The move to impart technical education in regional languages from 2021 is aimed at ensuring equity, especially with rural students in mind, but “there will not be any compromise on the quality of the IITs”, Union education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank told HT’s Amandeep Shukla in an email interview.
Acknowledging that there were concerns from some quarters, Pokhriyal emphasised that the decisions will evolve from a consultative process and only implemented in those IITs that are ready. Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Q) You have formed a task force on the teaching of technical engineering in regional languages. Are Indian institutions prepared for such a change?
A) I believe that the reform has been long-awaited by the higher education institutes and students who study in regional languages. Our vision emanates from the National Education Policy (NEP) which recommends that “More HEIs, and more programmes in higher education, will use the mother tongue/local language as a medium of instruction, and/or offer programmes bilingually”. The Official Language Commission, Emotional Integration Committee, National Education Policy (1968), National Education Policy (1986/1992) — each report, while recommending the use of Indian language as the medium of instruction, also pronounced that Indian languages are a sine qua non (something that is essential if you want to achieve a particular thing) for the educational and cultural development of our nation, enunciating the notion of ‘Equity in Education’.
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I am very encouraged with the support of many leading thinkers, intellectuals and even certain directors of IITs and NITs towards the initiative. We have also decided to conduct the JEE exam in the regional languages so that students will not be at a disadvantage because of language.
This reform will assist talented students from rural areas in studying in their languages without being alienated. This policy initiative will positively benefit students from rural areas and far-flung areas.
Many IITs such as IIT Kharagpur and IIT Roorkee have already undertaken steps to promote the use of regional languages in their teaching in the first year. IIT Kharagpur has started with the development of a policy framework for regional language education not only at schools but also in technical institutes so that language does not become a barrier to learning.
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Q) Some heads of leading institutions have expressed doubts, reservations or even caution against the move. How do you plan to move ahead?
A) One of the main concerns is regarding rankings and quality of the IITs. I would reiterate that “there will not be any compromise with the quality of the IITs”. We want to make IITs world-class. We have declared many IITs as Institutes of Eminence (IOE).
Till now, the ministry of education has adopted the approach that all implementation modalities will be taken through a consultative process. The implementation modalities of this decision will also be taken after proper deliberations and consultations. I have taken the lead by holding the first meeting to seek suggestions and understand the issues involved. In this meeting, it was decided to set up a task force to examine all the issues threadbare. Now that the task force is set up, there should not be any apprehensions.
Q) Many of our institutions have made a name for themselves globally by teaching in English. How will you ensure this value remains intact? That there is no dilution of standards.
A) We are creating an enabling environment for students who are studying in regional languages to excel in technical courses. I think the overall quality will improve because when students understand concepts in their mother tongue, they can think better. We never said English would go away, and we are only saying that in addition to English, an environment should be created in higher education institutes where students from regional languages can also excel.
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Many countries have excellent educational systems, and they do not use English as a medium of instruction. If we can educate our students in the mother tongue also, along with English, we will ensure that we can make global citizens who at the same time will be vocal for local.
Q) Is it possible that such a step can be taken from the next session itself? Which are the languages in which courses can commence?
A) The implementation of regional language in the technical courses will happen in a phase-wise manner, starting from the year 2021. This initiative will be implemented in those IITs which are ready. We understand that there are a lot of issues starting with quality of textbooks, reference material, training the faculty to teach in their mother tongue, using technology to connect various institutes where faculty are available to teach in mother tongue, etc. The task force will outlay the detailed implementation plan of the same.
Q)There has been a demand to hold the Common Admission Test (CAT) exam in Hindi and other languages as well. What are your views on it?
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A) I am glad that IIMs have already taken the lead by starting a deliberation on conducting the CAT exam in Schedule VIII languages. I believe that CAT applicants will appreciate the language option when made available.
Q) The academic session 2020-21 has been badly affected by the pandemic. How are you planning the next academic session? What would the next year of school or college be like for students?
A) I have been conducting rigorous, participative and inclusive consultation with students, teachers and parents. I have invited their suggestion and concerns and will be answering them on 17th December.
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Q)Is it possible that in the coming years, there can be purely online schools?
A) No proposal at present is under examination for pure online schools. Digital or online learning cannot replace the classroom teaching-learning process, particularly at foundational and primary levels. However, blended learning will be the new normal.
Q) A group of ministers headed by your cabinet colleague Dharmendra Pradhan has recently suggested distributing devices to students to overcome the digital divide. Is it possible that the Centre will come to the aid of students who are facing difficulties?
A) The GoM is examining various issues related to e-learning. The Ministry of Education will be strengthening the ICT facilities in upper primary, secondary and sr. secondary government schools following the recommendations of the NEP. We are making provision of Smart Board across the government secondary and senior secondary schools.