The National Education Policy (NEP) needs to revisit early language education. The first 5 years of schooling in a mother tongue, as planned in the new policy, will severely limit the prospects of our school-going children. It is a well known fact that private school enrollments far exceed public school enrollments and have done so at the expense of public school enrollment.
English has been the driving force behind this preference. English in today’s world is education’s ticket to ride. Introducing English as a medium of instruction at class V is like pulling the screeching brakes on learning, as children are left struggling with a new language, when they should crucially be focusing on the core subject at hand. It is a setback that cannot be reversed and handicaps our children for life.
While children in this country need English as a language of instruction, it is also important to note that is what the Indian parents want for their children. According to a recent survey, a far greater number (42.3%) of private unaided schools offer English as a language of instruction compared to 10.4% of government schools.
While learning outcomes need to get better, private schools remain a ray of hope to parents and children. In fact there is even a clear preference for schools that are branded “international”, which is code for children being introduced to more foreign languages, not less.
Child psychologists have long known that young children are most receptive to learning languages between the ages of 3 and 6. At age 3, their spoken vocabularies consist of roughly 900 words. By age 6, spoken vocabularies expand dramatically to anywhere between 8,000 and 14,000 words. This is the time to expose them to more languages. In fact if we are to live in a world dominated by China, I would argue, we need to teach Chinese to our children, so that we understand them better.
While teaching English provides tangible benefits, children exposed to many languages also master the softer aspects of learning faster, ease into learning smoother, have improved problem solving skills, and heightened creativity. They also find it easier to connect with other cultures, which make them more open-minded and tolerant of diversity. And isn’t this what we want our children to be when they grow up, model Indian citizens and worthy global citizens.