The word and the world

Sep 28 2013, 16:25 IST
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SummaryChildren do learn better in their home language. This is not a verdict on English.

Children do learn better in their home language. This is not a verdict on English.

Shivali Tukdeo

Since the early 19th century, questions surrounding language have occupied a rather uncomfortable place in the formal system of Indian education. While the knowledge of English was unmistakeably part of the making of modern Indian education, its relationship with vernacular languages was a source of anxiety. Education policy in the early post-Independence years struggled with the challenge of balancing language and learning. How do we introduce students to multiple language-worlds, in all their richness and complexities? How do we teach them an appreciation of different knowledge systems? How do we teach different scripts? Some of these questions were addressed by the three-language formula, where regional and official languages were introduced in schools at different points.

Several decades of language education policy and multilingual education later, the question of language continues to be unsettling and unresolved, for many reasons. The recently approved National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) policy is a case in point. The proposal, drafted by the women and child development ministry, includes an overarching framework for early childhood education: regulation of playschools; infrastructure and sanitation norms; child-teacher ratio; better monitoring practices and curricular strategies. The section on the inclusion of the mother tongue or home language and local vernaculars has predictably aroused animated reactions. The inclusion of home or local languages in preschool is a step in the right direction, for educational as well as social reasons.

To begin with, it is an obvious and overstated fact that young children learn better when they understand the language of instruction. Equally important is the fact that children begin to respond to the world around them through their home languages even before they enter preschool and can go on to complex conceptual learning in these languages. Early childhood education focuses on developing the following domains: cognitive, physical, emotional, social. It also stresses on non-cognitive domains like motivation and curiosity. Evidence-based studies on early childhood and research in educational psychology and cognition suggest that exposure to multiple languages can facilitate early development.

Importantly, early childhood education revolves around activities, discoveries, plays, stories and songs that go on to construct learning and meaning for the young child. Emergent literacies — ways to listen, see, play, respond and participate in one’s close surroundings — prepares the young ones for what comes later in school,

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