if students studying in their native language stay on in the country and solve the problems. “Fifty percent of people that we recruit have a rural background and English has never been a hindrance. Also because ours is a product company and logic is what we are looking from professionals, they do well,” says Mr. Kamath. Meanwhile, to help students in a smooth transition, soft skills development class, an online dictionary www.agaraadhi.com and bi-lingual engineering text books some engineering professors are working on should show the way. “Availability of teachers to teach in Tamil is important too,” adds Mr. Thiruvasagam.

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