Why is it better for students to learn in the language they can understand?

Localise learning: It is better for students to learn in the language they can understand, feels Sandeep Bapna, Managing Director, Khan Academy India

September 18, 2021 05:47 pm | Updated September 19, 2021 09:32 pm IST

It is better for students to learn in the language they can understand

It is better for students to learn in the language they can understand

According to the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, “wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Class 5, but preferably till Class 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother tongue/local language/regional language.” While this is not mandatory, research proves that it has its benefits like effective learning in communities where children have minimal or no proficiency in English, and can help reduce the number of dropouts and increase student participation.

Khan Academy India (KAI), a not-for-profit organisation incorporated in India, has aligned itself with this belief. Founded by Khan Academy Inc. and Tata Trusts, KAI provides free tech-enabled learning resources, and assessment and feedback tools for Classes 1-12, in English and regional languages like Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada and Tamil. Sandeep Bapna, Managing Director, Khan Academy India, sheds more light on the effectiveness of learning in regional languages and why KAI backs the idea.

Khan Academy has been into digital learning long before the pandemic. What advantage did you have because of that?

First of all, it allowed us to respond quickly to the situation. Within two to three weeks of school closures, we were able to reach out to five lakh students in Delhi with ‘At-home’ learning packs. We were able to take similar steps with a few other State partners. So the advantage was that we had the resources in place to deliver.

Is the challenge for KAI unique because of the multiple medium of instructions and boards?

It’s a challenge for everyone in India, so it is not unique in that sense. The real challenge for us is: How fast can we move on this front? A vast body of content takes time to translate, because it is not just about using voice-overs but recreating the entire content.

How does the localisation process take place?

In three stages: First is the translation, which takes about nine months; then we start the pilot phase with 50-100 schools to assess how the content can be integrated and what kind of training works; finally, we need to start expanding. The challenge in the final step is the infrastructure available in schools. This is changing quite a bit now. With this model in place, in the next two to three years, we aim for 9 out of 10 students to have access to KAI resources in their own language.

How can education in regional languages be made more effective in the context of opportunities for higher education, jobs or research?

If you are a learner in a regional language, the first priority should be to build a solid foundation in your early schooling years, right up to Middle School. If you can solidify your understanding of Math, Science and Language in your own language, you are ready to pursue it further in the language of your choice. But here’s where things beyond our purview come into play like: Are there enough high-quality education institutes in local languages where students can pursue advanced careers?

There is research coming out globally about mixed learning, where a student has to learn both a subject like Math and the language it is taught in. We are making life difficult for students. So, at least initially, it is better for students to learn in the language they can understand. That way, they can just focus on the subject.

Have you been able to measure the effectiveness of learning in a regional language?

We have not and it is likely to be a complex study. When we started in India about four years ago, KAI was available only in English. The share of vernacular then was 0%. Now it is already over 15-20% per month. I foresee that, in a couple of years, it will be more than 50%. It is a combination of content becoming available, students becoming aware of the content and using it. If you see metrics like the YouTube videos, videos in Hinglish trump every other language. So, from an engagement parameter, I’d say learning in a regional language is definitely more effective.

In an evolving education scenario, what is the way forward?

Technology can be used to empower teachers. So, leveraging technology in a classroom with a human who can guide the students in the early years is going to be the most effective method.

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