The call by Home Minister Amit Shah last week for engineering, law and medicine to be taught in Indian languages is a well-intentioned one. His stand is in sync with one of the focal points of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, i.e., the promotion of Indian languages in higher education. The NEP provides for more higher educational institutions and programmes in higher education to use the mother tongue or local language as a medium of instruction, besides offering programmes bilingually. The rationale behind Mr. Shah’s call is that 95% of students, who receive primary education in their mother tongue, should not be left out in their pursuit of higher studies. In recent years, substantive measures have been taken to make engineering courses available in Indian languages, if the statement by Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan in the Lok Sabha in December 2021 is an indication. Effective 2021-22, the AICTE granted approval to 19 engineering colleges in 10 States for having engineering courses in six Indian languages. The Council has also developed an “AICTE Translation Automation AI Tool” that translates English online courses in 11 Indian languages. SWAYAM, an open online courses platform of the Central government, has been offering some popular courses in Indian languages too. The import of this is that the goal of covering all sections as far as higher education is concerned should become a reality. But, at the same time, one should not gloss over the exercise not having yielded results. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, the bid to impart engineering education through the Tamil medium has not created any impact despite the principal political players using language as a political tool. In the field of law — before the subject is taught in the Indian languages — the Central government should try to impress upon the judiciary to allow the use of Indian languages in court proceedings.
While there is no need for haste in making educational materials available in Indian languages, the approach and methodology should be discussed threadbare by policymakers and educationists, without political pressure or interference. What should be made obvious is that the use of English, wherever desirable, should be retained, with no aversion shown on the ground that it is a “foreign” language. It would not be out of place to highlight issues about standards and the quality of teaching of Indian languages in schools. Be it Gujarati or Hindi or even Tamil, students have been found to fail in their public examinations in language papers. There is also the point of diminished employability outside the region of the language. If the Government is serious in taking forward its stated position of creating higher education access to certain sections, it should dispassionately study the advantages and the disadvantages.