Tapping Technology for Multilingual
March 29, 2022 at 7:31:19 PM
Vanishing language a cause of concern
Why languages die
Why we need to build an effective multilingual education system
Some recent developments
For centuries, India has been home to hundreds of languages and thousands of dialects, making its linguistic and cultural diversity the most unique in the world. In fact, our linguistic diversity is one of the cornerstones of our ancient civilization. It is our mother tongue that lends expression to our vision and aspirations, our values and ideals, as also our creative and literary endeavors. In a speech some years ago, the former UNESCO Director-General, Koïchiro Matsuura, underscored the importance of mother tongue when he remarked that “the language we learn from our mothers (mother tongue) is the homeland of our innermost thoughts.” He aptly described each language to be “as valuable and distinct as every irreplaceable human life”.
Vanishing language a cause of concern
While languages are among the key bridges that ensure cultural and civilisational continuity, globalisation and westernisation have impacted not just the growth but also the survival of many of our dialects in this rich cultural and linguistic tapestry.
In November 1999, the UNESCO General Conference approved the declaration of February 21 as Inter-national Mother Language Day, in response to the declining state of many languages.
According to the UN agency, at least 43% of the estimated 6,000 languages spoken in the world are endangered — an alarming figure indeed.
Why languages die?
Speakers of a minority language may, decide that it is better for their children’s future to teach them a language that is tied to economic success.
For example, the vast majority of second-generation immigrants to the United States do not speak their parents’ languages fluently. It is economically and culturally more beneficial to speak English.
Migration also plays a large role in language change and language death. When speakers of Proto-Indo-European migrated to most of Europe and large parts of Asia between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago, they probably brought about massive language change and language death.
Lack of script
Schools and colleges were established only in the official languages. Languages without scripts had no place in the education system. As a result many languages like Gondi, Bhili and Santhali have become now a minority language.
This year’s subject
The theme of International Mother Language Day in 2022 — “Using Technology for Multilingual Learning: Challenges and Opportunities” - is one of special relevance to us.
The central idea is to leverage technology to support and enrich the teaching-learning experience on a multi-lingual level.
It also aims at achieving a qualitative, equitable and inclusive educational experience. Inevitably, the widespread use of technology would fast-track development.
When applied to Indian classrooms, a multi-lingual approach would also create new pathways of learning by addressing the emerging challenges on a regional and global scale. Seen in its entirety, this is in line with Prime Minister vision of “sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas”.
Multilingual education predicated on the increasing use of one’s mother tongue is a key component of inclusion in education.
Mother Tongue and NEP
It would be pertinent to note that the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is a visionary document which encourages the use of mother tongue as the medium of instruction till at least Class 5 but preferably till Class 8 and beyond.
In drawing up a road map for the future, the NEP seeks to tailor the teaching and learning process and modify it by making it holistic, value-based and inclusive. The use of mother tongue in teaching is bound to create a positive impact on learning outcomes, as also the development of the cognitive faculties of students.
There is a pressing need to create and improve scientific and technical terminology in Indian languages. This would help transform the educational experience by making existing knowledge systems in a range of disciplines accessible to learners.
• It would be relevant to recall the words of the renowned physicist, Sir C.V. Raman, who observed with great clarity and vision that “we must teach science in our mother tongue. Otherwise, science will become a highbrow activity. It will not be an activity in which all people can participate.”
Why we need to build an effective multilingual education system?
Sir C.V. Raman’s observation has a prophetic ring of truth when we see it in the light of the fact that we have been able to create a large English-based education system which includes colleges that offer courses in medicine and multiple disciplines of engineering. This impressive system paradoxically excludes a vast majority of learners in our country from accessing higher education.
It is important to bear in mind that in a survey conducted by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) in 2020 involving over 83,000 students, nearly 44% of students voted in favour of studying engineering in their mother tongue, highlighting a critical need in technical education.
Learning in (your) mother tongue is at the core of building a sense of self-esteem and identity. While I feel that one must accord equal respect to all languages, there is a tendency, which must be noted with regret, among some educators and parents to take a condescending view of education in Indian languages in preference to English language learning.
As a result, children’s access to their mother tongue becomes restricted, leading to a sort of socio-cultural rootlessness, especially if corrective steps are not taken. We have to teach our children not to mistake competence in English to be a yardstick of intellectual superiority or as a prerequisite for achieving success in life.
Some recent developments
In this context, the collaboration between the AICTE and IIT Madras to translate some courses on the central government’s e-learning platform, Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM) into eight regional languages such as Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Marathi, Malayalam and Gujarati, is commendable.
Such tech-led initiatives will serve to democratise higher education. At the same time, the decision of the AICTE to permit B. Tech programmes in 11 native languages, in tune with the NEP, is a historic move which would open the door for students to a wide range of opportunities; the languages are Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, Malayalam, Bengali, Assamese, Punjabi and Odia.
Our policy-planners, educators, parents and opinion leaders must bear in mind that when it comes to education in mother tongue and local languages, we can take the example of European countries as well as Asian powers such as Japan, China and Korea, among others.
According to the Language Census, whose findings were widely reported in 2018, India is home to 19,500 languages or dialects, of which 121 languages are spoken by 10,000 or more people in our country.
It is our collective responsibility to revive and revitalise the 196 Indian languages which fall under the “endangered” category.
Let us not forget that every single language constitutes a cultural crucible which stores the distilled knowledge and the wisdom of our collective consciousness — our values, traditions, stories, behaviour and norms, proverbs, sayings and idioms. Co-existing over centuries, borrowing from and nurturing each other, our languages are interwoven with our individual, local and national identity.