21st century brand of India’s Language Policy – NEP 2020

The National Education Policy, announced, without debate in Indian Parliament and without adequate inclusion of concerns and criticisms sent in by diverse Indian groups has raised several questions of concern, especially with related to access to education for all, democratisation of education, the language formula articulated, diversity concerns and worst of all, the all out privatisation of higher education. This note looks at the implications of the language policy in education as articulated in NEP 2020


The Salient Points in the Draft Proposal :

1.  Children will join school at the age of three and will be taught three languages from the first day. The three languages for the Hindi region will be Hindi (as medium), English, and one Indian language from the scheduled 22 included in the Indian Constitution. The three languages for the Non-Hindi region will be Home/Local language (as medium), English and a modern Indian language, Sanskrit is designated as an ‘‘important modern Indian language.’’

2.  Wherever possible, the medium of education will be the family/mother/local language till the class V (preferably class VIII). Students, have opted for their mother tongue as medium of education will learn science in two languages from class VIII or earlier; the second language being English.

3.  Students who want to change one of the three languages can do so from the class VI. (That means in the ninth year of schooling). But the rule that will still be applicable is that the students from the Hindi region will take Hindi, English and one modern Indian language and students from the non-Hindi region will opt for the local language, an Indian language and English.

4.  Each and every student of the country will take a ‘‘fun’’ course about Indian Languages anytime between the class VI to class VIII. This course will teach the ‘‘remarkable unity’’ of Indian languages.

5.  Each student will also take a two year course on any classical Indian language anytime during the classes VI and VIII.

6.  Students can opt for one foreign language (such as French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese) as an elective subject during class VI to VIII, and this elective subject can be carried to higher classes.

7.  The Commission for Scientific and Technical Terminology and the regional bodies will co-ordinate with the scholars and the experts to coin and standardise technical terminology. This work for Hindi and Sanskrit will be done at the Central level in coordination with the states and the work for other languages will be done at the state level, with no responsibility of the Centre. There will be an appropriate coordination between the Centre and the states to ensure a maximally common technical terminology (read Sanskritised) among different languages.

Scrutiny of proposals on English/Foreign language teaching: This quote from the draft report describes the Committee’s belief on the issue:

‘‘Since children learn languages most quickly between 2-8 years, and multilingualism has  great cognitive benefits for students, children will be immersed in three languages early on, from the Foundational Stage.’’ (4.5.p80)

However, international common practice and international research both refute this belief. Exposure to second/foreign language generally starts around 9 years of a child’s age. The following quote about English teaching in China provides the average international picture:

‘‘According to the National Curriculum, English, as one of the three core subjects, starts from Primary Three; however, local education departments and individual schools have flexibility to decide when to include English lessons. Many schools in metropolitan areas introduce English earlier, from Primary One, whilst for those in remote and rural areas, the introduction of English may have to be delayed due to inadequate teaching resources.

Generally speaking, where English starts from Primary Three, based on the National Curriculum in the version of 2011, the weekly lessons for three core subjects in primary schools are required as’’ follows. ‘‘From Primary Three to Six, students are offered three English lessons per week with 40 min per lesson. However, the weekly contact hours for Chinese and mathematics are greater over six years of study. Compared to the minor subjects, such as PE (physical education – JS), science and music, English has a similar number of lessons (MOE 2001, MOE=Ministry of Education – JS. English, based on hours taught, could therefore be regarded as a minor subject.’’


As for the early age advantage, the following findings of MIT (USA) are revealing:

‘‘Thousands of adults who started learning after 20 years old scored in a native-level range,’’ (pp.3)

‘‘Students that compare children and adults exposed to comparable material in the lab or during hte initial months of an immersion program show that adults perform better, not worse, than children….perhaps because they deploy conscious strategies and transfer what they know about their first language.’’ (pp.7).

‘‘….even after a year of studying, the 20+ year old start group is commonly scoring 80-85% on this incredibly difficult grammar test.’’ (pp.9). 90% is the native-level score.



Alex Rawlings of Britain, who speaks 15 languages, states his first hand experience thus:

“People say it’s too hard as an adult. But I would say it’s much easier after the age of eight. It takes three years for a baby to learn a language, but just months for an adult.”


It is true that children can learn several languages at the same time in a natural set up. But the apparently hair-thin difference between a natural language environment and a formal classroom set-up is one of Himalyan dimensions, in reality. This should be clear from the fact that even a graduate Indian who studies English language from grade one cannot be considered fluent in English, a task which can be accomplished in less than a year. See the consequences of this formal/informal difference from the link below and also look at the MIT findings above:



The English medium myth: The draft report recommends teaching science in the English medium (preferably before class VIII, so that the students could study science in higher classes. Thus, the English medium myth, with its all mystical dimensions, is inbuilt in this draft. The following statement from the British Council study reveals how ill informed the protagonists are: “There is little or no evidence to support the widely held view that EMI (English as Medium of Instruction) is a better or surer way to attain fluency in English than via quality EaS (English as Subject)….

A move to EMI in or just after lower primary, commonly found in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, yields too shallow a foundation of English to sustain learning across the curriculum from the upper primary years onwards. Early introduction of EMI is thus viewed as impairing learning in the formative years and limiting educational attainment.” (English language and medium of instruction in basic education in low- and middle-income countries: a British Council perspective, 2017:3).

The Linguallotine: The proposals if implemented will further ruin what little remains of Indian education because the languages black-hole thus created will devour Indian children. For instance, if a student takes a foreign language as an elective subject he/she will be having six language courses during class VI to VIII (three languages of the three language formula + the “fun” course on Indian languages + classical language course + foreign language (3+1+1+1=6). The above points are about the school education.

The poor well-wishers: Indian governments and Indian political parties are not the only problem for mother tongue based education advocates. Avowed well wishers of the poor and marginalised like Kancha Illaiah want to salvage poor children from the English massacre through an ‘English only’ education. He is engaged in converting government schools into English medium ones. He thinks this will make them ride over the English disadvantage. There is, though, ample international evidence that non-mother-tongue medium gives rise to far wider educational achievement gaps between marginalized and privileged children than the mother tongue medium. Thus the intellectual condition of the poor well-wishers is no different from the Indian policymakers. I did bring the findings of the British Council, UNESCO, the international investigations, and the successful international practices to the notice of Kancha Illaiah. He has not bothered to send even an automated acknowledgement.

The Niceties: The report does talk about the advantages of mother tongue medium and recommends it for primary classes, “wherever possible”. But remember that each committee and commission from 1947 to 2019 have recommended mother tongue as medium of education and these recommendations have been passed in the Parliament. The only benefit from these recommendations has been that after each recommendation, the education in mother tongues was further reduced.

For wider details on expert opinion on language issues:



The Draft Report: The 484 page report can be accessed from

https://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/Draft_NEP_2019_EN.pdf For language, see part 4.5 (pp. 79-88) and Chapter 22 (pp. 385-387). Kindly excuse if there is something wrong in my understanding of the draft report and kindly bring it to my notice. I shall be thankful.


(Note: When the 485 page NEP draft proposal was released, the author had published an article on the language policy proposals in the draft proposal. The article was published in the Punjabi Tribune Punjabi daily.  This is the English summary of that article)


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