For more than half a century, psychologists and educationists have suggested that comprehension involves correspondence between language form and the situation it describes. When you understand a sentence, you are supposed to 'know what it means.' It follows that the form that this knowledge takes in memory (conceptual structure) and the process by which it is retrieved and used (cognitive operations), shape our understanding of the world around us, and language serves merely as a vehicle or an adaptation by which meaning learning is achieved. This, the specialists claim, is the basis of the 'theory of mind'—a gamut of divergent but interconnected mass of information processing that can help us with comprehension. Indeed, the acquisition of concepts in any subject plays an important role in school education. In this context, most learning is dependent on verbal and other form of academic interactions, aided by language's role in symbolic and representational learning. The context of school education and higher education in particular, language and its symbolic representation of knowledge are the focal points in complex cognitive functioning; hence language assumes a dominant role in education. For some years now, the claims of language being a left hemisphere dominated activity has been discounted in favor of a more distributed processing capacity. Recent evidence from neuroscience also suggest that grammatical knowledge gained in the first language (which in most cases is the mother tongue) is mediated by distinct neural systems that are efficient because of its distribution throughout the cortex. Several functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have reiterated that in the event of any concept or content being acquired through the mother tongue, it is more stable and robust. The inherent complexity of the ecology of viii The English-Medium Myth education (the study of relationships between various forces in the physical environment in the teaching-learning context) necessitates an examination of its context as a central requirement. Contextual learning cannot be suddenly reduced nor can it be pushed aside—hence mother tongue, in which one is maximally proficient. Language learners bring a lot of their knowledge systems from their mother tongue, and these must be utilized to the fullest, to gain control of conceptual understanding. The disparity between what they know and what they are supposed to imbibe, can be reduced by focusing on the education being imparted in the mother tongue. Most developed nations like Japan, Germany, Korea and Russia to name a few, have successfully utilized education in the mother tongue, to reap rich harvests in educational benefits. The curriculum that has been designed in the mother tongue therefore provides us a rich instructional paradigm to address the issue first hand. Discrepancies exist at three instructional levels in the classroom: material instruction, teacher instruction and student instruction. In the late eighties, it was fashionable to explore the linkage between language proficiency and academic and cognitive development. Experts maintained that skills needed for social interaction (basic interpersonal communicative skills, or BICS for short) and cognitive academic efforts in language processing (or CALP), were posited to take care of the differences and address the demands of academic life.
Questions relating to information and its retrieval in the human brain in the processing of mother tongue/ first language, has a fundamental similarity with the distributed, fuzzy systems of logic of distributed computing that is the gold standard in computing these days. The systems that we design as engineers, and computer scientists, and as artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, are all based on the examination of the final frontier — the brain. The questions about how the mother tongue facilitates concept learning, and those about how such knowledge would help in the conceptual understanding of the student, is a very important question that needs a closer look. Such changes in our outlook, by focusing on mother tongue rather than English-only education, indeed replacing English as the medium of instruction, has a lot of merit, both in terms of instructional ease and logistic support. It also makes more sense for the talent pool that currently gets neglected because of the apartheid and hegemony of English education. But it leads to a conundrum—most higher education, especially technical education in India, is done in English and has a robust ecosystem that has been thriving for decades. It will take herculean efforts to build an Indian language ecosystem, but as they say, a task well begun is already half done. It is my firm belief that scientifically as well as logistically, educating children in the Mother Tongue is desirable. This will augur well for a country like India, with several languages and many different dialects. "The English Medium Myth" will be a pioneer in this field.
I finished the first edition of the book with great anticipation. A new government had taken charge in India, and there was hope for steps towards decolonization. The policy suggestions in the book were intended to spur a dialogue towards creating lasting change in the decolonization of language in India. The book received a fantastic reception from common people. I was invited to lecture at many of the premier institutes from the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru to the various Indian Institutes of Technology from Delhi to Kanpur to Roorkee to Chennai to the Benares Hindu University. Most poignant were the stories of students who clustered around me after the talks. After my talk in Hindi at IIT Roorkee, a young 2nd year student ran to me to say that it was the first lecture he understood after coming to the institute. A Ph.D. scholar at IIT Kanpur spoke at length about the horrendous difficulties she faced in transitioning from Hindi medium to English, being told she was not worthy or hard-working enough to just "catch up" with the debilitating medium change. I spoke to another student at IIT Kanpur who had failed and had to drop out, the difficulty of language being a paramount reason. Then were the other voices, the naysayers. For them the solution, like Marie Antoinette's apocryphal phrase, was "let them eat cake." The solution to the medium transition was to push English-medium lower and deeper all the way to the primary level. The unshakeable assumption was the "global necessity" of English-medium, never mind that all the major top economies of the world operate in their own languages, which is often not English. The burden of forcing a village student in India to study in a language she doesn't understand, with a teacher who barely does, is waived away. As is all the scientific research which shows that a child's best cognitive development happens by education in the mother tongue, and as Dr. Shantanu Ghosh points out in the Foreword, there are 20 The English-Medium Myth fundamental neuro-linguistic reasons why mother tongue education enhances learning. I met with the government of India at the highest level, met with ministers, testified at the "Committee on Language for Drafting a Comprehensive Language Policy" chaired by Prof. Kapil Kapoor, all to no avail in terms of government policy. It is as if the government had decided to be immune to reason, responding to the "demand for English"—which is itself created by government policies—by pushing even more English. This has led to expanding bad policies, with government schools now shifting to English-medium at the primary level, rather than dismantling the top-down discriminatory systems of English apartheid in India which force English as a necessity in the first place. I never heard what happened with the Language Committee report. In contrast to government apathy, there has been an increasing awareness and response to the ideas in the book and to my talks. More and more people are realizing that the path we are on will lead neither to economic progress nor to civilizational renaissance. The ball is back to society to spread the awareness to create the necessary change. We must be free of the myth which links progress to English, despite all evidence to the contrary. How can we have higher-education in Indian languages without the books? This question kept coming up. So a new venture is now started. Garuda Prakashan, to bring high quality technical books in Indian languages. This is not any one person's work, it is the work of the samaj. Garuda is a vahana. Let us build an ecosystem for Indian languages, by contributing expertise and resources, where they can be used at the highest level in all fields. This is the first step to truly empowering people from all sections of society in India and harnessing our demographic dividend.
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