Conversations in the Classroom: Reflections on the New Education Policy

In an earlier post, we presented some highlights of the New Education Policy released recently, after several years of intense discussion between the policy-makers and experts in the field. Today, we address the issue of conversations in and outside the classroom; basically conversations outside the familiar terrain of the home. There are several nuances related to how a language is expressed in society, and this discussion that has been extracted from a Facebook post with a few additions provides some idea of the complex dynamics related to the politics of language use. We wonder how these will be addressed in the implementation of NEP2020.

Regarding the entry of multiple languages with a foundation of the mother tongue is unfortunately being seen by some as a step backwards, since English is seen as a language of progress and it is believed that the earlier the introduction in the developmental sequence, the better it will be for picking up the language. Despite the fact that scholars like Prof. Ajit Mohanty, Prof. G. N. Devy have argued about the importance of starting with the familiar and then moving to the ‘other’, these debates still longer. Research has unequivocally supported the approach that early education in the mother-tongues is highly favourable for the learning of linguistic AND other content. The implementation of the policy by the different regions of India will do well to head the advice from experts. Here are some academic references that will provide a supplementary reading on the issue of language use and multilingualism (in Zambia) from Robert Serpell, and another reference he alerted my attention to.

Conversations in the Classroom

Reflections about local languages, mother and ‘other’ tongues. Will Haryanvi ever be recognised and respected as a “local language”? Here are some thoughts posted in a couple of other places. I would love to hear what you all think. Sorry, this is a long one………………….. “My concerns also relate to spoken languages. In my case, for instance, my mother tongue has a significantly different vocabulary and accent, but has been made to ‘fit into’ the closest prominent relative: Hindi. This has been a problematic journey, but one that I can look back at and laugh about now. Because of how Haryanvi was treated by people around us in the city, it became something that we needed to silence in the company of ‘others’. I thank my parents for persisting with the domestic use of the language, especially to keep us in close relationships with out grandparents and extended family. BUT being educated meant that our “tongues needed to become clean”, with all traces of the transfers from Haryanvi to be meticulously removed with practice. It was not at all difficult BECAUSE we had other languages around to learn from, and spoken Hindi was a prominent one. Formal Hindi always felt like I was out of place, a fact that has often been labelled as being too “westernised”, without looking carefully at the dynamics, since Haryanvi is considered a ridiculous aberration rather than a language. Multilingualism has always been greatly beneficial in this journey. We have three kinds of people in our extended family: Those who chose to completely drop the vernacular, others remained bound by it, and the third, and I believe most fortunate group, who could “code-switch” with ease. The last group has been able to move with ease between different contexts, without awkwardness or embarrassment. Yet in my case, ease with formal Hindi remained a life-long problem……..arising out of (perhaps) oversight in the early years. In a session with mothers from a school in Gurgaon yesterday, I really wish I had opened up in Haryanvi since I was struggling with finding formal Hindi words, also since the group would have easily understood me, BUT I couldn’t, and I felt bad about that. The vernacular is for private moments, and not meant for formal gatherings is the subconscious block I have had all my life. I also believe that as an “invited expert”, slipping into Haryanvi may have compromised the way in which people would assess the messages………………….and despite the fact that it may have worked better to get the message across, I couldn’t. This is how deeply the language has been compartmentalized. Having Haryanvi and English as home languages and English strictly imposed at school (we were fined for speaking other tongues, even formal Hindi) is now easier for me to speak about, but earlier, it was either ridicule (theth – meaning – strong, Haryanvi) or admiration (relatively smooth English). Such nuances also need to be addressed, not for the transaction of information alone, but for conversations in the classroom that must allow for respect towards local dialects. If this bridging is done smoothly a significant number of children, their homes and local cultures will be embraced rather than ignored or ridiculed for speaking the way they do. I think it is important to address conversations in the classroom and school along with formal teaching and ‘medium of instruction’. The desire to “wash out the mouths” of local dialects has created many fractures that are no longer (have never been) justifiable. What’s your take on this?

Shailja Menon: But, of course. That’s my response. Sanitization creates so many unnecessary fractures and ruptures!
NC: But, of course. That’s my response. Sanitization creates so many unnecessary fractures and ruptures! Coexistence and hybridisation is imagined as a threat in many traditions. We have to find our way out of that frame.
Vini Gupta: Language is one’s identity. Why is there is need to wash it out and why ridicule and why feel ashamed! I personally express far better in my mother tongue.
Shavika Gupta: I agree, I can share an incidence of open house in my son’s school. My son was in third standard that time and was facing issues in Hindi writing. We realized that this is happening because we as parents and teachers never emphasized in reading Hindi books as we do for English story books. We never look forward to purchase Hindi books for kids and often stop them from conversing in hindi at public places. The school has good reading program in which some percentage allocation was also for Hindi reading but that is voluntary so kids go away with hindi reading and manage to score gold award by English reading. When we raised this in open house..we were told that being an English medium school we can’t force children to read Hindi books…they have to learn all other subjects in English and Hindi is just a subject. The issue is our kids are not well versed with their own mother tongue.
NC: Shavika Gupta is it also that making. ‘Subject’ of a language or a discipline distracts from its everyday relevance because of the way they are taught? Math, Science, history, literature. These are fields not just subjects. Hopefully this period of lockdown, imposed as it is, will help reset the position on fields of knowledge and subjects at school.
Shavika Gupta: Agreed……..the whole relevance of learning literature in current scenario is vague.. hopefully it will change.
NC: Maybe the bagless days will help.
Sweta Saraff: I can recall from my personal memory of learning English, from the early age of 2, till 21. Then came the era of paying fine for speaking in Hindi with classmates during Lunch time and free period. In order to cultivate this habit, we stopped talking in all other languages. Reading story books in only one language. I still can’t read Hindi books with ease, leave aside Marwadi and Bengali. My native language is Marwadi. I have never got the knack of it as was brought in a totally cocooned environment, I now feel unattached to roots sometimes. People around me didn’t speak Bengali, we were brought up in Marwadi, Hindi speaking ( strictly home only), English only environment. After trying to delve deep into Psychology and learning difficulties, by working with children from different corners of the city, I was exasperated. The problem was not with child, it was with system. If you can easily converse in one language, more stress should be given on learning concepts. Languages are codes, that must be properly understood and it’s complexities need to be practiced to find a way to familiarise with different fields.
Languages are the gateway for higher learning. If must be made easy and simple for learners so that they are not entangled in it and become complacent. It is also certainly important to learn native and local languages to remain connected to the roots.
Shweta Dahiya: I so relate to it….We enjoy our humor and personal moments with cousins best in Haryanvi but otherwise Hindi was given the status of mother tongue. And now in my son’s case as he’s out of India English has taken the same status as mother tongue and French is treated as another language. We keep moving with the changing context.
NC: Shweta Dahiya yes. Thank god the language survives locally. Else it would be such a tremendous loss.
Anupam Rastogi: We must welcome and Duly Recognise the NEP. The changes in these Policies Shall always better and fruitful for Younger Generations.
Nutan Prakash: I can relate to this so well. I faced exactly the same situation when I came from Jamshedpur, (then Bihar ) to LIC (Lady Irwin College) in 1968 as a fresher (at college). It took me a while to “sanitize” my Hindi which seemed to amuse others and bring it up to the Delhiwalla style.. So till then, I preferred to speak in English.
NC: This happened over and over again, and sadly, still does.
Jaisika Goel: All of us in this chat probably are good with languages, both native and English. But I would like to cite an incidence couple of days back. A person from Bihar who is a skating champion and coach was denied job in one of the reputed school in Noida, on the pretext that he can’t speak English and has strong native accent. He was told ‘hamare to guards ko bhi English aati hai’. We talk of policies, but it is different when we come to reality. I strongly believe that one should bother about concepts, not the language, but how to change the attitude of such employers.
NC: I believe policies will have to address this issue by recognizing that language is NOT ONLY a script!
Lovy Sardana: Happy Rakhi-2020 ‘Lockdown Special’.
ये अनमोल और अटूट बन्धन सदैव बना रहे
ये प्यार और ख़ुशी का बन्धन
रक्षा और सुरक्षा का बन्धन
सच्चाई और विश्वास का बन्धन
विकास और तरक़्क़ी का बन्धन
अभिमान और गौरव का बन्धन
संतोष और ठहराव का बन्धन
निष्ठा और दृढ़ता का बन्धन
समझ और समझौते का बन्धन
इज़्ज़त और भाईचारे का बन्धन
गरिमा प्रतिष्ठा मान- मर्यादा का बन्धन
ये संदेश ना केवल सभी भाईयों – बहनों के लिए अथवा
पिता- बेटों/ बेटी , मॉं- बेटों / बेटी
सभी सखाओं/ सखियों को भी जाता
My Morning brush with Hindi, A challenge that I willingly accepted, To all the brothers, Fathers, son’s, mothers , sisters, wives, friends, To all our Well wishers. Wishing everyone self protection and universal protection. I am so proud of myself for still been able to recall so many Hindi words from my diminishing vocabulary of words especially after having lived in an ‘English’ speaking country for 15 years. Thoroughly enjoyed the whole process . Have also put to test my children’s vocabulary by sending them the same personal message for Rakhi. Will share more on Language debate spoken vs written sometime later. V interesting subject of debate.
Khrieseno Kikhi Zao: English has opened a way to read & express myself. So I could read what you have ‘expressed’. I wouldn’t have understood all of it if it was in my mother tongue .. or for that matter even ‘write’. I never was taught formally my mother tongue. … only while reading d Bible my mom opted for ‘Tenyidie’ (our Angami tribal language – has its literature & is recognised) so that we would at least learn thru this. Still, this ‘Tenyidie’ is not spoken at home. We have another spoken language that is specifically from our Village. So we speak this language at home, Tenyidie at church ; Nagamese ( a market language) in the community so as to comunicate with the 16 tribal groups ; & English in the classroom wit Teachers & while reading books. I may be diverting from your point, but I am just sharing my context.
My kids do not communicate in the ‘village dialect’ as M married to another village which has its own dialect slightly different from mine (which I can’t speak either…. but can understand), nor do they communicate in Tenyidie but in English and Nagamese – both nothing to do with my roots. It’s very sad! They expressed themselves better (relatively) in English though still has a long way to go. It’s shameful for me to admit that I too can express myself better in English than in my own dialect. More sad, it’s becoming embarrassing for my kids to speak d local dialects (esp. when they try to say it & it goes off tune).
Dying of language means dying of culture too & it really makes me very sad & anxious. M trying to teach my kids but maybe M not doing enough….your article spurred me to work on it.
And Hindi is out of question here…. I could manage only while I was in Delhi.
NC: Khrieseno Kikhi Zao Kikhi, thanks so much for this fascinating detail. I agree that we can cross barriers of ethnicity through the use of a common language and in this instance it is English. But that is a historical situation, it could easily have been any other language if things had been different. Your comment is very much to the point here and I will use it to construct an essay for my blog this week with due acknowledgement. Thank you so much for this.
Khrieseno Kikhi Zao: just to add…. the market language ‘Nagamese’ has no origin or script…it’s a kichdi of Bengali, Assamese & Hindi. It has invaded every Naga home (and even conquered & defeated the mother tongues). Very regretful though.
Deepa Chawla: I’ve been thinking about your post on and off. Language opens the door to reach out to world…..the ones to whom we belong to and the ones of which we wish to be part of. For me it is i have always encouraged my daughter to speak in the language the other person is speaking. We speak a lot of Hindi, English and multani (little different than Punjabi) at home. We all have expressed our love and comfort for the mother tongue, however given the way English is worshiped at higher levels (academics and workplace) I doubt how teaching in vernacular will be translated for common people. In my last one year of field work, the parents in village wanted to send their children to English medium schools outside the village because the teaching staff in village govt and Pvt school had ‘theth’ accent and words. One of the mothers said ‘madamji, yahan gaanv ke school ke teacher to english bhi haryanavi mein padhate hain’. (Teaching English in the vernacular).
Shikha Lamba: Ram ram, Ram ram as in to get a touch of Haryanvi as it was never namaste, hello, hi. As everyone is sharing their experiences would like to share mine that I recalled after reading the post. My hometown is in North West district of Delhi where most of the population use Haryanvi dialect and belongs to Jaat community. I am a mother of 5 and half years old. I prefer to use English with him so that he can easily get ADJUSTED in the school and as I am not so good at it, also to feel proud that my child can speak it. My school was the most expensive and the only private English medium school available nearby. However, most of the teachers and all of the students used local dialect as a medium of communication and I never felt left out. Same as English bhi haryanvi mein padhate Hain. The problem came with the admission in college where not only students, but teachers also made me feel embarrassed about my accent. I am grateful to that stage as well because it made me more confident and helped improve my personality. I started feeling it is not appropriate to speak in my local dialect. Then I got selected for the post of Supervisor in WCD deptt as a Govt. Employee. There most supervisors were again from similar background and I regained my confidence in speaking it. This was the time I started respecting my culture, earlier it was just a language but now it’s an identity for me. This was my journey towards respecting my culture.
I feel so bad when it is always filmed as bad personality or uncivilised. Movies and media are great influencers and when they show something with regularity it seems as normal. As I can recall, once you told us it is not the same in USA or other country as shown in movies, there are many other aspects to it. And this is I am not saying particularly for haryanvi, even bihari is used just to add a bit of humor or more seriousness to the crime scene being shown. As if these people are only criminals or jokers.
I hope I was able to express myself clearly. There is so much more but again it has already been said. There is a feel in own mother tongue and same feel is in the old houses which I got when thinking about language. The houses with kiwad, (the raja Maharaja style doors), having chajja and those aalaaas (opening for ventilation). We called them hellies (haweli). Thinking this was like living a life time….now we have flats and try to copy them….It became a bit long…..sorry.
NC: Shikha Lamba thank you so much for sharing your experiences. The length is on account of the detail you have provided. You have described this so well. I’m trying to assemble an essay for my blog, may I please use your comment there as well with full credit to you?
Reema Govil: I think, we need to understand the difference between conceptual learning and learning a language. These can go together. Large number of children are out of school (drop outs) or there are high repetition rates because children do not understand the basic concepts, for the teaching-learning does not take place in a language that’s comfortable for the child or the child can relate to. As a consequence, there is no conceptual understanding and it leads to rote learning. There is plethora of research out there on children learning better in their home language and also being able to pick up multiple languages early in life. Education is about understanding concepts and applying them, doesn’t matter which language it is in. Learning a language, any language, is about gaining a skill that’s necessary to gain an education, it’s not an education in itself. (B) we have a rich pool of homegrown literature and linguistic culture that we should be proud of and cultivate in our kids. Schools need to create an environment where children feel proud and comfortable speaking in their local dialects and not ashamed of it. Sadly, many kids base their social circle and friendships on language. Even, as adults, we ridicule and judge people who can’t speak fluent English or speak in their local language.
Pooja Bhargava: Learning language is an innate need. I understood it better when was I was bringing up my children. Being from northern part of India, I completely relate to your dilemma of being forced to speak in English and “being fined” for using Hindi- my mother tongue. Yes, we were uneasy. My rooting in Hindi was strong – my parents only understood and spoke Hindi. BUT the pull towards using English was very strong – so much so that I secretly wished my mother who was a teacher (teaching in a Hindi medium school) should join my ‘English medium school’. Anyway, we – my brother and I grew up fine and have a great command over both the languages.
It did leave a lesson with me. I will not force my child to choose a language. When Anika was 2.5 years old, we shifted to Dubai. She has been a child full of ideas and her mind keeps racing. She started talking fluently at 1. And there was no stopping her. Of course she was talking in Hindi…I was asked to ‘correct’ her, “make her speak in English” these were common statements by well-meaning acquaintances. I never bothered. I was happy and enjoying her fluent Hindi. Our shift to Dubai was full of action and ‘correcting’ her language was nowhere on my radar. Anika joined a international nursery with children from almost 20 nationalities in her class. Yes, the medium of instruction was English. The change was pleasant, or I should say was made pleasant by the nursery teacher’s willingness to learn her vocabulary to address her basic needs. I was of course pleasantly surprised. Never once I was asked to talk to her in English or work on her English. Sigh….3 months down the line my little Anika’s mind changed course and from a fluent Hindi speaker she took to English so much so that she now refuses to talk in Hindi unless forced. But our effort is on to keep up with her Hindi skills.
Reshu: I want to know whether this phenomenon of shaming for the use of local language in North India alone? Do people in other places also do the same? When I see people from Southern States of India they hardly talk to each other in English and prefer their own language over English any time given. I see the immense pride they feel in using their own language in front of Hindi-speaking people as the Hindi speaking is not able to understand what they are saying. I witnessed this in India as well as abroad. While Hindi speaking people will deliberately switch to English as if it is a matter of shame. So, changing local dialects to learn ‘clean Hindi’ and then prefer English in a gathering and outside home is common. 
More recently, I am seeing is a new trend also among children  – a Western accent while speaking English. Children seem to now love to speak English in American or British accent. I don’t know why though. When I was in B.Ed., we went to the Science Center to witness a Science fair where children displayed their science projects and explained it to the audience. I remember it so vividly how a child from UP explained a brilliant project on ‘water purification’ with so much clarity. I also saw a bunch of students laughing at him, they were laughing at him because he was explaining it in what we call ‘Pure Hindi’ and they were laughing at him because they came from elite school where they are taught that speaking in Hindi is a matter of laughing. 
I believe knowing languages, local or international, should be a matter of pride and everyone should be taught to cherish this gift. How come being able to speak a dialect or another language be seen as deficit? It is an addition and not a deficit. Not only children but everyone should be taught to respect their language and culture via different media. 
The school that my daughter attends, Shikshanter, gives preference to multilingual approach and they use mother tongue mixed with english. Children freely share their experiences in whatever language they are comfortable with. All songs and stories used are from different parts of the world and not only Hindi or English. 

Responses on New education policy

Vimala Ramachandran: At the outset, it is important to acknowledge that NEP 2020 is a well-intentioned document needs to be read and understood in the larger context of earlier policies and the well-known reasons why so many good ideas and sound recommendations remained unimplemented. India is known for drafting excellent policy documents and contributing to many international conventions and agreements. However, many excuses were put forward when policy recommendations remained unimplemented, for example: the policy was good but implementation was tardy, adequate resources were not available, there was no political will, the last mile connectivity failed… and so on. Therefore, there is little point in harping on perfect policies of the past, when successive governments (especially since 1965) relegated education to the background. Equally significant is than many valuable ideas were repeated in policies (1965, 1986) and sector specific project documents (for example SSA, RMSA, Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan). Among the recurring recommendations include primary education in mother tongue / spoken language, school complexes, robust ECCE that prepares children for schooling, importance of valuing the social and academic status of teachers, bridging gender and social gaps not only in formal access to schools but also in learning, sound and formal teacher recruitment policies…. Like 1968 and 1986 – this document too has really good ideas and has the potential to make a difference…. the devil is in the details like structural reforms, financial allocation and the much talked about political and administrative will….
Meera Oke: Thanks for sharing – great to see a holistic forward looking framework for ECEC. The concept of Balvatika is interesting…Wondering – where Early Childhood Teacher Education for early childhood Educators will be housed – with Child Development Faculties or Teacher Ed (BEd)..childhood Educators will be housed – with Child Development Faculties or Teacher Ed (BEd)..
NC: Meera Oke, that is an important question, there is a long list of recommendations for teacher education in the New Education Policy and we will have to read the fine print to understand exactly how this will be executed.
Reema Govil: My initial thoughts on the policy for school education. I think its a great policy with a vision that is progressive and aims to transform the education ecosystem radically towards providing education that is equitable, accessible, inclusive and high on quality. The policy has several noteworthy recommendations for school education (ecce, multidisciplinary approach, gender inclusion fund, new curricular & pedagogical structure, focus on foundational learning, reforms in assessments and teacher education etc.) Having said that, the main question is Intent vs Implementation. While, the intent of the policy is good, its key to success is implementation on the ground. Some of the challenges/concerns I see are:
(1) Allocation of 6% GDP-the policy does not address this aspect. Where will the funds come from? Also, education has always been low priority and therefore, the spending has always been low. One therefore, needs the political will. And, even if you have the political will to push forward these ideas, where will the money come from? Investment in education will mean cutting from other sectors that are priority as well.
(2) In my opinion, one of the reasons, why the past policies haven’t worked well is to do with monitoring & eval of these policies. Learnings from past failures and policies need to be addressed and policies need to be monitored effectively in a shorter time frame with sound on ground evidence and research to make required amendments.
(3) Role of private sector has largely been underplayed. This is a great opportunity for both private sector and non profit players to partner with the govt. to catalyse change. The govt. seems to brush the value and the expertise they bring in. The govt must be more open to this and make it easy for entrepreneurs to set up schools etc & attract investments by doing away with licence raj.
(4) While the step to include ECCE under the ambit of RTE and teaching students in the local language until primary is a fantastic step, one must recognise that we already have a dearth of good quality and high performing teachers. Where will we get teachers specifically for the these. Students do not want to get into the teaching space.
(5) Though the local /regional recommendation is a great step, the policy does not mention about children whose parents have transferable jobs.
(6) Would have liked the policy to mention about voucher systems/DBT. Parents have a right to choose the school they want for their kids and demand quality education. This also gives them a chance to hold the schools accountable.
(7) Sex education, which is extremely important is mentioned in “passe”. More, as I read the policy in detail 🙂
NC: Thanks Reema. At least there is a framework in place for the implementation to happen.
Indu Budhawar: Our education system definitely needs an overhaul. however as already mentioned in some comments above, “policies” are only as good as their implementation. Professional training and dedication of teachers, and support of govt agencies will be a test of how this goes. we should also make schooling compulsory, and a punishable offence if child does not or is prevented from attending school. millions of street children and child labour has to be brought into the fold of this education policy.
Reema Govil to Indu: I’ve often been caught up in this moral dilemma. While everyone must receive education and there are no 2 ways about it, there are socio-economic circumstances like child labour/child marriage etc. that prevent them from accessing formal education. In this situation, what should one do when the survival of the family depends on children being engaged to work during schooling years. Indu to Reema Govil: It is such a vicious circle isn’t it? It is education that can change these attitudes , systems of society, alleviate poverty, and encourage healthy living and Hygiene. But on the other hand these deep seated conditions, economic strife in certain strata of society, discourage giving importance to education.

Masala Chai: We thank all the people who wrote in with their views and hope you have found some interesting issues in this discussion. Until next week, stay safe.

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