Education in India is on the cusp of enormous reform, after the National Education Policy was approved by the Union Cabinet in July 2020.
Among sweeping reforms proposed, the policy will allow foreign universities to open campuses in India, plans to merge colleges to form larger Higher Education Institutions, as well as a shift to a more multidisciplinary undergraduate education.
The NEP has mostly had a warm reception, but one area that has caused some controversy has been policies on language and education. An early draft of the policy contained a proposal to make Hindi mandatory in schools – a proposal which was quickly dropped.
There are over 100 languages spoken in India. While a thin majority of the population speaks Hindi, there is no agreed ‘lingua franca’. The ruling party of India, the BJP, has frequently advocated for a Hindi-first approach, but attempts to rally this policy have been met with anger from the south of India where Hindi is not as widely spoken.
The final draft of the NEP was clear on language: children should be taught in their mother tongue (usually their local language) until Grade 5 (age 10) – but preferably until Grade 8 (age 14). But the Chairperson of the policy’s drafting panel was clear: “no language is being imposed” and schools and families will still be able to choose what language they teach and are taught in.
The debate around a national language in India has a long history. And it’s incredibly complicated: language is a signifier of cultural and personal identity, the use of English has roots in the atrocities of colonialism, and the data on multilingualism in education has mixed findings.